Highwire’s Official Black Hat 2017 Recap

After some time to reflect, here’s our recap of Black Hat 2017 in Las Vegas.

For two decades, the annual conference has been creating opportunities for like-minded security researchers, influencers and hackers to mix and mingle. Talented practitioners across the globe flock to Black Hat, jumping at the chance to show off their latest findings, research and hacking techniques. For this community, it’s all about street cred, and Black Hat prides itself as being the premier stage for the best and the brightest. This year proved no differently, and members from Highwire PR’s security practice had a front row seat on all the action. Here are the takeaways:

Black Hat is Evolving

In the world of cybersecurity, insight is key and, at times, absolutely critical. Navigating this dark and interconnected web is complicated, and for vendors working to develop the latest and greatest in threat protection, Black Hat certainly fits the bill. Highwire saw an increase in client presence beyond the typical, passive 20×20 booth set-up. Instead, our clients were actively looking to advance their knowledge, specialize their technique and better understand what their customers are facing. Black Hat has evolved into the catalyst for that learning. And the awareness is growing. Although hacker attendees still reign during this week, we’ve seen more and more clients’ C-Suite inquiring in curious and positive ways about the conference as a strategic investment.

WannaCry is Still Making Us…well, Wanna Cry

Rubbing elbows with more than 15,000 security professionals gave the Highwire team perspective into some of the year’s more notable cybersecurity breaches. We heard first-hand what attendees thought of the infamous “WannaCry” ransomware attack. Almost 50-percent of people we spoke to felt as though this particular headliner was the “most over-hyped security breach” over the past year. Interestingly enough however, a near identical percentage (46.8) felt as though WannaCry was the most serious breach over the past year.

These numbers left us wondering: How can a cyberattack so severe be considered overhyped at the same time? Perhaps this points to tensions between media and security researchers. While the damage may have been a serious one (WannaCry impacted over 230,000 computers across 150 countries), researchers could be concerned about about how the attack was portrayed from a technical perspective by the media. Those of us closely following that particular cycle will remember how important it was to sort through over-hyped speculations vs. actual facts.

Let’s Get Together

On the media front, we kept our spokespeople busy, whether it was an exchange with NBC’s Alyssa Newcomb on election hacking or a video Q&A on application security with CSO’s Fahmida Rashid. In total, our agency secured more than 80 media briefings for our clients, fostering new and existing relationships and giving them a platform to share their story. While Highwire we build relationships via phone and email for our clients, there really is not substitute for actual, 1:1 facetime with a journalist.

All in all, Black Hat was an important investment for us and our clients, and we’re already kicking things into gear for the next big show…which is RSA 2018 in 244 days. But hey, who’s counting?

What’s User-Friendly About PitchFriendly?


HW Labs Test PR CRM/Media Engagement Platform that Aims to Automate Intern Tasks

Earlier this year, we kicked the tires on PitchFriendly – a PR-focused CRM system for managing media outreach, tracking relationships and reporting on progress. While we haven’t signed up for the platform (…yet), the company is making some huge improvements to the largely non-existent infrastructure PR teams use to manage media outreach and relationships.

Pros: What we love about PitchFriendly

1. Pitch Status Overview

First, the data. The ability for an account manager to see who has got their pitches out and what’s been the outcome. Have the pitches been read, has anyone committed to a briefing or to write, and who has declined? These are all questions frequently asked by clients and account team leadership after a pitch goes out. PitchFriendly puts all this useful status information into a single pane dashboard which makes it easier to report back the current opportunities in play and media feedback. The platform uses pixel tracking (similar to services like Mixmax and Streak) to enable PR pros to see if their email has been read before picking up the phone.

Being able to see the pitches that have been sent by team members also enables senior staff to provide feedback on outreach and help junior staff tweak pitches and improve their success rate.

2. Media CRM

The ability to see who recently engaged a reporter gives PR teams the ability to gain insight from others within the agency, or delegate a pitch to someone who already has an open line of communication with the reporter. The platform gives team members the ability to add notes on a reporter to keep the rest of the team informed about a change in beat or something that might impact communication with the reporter.


3. Templates and Mail Merge

The platform enables customizable pitch templates to be created so team members are all aligned on messaging, while having the freedom to personalize outreach for their specific targets. This prep work can be done in advance and then the entire batch of emails can be sent at a scheduled time. Mail merges can be tricky, and the archives of Twitter are littered with angry journalist tweets about PR mail merges gone wrong. However, the PitchFriendly system previews the email so you can see what it will look like for each reporter and provides checks in the process to limit the likelihood of a #PRfail.


4. The UI

It’s clean and simple, and easy to navigate. The PitchFriendly team have done a great job creating a modern user interface.


5. The Vision – AI and Machine Learning Replacing Intern Work

Founder Joel Andren has a strong vision for how PR engagement and outreach can be improved through technology and it’s exciting to hear him talk about the company’s plans to integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning to be able to review a pitch and automatically assign relevant reporters based on the system’s rich pool of data.


The Cons: What didn’t work so well?

1. Importing Media Lists

After working with collaboration tools like Google Docs and Atlassian Confluence, which enable real-time updates to messaging and media lists, switching to a system that requires building and finalizing a media list, and then importing it into the system was a challenge and an added step that slowed teams down. There is a learning curve, which might be tough to get by for a fast moving agency.


2. Adding Another Communication Interface

PitchFriendly does enable you to follow up with media using Gmail, as you normally would. But the initial pitch has to be sent in the PitchFriendly application. This adds another destination and another communications app in an already cluttered desktop. In follow up conversations, Joel and I discussed taking all the good stuff above – the reporting and the media CRM – and adding these as a Gmail extension (similar to Mixmax) so users can continue working in a familiar interface, and one that is being used for other work outside of pitching, while being able to track success and media conversations from email outreach.


Highwire Labs’ Take

PitchFriendly shows a lot of promise and Joel Andren’s vision for smarter media outreach is a compelling prospect. The platform isn’t perfect and there are further refinements needed, but it is the best example of PR-specific CRM system on the market, and the pitch status reporting and team management capabilities are worth checking out.

The company offers a free trial so you can try it out before committing to an on-going spend. We’re continuing to watch this space with interest.

Media Talk Tech Panel Recap

As PR professionals, it’s imperative to periodically check in with the media to gain a better understanding of the stories they’re looking for and how we can work together to tell those stories.

That’s why last week we, along with the Silicon Valley and San Francisco chapters of PRSA, hosted Jason Wilson of VentureBeat, David Pierce of Wired and Sean Captain of Fast Company at our office to share their thoughts on topics ranging from the state of media to how publications are handling the convergence of technology and politics.

On Audience

Panelists also touched on what they’re looking for from a source. The number one thing? They have to understand the publication’s audience, said Jason Wilson.

On Story Characters

David Pierce added that he has become good at knowing when people are giving him a speech and he’s more interested in finding the character of the story and hearing their experience firsthand.

On Politics

When asked how politics have impacted the newsroom over the past year, the panelists agreed it varies for each publication.

“You think about the role Facebook played in the election, and you realize this is just our world now, and we have to deal with it,” said Pierce. “But we have to ask ourselves where it makes sense for us to get involved and why our readers would care about it.”

On Angles

For Sean Captain, it’s all about how you approach the story. “Everyone wants to jump into the conversation, but you have to find the angle that works for your readership,” he said.

Check out the highlight video below, and take a look at the Highwire and PRSA social channels for videos, quotes and more from the panel!