Highwire’s Internship Program helps college graduates build the foundation for a long-term career in PR. This internship provides opportunities to work directly with client teams and to gain relevant hands-on experience. Across our four offices, our interns help create content to help tell our client’s stories and develop a strong foundation of skills for a career in PR. Learn about a few of our current Highwire interns below!
Conferences are a time to share information and discuss big challenges. That is always easier when you can bring some of the smartest people in the industry together in a single room. Fortunately, the breadth of clients we work with in the cybersecurity industry means that we speak to many of them on a regular basis. Each of them have a diverse perspective and approach to the security problems facing organizations today.
This year we hosted the second annual Highwire PR RSA Cybersecurity Panel series to bring our cybersecurity clients together to share their thoughts on what is driving defender and attacker agendas. We partnered with WSJ Pro Cybersecurity to host a series of panels discussing major trends this year in the security space. A special thanks to our panel moderator, Patrick Coughlin Co-founder & COO, TruSTAR.
Every conversation about cybersecurity focuses on trends in either the offensive techniques of attackers or the new tactics of defenders. With such a broad panel of experts, our discussions were able to inspire interesting perspectives on both.
What are the bad guys up to?
Cybersecurity is as much a human issue as it is a technical one, because unlike many technical problems there is an active intelligent adversary behind every attack looking for deliberate holes. But why do they turn to hacking?
One answer is because it is so easy. According to several of our experts, it’s only getting easier.
“The barrier to entry is very low. If you have the ability to search on Google, you can find the tools you need and have the ability to become an attacker,” said Dave Lewis, Global Security Advocate at Akamai.
And Endgame Chief Social Scientist, Andrea Little Limbago, pointed to three recent self-propagating worms—WannaCry, NotPetya and BadRabbit—that all stemmed from a single exploit leak. “Hackers can leverage what’s already put out there in the open source and leapfrog ahead. The lack of resources required to have an outsized impact is really phenomenal.”
The easy availability of these exploits mean that hackers do not even need to be on the cutting edge of technology to do significant damage. Jeremiah Grossman, CEO of BitDiscovery said “I haven’t seen the bad guys use AI, frankly because they don’t have to. The hacks are so easy. The number of systems they can compromise is so vast.”
These factors make it all too easy for new hackers to get started, and for experienced hackers to level up. “[Attackers] are way ahead! Not just in terms of technology but also in social engineering,” said Simon Thorpe, Director of Product & Account Security, Twilio “A zero day just pops and you are inundated.”
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for a hacker to breach an organization.
“The sad truth is the bad guys are getting in through low hanging fruit, such as not patching,” Justin Fier, Director for Cyber Intelligence and Analysis at Darktrace. “I run into a lot of teams that say ‘Until I get a major breach, I’m not going to do anything about it.’”
Bad patching processes are one thing, but the move to the cloud opens up another realm of possibilities for hackers. The urgency to move to the cloud can lead to IT teams making configuration mistakes in their rush to adopt new infrastructure.
“That’s why you see breaches with people moving into the cloud quickly with their S3 Buckets opened up, cryptominers installed,” said Sumedh Thakar, Chief Product Officer at Qualys. “People find about these cryptominers in their environment after they get the bill. I joke that the incident response team is finance.”
The expanding attack space of the digital world, driven not only by cloud adoption, but also by the shear number of new devices.
“If you look at my home, there are probably 80 different addressable devices,” Brad Bell, CIO of Infoblox. “You may not have direct interaction with them now, but they do represent a potential threat vector.”
“I set up a commercial firewall at home and ran traffic analysis for three months. At the end of three months, I found that 8% of my traffic was going to China,” added Jackson Shaw, Vice President of Product Management at One Identity. “I’m not ordering chinese food from that far away. It’s not just a threat at work but also in our homes.”
What do we do about it?
The situation may seem dire, but by leveraging these insights about what drives hackers, the cybersecurity industry has some hope of gaining the upper hand.
Casey Ellis, founder and CTO of Bugcrowd, noted the importance of focusing on the basics, like regular patching, saying “One of the challenges I see in how products are being taken out to market is a focus on APT, which to me is the equivalent of trying to cure cancer while we forget to wash our hands when we leave the restroom.”
Cyber hygiene is important, but perhaps even more important is to identify the advantages we have. When asked about the asymetrics advantage hackers appear to have, Chris Wysopal, CTO of CA Veracode pointed to enterprise detection systems. While breaching a system may be easy, “if you set up your detection correctly, the hacker only needs to make one false move and not look like a regular employee on the network.”
The other advantage defenders have is the vast amount of information we have about hacker activities. Sharing threat intelligence on information exchanges allows cyber defenders to gain a broader picture of what is happening around them and respond to new threats more effectively.
“Organizations are discovering that it is helpful to them to enter into these exchanges,” said Karl Sigler, Threat Intelligence Manager at Trustwave. “I think that any single organization has such a microscopic view of the security ecosystem as a whole. Once you start sharing information suddenly your whole perception changes.”
But of course, while the adversarial side is not purely driven by technical issues, neither is the defender side.
“What I feel is missing the most is the education of the end-user at the very beginning. People are not aware of the threats they could be facing,” said Filip Chytry, Threat Intelligence Director at Avast.
And Scott Register, VP of Security at Keysight added, “When I’m on Facebook and I see those little questions, like ‘What’s your stripper name?’ the questions you answered to get that—your pet, the street you grew up on—how often is that also a security question.”
One step to solving this problem is to demystify the cybersecurity space, according to Michael Daniel, President and CEO of Cyber Threat Alliance. By involving people with other backgrounds in the cybersecurity space, they will bring their unique perspectives with them to help solve the problems we’re facing and bring their understanding of cybersecurity back to their peers.
“We need to diversify our understanding of the security workforce. We need more economists who understand incentives. We need more lawyers who are cyber-smart,” said Daniel. “We need a lot more of the other disciplines to bake cybersecurity into them so that you have a broader understanding.”
Knowledge is power. And in the cybersecurity world, knowledge is also protection. Gathering the smartest minds in the cybersecurity space to discuss what is driving hackers to make the choices they make reveals a lot about what cybersecurity defenders need to watch next.
You can watch the whole panel series on the Highwire PR YouTube Channel here.
This year, Highwire is celebrating 10 years as an agency. Tapping into our inquisitive nature as communications professionals, we took this opportunity to invite esteemed journalists and PR peers through our doors to discuss the evolution of “The Story.” The tech and media world has changed tremendously, from the rise of the gig economy to the decline of print, but one thing has remained the same — a good story is a good story. While publication and readership may change what the core of that story contains, one goal remains: create and amplify a powerful narrative.
We sat down with Associated Press’ Michael Liedtke, Fast Company’s Harry McCracken, Reuters’ Stephen Nellis, and The Information’s Sarah Kuranda to hear what intrigues them about the technology industry today, and to get their thoughts on the evolving PR/media relationship.
Trends of Interest:
- Technology’s Influence on Society and Culture
This seemed to be the hottest topic on the minds of these journalists. Michael Liedtke noted how they are “creepily interested in the surveillance society that we seem to be complacently creating for ourselves whether we know it or not.” As our world advances, journalists will be watching to see how society adapts to its dependence on an imperfect system.
- AI and the Future of Work
Liedtke also noted his interest in the future of work as it relates to AI. While AI is enhancing life in so many ways, creating efficiencies and increasing productivity, it’s also establishing tensions among workers. For those of us living in a Silicon-Valley bubble, it’s also critical to share illustrative examples with the general public so they can grasp the true impacts of AI from real-life accounts.
- Beyond the Valley
Reaching beyond Silicon Valley was another point made by Stephen Nellis. He discussed his desire to tap into Reuters’ global network and work with international correspondents to develop a worldwide view for his pieces.
Cultivating Relationships to Separate the Experts from the Phonies
Sources are the glue that holds PR professionals and journalists together. PR professionals serve an important role as gatekeepers to the experts and thought leaders that journalists engage with for compelling stories. It’s essential that we treat that responsibility with care. As Sarah Kuranda emphasized, journalists have to weed through an abundance of “experts,” and therefore establishing relationships with genuine sources is a gift. A great source has first-hand experience, and fun stories to tell. If you have a great source, encourage them to build those relationships with media. Offer journalists a coffee or drink meeting and you’ll stay off the “B.S. list.”
The Under-Appreciated Element
Harry McCracken urged PR professionals to recognize the previous context in our pitches. It may seem like technology companies are entering a brand new world, but if you do your research, you’ll find essential historical context that is invaluable for stories. Silicon Valley is evolving rapidly, but nearly everything that is “new” has been tried before. Showing that your company or client has learned from others is a testament to the company’s product and end goal.
Working Together As Storytellers
The relationship between journalists and PR professionals is a delicate one. Each one represents a different side of the same narrative, but both seek to peak the interest of the audience. While we are always walking that thin line, discussions like these bring us a little bit closer to our ultimate goal – telling the story.
Mastering byline development takes time, practice, creativity and patience — all things that require a level of mental energy that we don’t always have. This is not a mindless activity, but one that’s truly engaging. Although it can be daunting, there’s actually a very clear structure that, when followed, can break byline writing up into much more manageable pieces. Writing a byline is like making cookies: it should be based on a recipe but can only be special if you add in your own secret sauce.
Let’s first start with the ingredients – every byline should contain these simple pieces.
First ask yourself, who is the audience here? Who will be eating your cookies? Just like you wouldn’t make snickerdoodle cookies for a chocoholic, you wouldn’t write a technical piece for business managers. You can’t please everyone every time, so don’t try to — keep it focused.
Next, gather your basics. Each byline needs to have the three fundamental ingredients:
- Key messaging
- Editorial guidelines
Finally, determine the secret ingredients. A byline needs something special — a reason to keep reading. We only have 7 seconds to grab a reader’s attention, so make sure that you don’t wait too long before throwing in your creativity, thought-provoking statistics, or outside sources.
Now that we know what we need, let’s talk about the process.
Step One: Choose Your Ingredients
This is the most important step — the information gathering. Without enough meat, the byline can become a chore to write and lack purpose. However, if you do a thorough job with this step, the byline can write itself.
There are several ways to gather your ingredients, some include sourcing calls, research, and/or using existing content. Of these, sourcing calls can lead to the most new and exciting content, but they require that you do your homework, ask the right questions, and think like a reporter.
Step Two: Lay it out.
Take the key points from that sourced content and turn it into an abstract to lead you down the right path. Establish a theme and endgame that you can run with and run towards. Set yourself up for success.
Then, create an outline. Organize your thoughts into something that has a beginning, middle and end. Don’t just throw everything in and hope it comes out okay. Each piece should be divided into 5 sections:
- The hook
- The why
- The body
- The kicker
- The call to action
Step Three: Mix it in.
Take that outline you’ve just created and fill it in. Add all of the information that you’ve gathered and tie it all together. This part should happen naturally, so let it. Don’t multitask, and have fun with it!
Step Four: Taste test your dough.
This is the editing process. Editing should involve multiple parties, not just yourself. Take the time to self-edit and ask yourself questions, but also ask a colleague for a reader’s perspective and your manager/client for feedback. The more thorough this phase is, the less likely it is that you’ll have to repeat step three over and over.
Think creatively here — is there anything you’re missing? How can you take this a step further?
Step Five: Bake the cookies.
Step away for a moment. Let the byline sit just for a bit before you come back to it for a final check. Taking a brief recess will allow you to return to the piece with an open mind. There may be minor tweaks to formatting or areas to add color, but if you’ve successfully completed each step along the way, this should be the easiest part.
Writing a compelling byline requires structure, planning, and a personal touch. There’s no fool-proof way to make it just right, but when you do hit that magical consistency, it’s mouthwatering for both you and your client.
So you’ve landed the big interview. Your team has secured one-on-one time with a journalist, and you have the chance to get your company’s message out to the masses. This is a big opportunity with plenty at stake. A great interview can build authenticity and help to develop strong media relationships. But an interview flop can tarnish your reputation and cause unwanted negative attention. No one wants to go viral for the wrong reasons.
Lucky for you, our agency’s media training experts have been on the other side of the interview. As former broadcast, print and radio journalists, they have a behind-the-scenes view of what it really takes to nail an interview. Here’s a hint: It all hinges on preparation. Here are five tips that can make the difference between a stellar interview and one that leaves you scrambling to do damage control.
Imagine Your Headline…then Say It
When preparing for an interview, start by asking yourself what ideal headlines you’d like to see come out of the interview. They should say something exciting about your company while also answering questions like “why now?” and “who cares?” Then, during the interview, begin your answers with that headline messaging. From there, support your headlines with facts, evidence and anecdotes. This will help you build out a solid foundation of key messaging for the interview.
Know Thy Interviewer
Not all journalists work the same way. It’s important to analyze the interview style of whomever you’re working with. Some journalists take a “good cop” approach. They establish a rapport with their subject by starting out with open-ended questions or asking tough questions in a friendly way to create an atmosphere of closeness. Other “bad cop” reporters take a hard-hitting approach. They skip the small talk and go straight for the tough questions, often in rapid fire. Do your research to figure out where a journalists falls on the good cop/bad cop spectrum so you know what to expect.
Anticipate the Tough Questions
Always expect the questions that you’d rather not be asked, even if you think you’re dealing with a “good cop” interviewer. Hash out what the controversial topics and hot-button issues are ahead of time. Mock interviews can be helpful here in order to prepare for the worst. If you are asked a tough question during an interview, there are a few strategies you can use to handle it. Answer the question if you can, but avoid repeating a negative statement. If the question itself isn’t negative, you can rephrase it as part of your answer and then answer the question with that angle. When in doubt, create a bridge to a key message with a phrase like “That’s a good point, but what we think is important here is…”
Avoid Trash Talk
One hard and fast rule of a good interview is that no one comes out on top by trash-talking their competitors. When it comes to rival companies, it’s best to stay mute. While it’s important to be aware of your competitors, avoid mentioning their names at all during an interview. All you’re doing is giving them free air time. Instead, name your company, your products and your customers as much as possible.
Never Go Off the Record
At some point during an interview, a journalist may turn to you and say, “Can I ask you a question off the record?” Don’t do it! Regardless of the great relationship you have with them or how much you trust them, the answer should always be no. At the end of the day, if a journalist gets a juicy soundbite or a hot tip from something you said off the record, they have quite a big incentive to go ahead and publish it. Play it safe and never say anything to a journalist that you wouldn’t want published.
When we first met Bob Finlayson about four years ago, we immediately recognized his gift for inspiring leaders and growing businesses through storytelling. Initially, he spearheaded our emerging leaders management training program, and subsequently our strategic offsites. With each session and interaction, he delivered valuable insights, from how best to assess current and prospective resources to staying ahead of the marketplace and anticipating client needs.
Bob has built his career by implementing effective marketing, branding, public relations, communications and social media strategies for a diverse range of companies that disrupted markets through technology. For example, he worked with Microsoft to help build Xbox into a category-disrupting brand at a time when Sony and Nintendo dominated the market. The keys to success were combining an influencer program with creativity and hard work across events as well as a proactive media plan. It also didn’t hurt that he had, “a fantastic client who was willing to take intelligent risks and run with our ideas,” he says. Additionally, Bob’s experience spans an impressive list of major brands and startups, including HP, SAP, Visa, Adobe, to name a few.
With this post, we both welcome Bob and introduce him to you. Here he explains his vision in a short but important Q&A that reveals what’s most important to him as he dives into his new role.
You’re going to be working on expanding our new products and services area to meet client needs. What areas do you feel are most critical? What are the big opportunities and why?
First, I would say that effective measurement — the ways that we demonstrate the value of what we do — continues to be one of our most critical needs. But more broadly, we know that the media landscape is changing, as is the way in which people interact with news, information, advertising and brands. We intend to be on the forefront of the communications and marketing strategies that reflect these changes by telling stories in new ways, while continuing to help clients achieve their business goals. My goal is to ensure we stay ahead of these changes so we can continue to meet and exceed our clients’ needs and expectations.
What are some broad goals you have for yourself and the agency?
I’m focused on three main goals where I believe I can make the most impact:
- To expand our new services capabilities and revenue by building new products to meet the needs of a changing communications landscape.
- To support and cultivate our agency’s culture so that we continue to attract and retain the best talent in the industry.
- To identify and engage with the companies that want to change the world.
Summarize some key learnings/skills from your background working with tech companies and startups that ultimately prime you for success in this role.
I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to work with some of the world’s leading technology brands and with some of the most innovative startups across just about every market category. This includes working with many tech visionaries. That means that I bring a depth and breadth of experience and expertise to client issues, challenges and opportunities. My background as a journalist and marketer enables me to help clients tell impactful stories for earned, owned, paid and shared media. I’ve leveraged the most effective marketing tools to project those stories with the objective of building brands and driving the customer behaviors that achieve client business goals.
Finally, tell us more about your passions or hobbies. How do you spend your spare time?
Technology, art and engineering are my passions, but mostly I think of myself as a futurist. Over the past 20 or so years, I’ve had the opportunity and the privilege to work with some amazing visionaries (Bill Gates and Elon Musk), some extraordinarily imaginative companies (Cisco, Infoseek, FireEye and more) and to launch some incredible products (Tivo, Hotwire and more). This has given me the chance to see technology trends as they were developing, which feeds into my other passion — science fiction writing. My first novel was Gene Pool: Unnatural Selection, which is the first in a four part series. I’m working on the second book now. It’s set in San Francisco, and is about the coming biotech revolution. You can also find a piece I wrote for NPR station KQED here that discusses our quest to extend the human lifespan.
My other hobbies include sailing, scuba diving, photography, international travel and home repair. Okay, the last one might not be so much of a hobby as a necessity.
Another RSA has come and gone. Sales and communications teams across the security industry can finally take a moment to slow down and celebrate a job well done. At least until they need to start preparing for Black Hat.
Year after year, the conference has gotten bigger. This year, there were 50,000 security professionals, executives, and vendors in San Francisco milling about the show. And yet for all of the ballooning attendance, the media landscape at the show has changed drastically from years past.
The growth of the show has made many reporters skittish, with many top-tier reporters deciding not to attend this year after citing the increasing corporate nature of the show. This is not a problem confined to RSA, but one that affects every growing conference.
But there are still plenty of opportunities to amplify key messages during these shows. Here are a few ways to make your communications activities at big conferences successful.
Get Friendly with Reporters
If you don’t know the reporters in your space well ahead of the show, getting them to make time for you during the show will be difficult. Their time is limited as they need to balance catching up with old contacts, meeting up-and-coming influencers, taking in key learnings from the show overall, and writing stories.
To make sure you are one of the people on their list, make sure you know what they are interested in before the show. One key reporter at a new tech publication noted that his job often gets him caught up in the day-to-day happenings of the security space, meaning that these conferences are good times for him to get a sense for the bigger picture. Another reporter at an influential security trade publication noted that his plan this year was to explore one topic in-depth that he decided close to the show.
On the other hand, some reporters are only driven by newsworthy events. Don’t be afraid to set up times to chat with them in the weeks before the show to discuss key points from talks or announcements that will go live during the show. Many reporters write pieces in advance to publish that week before their schedule fills up.
Knowing what drives reporters’ agendas at the show is not something that you can guess the week before the conference and hope to have a full schedule. Instead, get to know them as people and strive to understand how you can help them get what they need.
It’s also important to remember that conferences are great grounds for strong content across social platforms. Not only are a lot of people focused on the same topic at the same time—even narrowed down to a few hashtags—but since many attendees are less focused on work, they have more attention to focus on social media.
Make sure to use the strong images from the show as content to help make individual posts more visually appealing. Tagging relevant people, such as speakers at the show, employees partners or visitors, can also boost engagement by making a human connection and expanding the audience of viewers.
Always make sure to leverage any news coming out around the conference to generate more content, especially if it has lasting impact beyond the conference. People attend these conferences for insights they can use, so they are even more likely to engage with social activity with direct impact on their roles.
Explore Content Alternatives
As the media landscape changes, many publications are looking for alternative ways to make ends meet. Many more publications are open to working with vendors to create sponsored content that relates back to their key messages. With the right planning and promotion strategy, sponsored content can have nearly as big an impact as earned media.
Strong sponsored content highlights the expertise of your spokespeople by discussing major industry trends and sharing thought-provoking opinions, just as they would in earned media. The advantage is that you have more control over what happens to the content after publication. In addition to appearing on the publication website, these pieces can be shared on social media, syndicated to corporate blogs, and reused ahead of the next conference.
These relationships can also do double duty in a few different ways. If you conduct these interviews at your show booth and film them, they can act as part of your conference programming, drawing more visitors or potential leads out of the show. These are also strong opportunities to get face time with these reporters so they get to know you and your company better for their future coverage needs.
Crowded conferences are just a fact of life in the communications field. More attendees mean more potential sales leads, but also more competition for mind time. Vendor communications teams have their work cut out for them, but there are still plenty of opportunities to break through the noise and tell a good story.