Expert Insight into the Chicago Tech Scene & What Lies Ahead

Chicago had 14,014 tech businesses in 2017 and 341,600 tech workers across all industries, an increase of 4,000 from the year prior, tying the city with Boston for the second most innovative in the nation. And according to a PitchBook report, Chicago companies now offer the highest venture capital returns of any startup hub in the U.S., with 81 percent of Chicago exits having a 3-to-10x return. So, as we sprint to stay ahead of the ‘next big thing’ in tech here in Chicago, we want to know: what helped propel the city to stardom and what is needed to maintain the Windy City’s spot as a leading innovator?

Highwire’s 10th anniversary this October gave us the perfect opportunity to reflect on the Chicago tech scene and take a look at what’s to come in the next ten years. For a deeper dive, we went straight to the experts. Highwire’s Chicago office hosted some of the sharpest minds in tech and communications for a panel discussion. We discussed the thriving tech landscape in the city, how it’s evolved and unique new PR tactics companies are using to get the word out in an increasingly competitive landscape. Here’s what we learned:

  • #Humblebrag, Y’all: Lisa Jillson, head of marketing at Arity, believes Chicago-based companies need to start humble bragging about themselves more. True to Midwest values, local tech companies aren’t giving themselves enough credit, and it’s time to start. Reporters, venture capital firms and investors are seeking those who are looking at industry challenges from a different viewpoint and, as a result, have a story to tell. It is becoming increasingly tough for companies that lurk in the shadows to build their brand. Stay grounded Midwesterners, but start walking the walk and talking the talk.
  • Deviate From the Norm: Ally Marotti, tech reporter for the Chicago Tribune, sparked an a-ha moment in the audience when she shared the number one element she looks for in her reporting: “news is a deviation from the norm.” Yes, pitches about a company’s 20-year anniversary are fun, but is it news? Does it offer a fresh perspective on an otherwise stale topic or challenge the status quo, and why now? These are the questions communications professionals need to be asking themselves. News is a deviation from the norm — that’s what makes a story.
  • Utility, Relatability and Entertainment: Hassan Ali, former creative director for the Onion, doubled as our comedian for the night while providing three key components to succeeding in today’s tech marketing world. When marketing a product, Hassan said it has to challenge what it was originally meant to do or be. Finding new ways to look at an old product is imperative to appeal to consumers across all generations. The brand strategy needs to be relatable and entertaining. Companies that can tie humor into a campaign or take a risk to turn the brand into something it wasn’t intended to be are the thought leaders who can dominate the market.
  • The Future of Tech is Female: Betsy Ziegler, CEO for 1871, garnered a round of applause when she told the room that 30 percent of tech CEOs in Chicago are women, and this number is expected to grow. Tech incubators are fostering opportunities for female entrepreneurs with big ideas and major tech companies are racing to recruit these powerful future leaders. Women are leading the charge and taking the tech scene by storm in Chicago. So, who run the world? Girls (in tech).

In order to maintain our post as a city driving innovation, Chicago’s tech innovators need to adopt a strong communications program that leverages these insights. We have the tech, we have the talent — it’s time to show it off and spread the word. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for our amazing city. Cheers to the next ten years!

Season of Giving — Highwire Gives Thanks and Support

A simple act of kindness goes a long way. Here at Highwire, our core value of balance allows us to explore our personal passions while giving back to the community. Every quarter, the Highwire Social Impact Committee in each office plans events for employees to come together and volunteer with the organizations we’re most passionate about.

In 2018, we’ve sent supplies to soldiers overseas in Boston, helped mulch trees at a local park in Chicago, fed families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in New York, and helped our local dog rescue with various tasks in San Francisco.

In addition to giving their time, Highwire Walkers have also been busy donating and supporting charities around the country that they care about – utilizing Highwire’s generous donation matching benefit. In honor of Giving Tuesday, here are a few charities that our employees are passionate about:

Walk to End Alzheimer’s

Brittany Votto, Senior Account Manager, San Francisco

After losing her dad to a long struggle with early-onset Alzheimer’s, Brittany has been leading a fundraising effort for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Her goal is to help raise awareness and increase funding to find more ways to care for those unlucky enough to have to suffer through it. During this year’s walk, Brittany and her sister raised $4,690 from the support of family, friends and other Highwire Walkers.

Right now, more than 5 million people are living with this devastating disease and 16 million are living the painful and exhausting life of a caregiver. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., and it’s the only disease among the top 10 causes of death in America that cannot be prevented, cured or even slowed.

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

Allie Carmichael, Senior Digital Strategist, New York

As outdoor enthusiasts, Allie and her husband are frequently hiking, often using the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference guides and directions. The organization supports trail upkeep and conservation work, resources used often by both Allie and her husband on their adventures.

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is a volunteer-powered organization that builds, maintains, and protects public trails. They currently build and maintain more than 2,150 miles of public trails with 400,000 volunteer hours over the past five years going into building and maintaining trails, monitoring invasive species, creating maps and guidebooks, and more.


Stephanie Burke, Senior Account Manager, New York

After cutting the cord years ago, Stephanie found WNYC a great substitute for local TV news – particularly since they acquired Gothamist earlier this year. She always has it playing from her Alexa at home and loves the variety of segments they offer. With her donation, she’s excited to continue her support for local independent stations.

WNYC is a listener-supported news source on air and online for independent journalism and courageous conversation. Its broadcasting includes broadcasting programs from NPR, American Public Media, Public Radio International and the BBC World Service, as well as a wide range of award-winning local programming. Listen on 93.9 FM and AM 820 in New York City.

Territorio de Zaguates

Andrea Torres, Account Manager, San Francisco

As a dog lover, Andrea contributes to Terrorio de Zaguates to show her love and compassion for her four-legged friends.

The shelter is located in Costa Rica and is a temporary home for hundreds of dog seeking a second chance and a forever home. The shelter also is a permanent home for other dogs that will never find a family.

American Cancer Society

Ben Liwanag, Account Associate, New York

After watching my mom fight a multi-year hard battle with cancer, I am proud to continue to help others fight and live with this disease by contributing to the American Cancer Society. With nearly everyone knowing someone or directly impacted by cancer, the fight will only continue until a cure can be found.

In 2018, there will be an estimated 1,735,350 new cancer cases diagnosed and 609,640 cancer deaths in the United States. The American Cancer Society continues to fund and conduct research, share expert information, support patients and families as well as spread awareness on cancer prevention.

[Photo Gallery] Highwire Celebrates its 10th Anniversary from Coast to Coast

This year marks Highwire’s 10-year anniversary. Over the last decade, we’ve expanded to almost 100 Highwire Walkers located in four cities across the country— San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Boston. Highwire has been celebrating its anniversary all year long across each office in true media maven style – with media panels, networking and drinks! We’ve held panels in San Francisco, New York and Chicago this year to celebrate the evolution of the story and the exciting things in store for tech and PR.

In October, we culminated our anniversary celebrations with two parties in our San Francisco and New York offices, bringing together industry members, journalists and clients for a night of food, wine and great conversation. Take a look at how we celebrated from coast to coast. Here’s to the next 10 years!

San Francisco’s 10-year anniversary party


New York City’s 10-year anniversary party

The Next 10: Making Your Mark in an Evolving Cybersecurity Comms Landscape

#HWCyberSquad leader Christine Elswick shares insights into creating future cyber leaders

A glowing light in cyberspace

Election hacking. Targeted attacks on our power grid systems. Ransomware debilitating global network infrastructure. Hundreds of millions of passwords stolen from businesses in one fell swoop. This is the reality we face in today’s cyber threat landscape.

The continued onslaught of cyberattacks has essentially made cybersecurity mainstream—and effective and transparent communication in the wake of such a crisis is now a critical skill for any business to have. This evolution has created an opportunity for leading vendors to educate the masses about the critical reality of today’s cyber world. If done right, security companies have the opportunity to become household names within the next 10 years.

But the growing market makes it difficult for a single company to stand out from the crowd. So how can a cybersecurity business differentiate itself, rebuild trust in the age of breach fatigue, and educate the world in the wake of cyber warfare?

In this blog, I’ll walk you through strategic recommendations that will elevate your thought leadership, strengthen relationships with the media that matter, and align with today’s headlines.

Rebuild Trust—We’ve witnessed the expansion of mainstream cybersecurity awareness in everyday society in recent years, as demonstrated through television shows such as Mr. Robot and blockbuster hits like Snowden and Ocean’s 8. As scary as it sounds, cyber interference in the real world has moved out of the realm of science fiction to everyday conversation. Look no further than this year’s midterm elections.

It’s clear that cybersecurity is no longer only for the most technically gifted; it has directly reached the lives of ordinary people. The growth of IoT devices like smart voice assistants or connected door locks means we can’t ignore the threat of cybercriminals to our everyday lives. Further, with Big Tech in the hot seat for its misuse of data, it’s an opportune time for security companies to rebuild trust within the enterprise and beyond.

Security companies need to reach executives outside of the security world now more than ever to raise awareness of what is at stake. We cannot afford to let cybersecurity be a problem only for enterprise security teams alone to deal with. This means that cybersecurity communications cannot be limited to trade and industry publications, but must also reach broader audiences.

Integrate Your Comms—One part media relations, three parts press release, and a dash of analyst engagement. Years ago, this was the recipe for PR success. Today, organizations must take an integrated approach to communications. Leveraging digital strategies such as social engagement and influencer marketing alongside ”traditional” thought leadership is vital to amplifying a company’s vision and cutting through the industry noise.

On the influencer side of things, journalists writing longer-lead feature stories for publications like The Wall Street Journal and New York Times are increasingly seeking non-vendor sources, looking to prestigious academic institutions, think tanks, current and former government officials and in the case of WSJ Pro Cybersecurity, CISOs at non-tech Fortune 500 companies for perspective. Aligning with these influencers will help strengthen your company’s reputation through thought leadership.

When it comes to social engagement, it’s critical that you establish an authentic voice that aligns with your brand across all channels and leverage this medium to extend the life of your content. In the fast-moving, volatile world that is cybersecurity, speed is also critical. You must be able to move quickly and nimbly to get your company’s voice heard.

Get Creative with Telling Your Story—It’s no secret: the industry is crowded. Just two minutes on the RSA or Black Hat show floor or a look at the latest VC investment headlines will tell you that.

Never has PR been more critical to help the real leaders stand out. But it’s important that companies challenge themselves to be creative with campaigns to break away from the pack. This means showing that the company is more than just a product. It means that thought leadership should be supported by identifying independent thinkers with deliberate, experience-tested philosophies. It means discussing real-world examples (even if anonymized!) of how your technology actually makes an impact and stops cyber attacks in real-time across Fortune 500 businesses. These examples tell a story that pulls the reader in.

Don’t Forget the Fundamentals.

  • The importance of a cyber playbook—There are only two types of companies left in the U.S.: those that have been hacked, and those that don’t know they’ve been hacked. With this in mind, companies must have a crisis plan that will guide them through worst case scenarios. Highwire recommends going as far as involving third parties (who will theoretically support the business in a time of crisis) and reporters as part of the course.
  • Rapid response: Unless a spokesperson has direct knowledge of the incident or previous experience that makes him/her an expert on the particular topic, do not ambulance chance—it only undermines their credibility and frustrates reporters. As public understanding of cybersecurity grows, so too will the demand for thoughtful, nuanced reporting on these incidents. The experts who reporters will turn to the most for their thought leadership are the ones who can offer unique insights and help people understand the real impact, without spreading FUD.
  • Increasing importance of strategic events—A way for executives to talk about real issues and interact with like-minded peers, events have become a crucial medium for the industry. The cybersecurity community is a tight-knit group so building on those relationships in person is essential to becoming a respected voice in the industry. In recent years, high profile events such as WSJ.D Live, MIT EmTech and Collision have created dedicated cybersecurity tracks. CNBC and Bloomberg are other top-tier publications placing a heavy emphasis in cybersecurity across their global events, and newer conferences continue to emerge, such as the third annual Aspen Cyber Summit—held for the first time on the West Coast last week. At RSA 2018, Alex Stamos and others launched OURSA to discuss issues not tackled at the larger mainstage conference—diversity & inclusion, privacy & security implications, and ethics of emerging technologies. Watch out for the #HWCyberSquad’s upcoming blog on security events that are becoming strategic opportunities to build relationships and showcase research.
  • Aligning the business to key trends—Tying your business to key trends—both security and non-security related—will be important to elevating the brand and creating a connection to a broader audience. In the next 10 years, topics that will likely to continue to be front and center in the news include: all things artificial intelligence and human intelligence; AI-based attacks; data privacy and GDPR; diversity and inclusion; nation-state security and cyber warfare; the economic impact of security on a global scale; IoT and smart cities; consolidation across the security market; quantum computing and much more.

The internet has become a crowded, labyrinthian place to conduct business and share information. There are hundreds of cybersecurity startups emerging every month, each claiming to have the silver bullet to addressing the cyber crisis, and legacy players snatching up smaller ones in order to acquire next-generation capabilities to remain relevant. But intelligent communications is our map to show us the way forward and create an opportunity for the cyber leaders of the future to make their mark.

The true leaders will emerge through compelling storytelling that showcases their impact to a broader audience. The age of cyber war is just beginning and it will create lasting change on the world and the cybersecurity industry over the next 10 years. But one thing is certain: communications will be a critical piece of the puzzle in establishing credibility and trust in these uncertain times.