Reuters Reporter Joe Menn Shares Insight on Latest Book, “Cult of the Dead Cow”

The world of cybersecurity can often be a place of doom and gloom. That’s what Reuters reporter and author Joe Menn focused on in his 2010 book, Fatal System Error. The book is an attempt to get folks in Washington, the industry as a whole and everyday people to realize that cybersecurity is a major issue. Now, nearly 10 years later, his mission has come to fruition. The public, government and tech leaders have recognized cybersecurity as a matter of critical importance, and people at every level are looking for solutions to it. 

In this time of minor panic, Joe wanted to spotlight a group of hackers who are doing good. His latest book, Cult of the Dead Cow, was released in June and named one of Hudson Booksellers Best Books of 2019. It follows the story of the original hacktivism group –  and oldest group of computer hackers in U.S. history – through inception as a group of Texas kids with an interest in computers to the experienced hackers and technology professionals who testified in front of Congress.

Joe joined us in the Highwire San Francisco office to chat through his latest book and answer all of our burning questions. We’ll share some of the behind-the-scenes information he let us in on, but be careful – some spoilers ahead!

How do you get sources to open up and trust you?

One of the challenges of writing a book about hackers, especially ones with a sometimes dodgy past, is that they’re not typically over-sharers. In order to get information to write his book, Joe took significant care in building relationships with each of the folks he interviewed. He spent a lot of time hanging out with the Cult of the Dead Cow members and holding sessions that were completely off the record. “You can’t burn people,” he said, “or that will get around in seconds.” He tries to be as transparent as possible with his interviewees and make his intentions clear. Once you burn someone, he shared, you’re finished in that industry or beat.

How does writing longform differ from writing journalistically?

For his day job, which he is incredibly enthusiastic about, Joe works as a Reuters cybersecurity reporter. During the three-year process of writing Cult of the Dead Cow, he maintained a steady cadence of article output for Reuters all while conducting innumerable interviews, writing and editing the book. He shared that the primary differentiator in writing for news is that, in a book, readers want the third act already concluded and they don’t want the author to cause the third act outside of their work. 

For example, the result of his investigative reporting for Reuters can come in the form of company policy updates, leadership or staffing turnover and overall positive change. In a book, his readers expect that the final chapter, so to speak, will have already happened – they expect resolution. Despite enjoying the impact his work has on the cyber and tech industries, Joe’s goal when writing a full-length book is to provide the full story, start to finish, to give readers a colorful and accurate understanding of the events that took place. 

Key takeaways and interesting facts learned along the way

As a reporter, and overall interested party, Joe followed the Cult of the Dead Cow closely over the years. For a time, he even received their emailers, but there were still some things that were surprising to learn along his research gathering journey. He learned that the group’s most important way to build trust and community was through meeting in person, especially at HoHoCon. “Their mediums of communication changed from bulletins to email to Slack,” he said, “but the personal meetings have always been the most important.”

During his nascent information gathering period, the Cult of the Dead Cow members mentioned that they had a former member who was then in Congress. With his investigative research and powers of deduction, he was able to determine that Beto O’Rourke was the member in question, spoke with him for the book and published a Reuters article revealing his inclusion. This information was one of the biggest revelations and well kept secrets of the group. 

Cult of the Dead Cow’s legacy and future

The Cult of the Dead Cow has influenced hackers and activists since the 1980s, and they continue to do so today. The largest group of Cult of the Dead Cow members joined together for an in-person panel at DEF CON 27 moderated by Joe, and members have gone on to create successful careers in tech, such as Chris Wysopal, co-founder of VeracodeIn a time of political and social uncertainty, Joe has shown that there are still people out there fighting for good. Not only that, but they’re training and influencing the next generation to follow in their footsteps. Grab your copy of Cult of the Dead Cow to get more details from the horse’s (or cow’s) mouth.

CES Decoded: What You Need to Know to Shine at Consumer Tech’s Biggest Show

In just a few weeks, CES will shine a spotlight on the latest and greatest in consumer tech. However, with all the noise at the show, it’s easy for even the most innovative brands to get lost in the shuffle.

At Highwire, we work with companies to create compelling stories and experiences that will help their products stand out from the pack. We’ve been on the show floor year after year with direct access to media and influencers, fine-tuning our approach and know just what it takes to sparkle brighter than most.

To share our know-how, we’ve created a new guide — CES Decoded — to uncover everything a PR professional needs to know going into consumer tech’s biggest show. The report includes top trends, like the future of transportation, smart home, AI and eCommerce/retail, as well as what we predict will stand out this year. We’ve also included the media and influencers that you need to reach and, most importantly, how you can catch their attention.

To download the report, please fill out the form below. If you are interested in learning more about how to make your brand shine at CES or in 2020, please don’t hesitate to reach out – consumer@highwirepr.com.

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Highwire’s Retail Trends and Predictions for 2020

At Highwire, we work with startups and tech companies that power the retail industry from end-to-end, and the media who cover all things in this space. This puts us in a unique position, with our fingers on the pulse of everything happening in the industry. 

While we don’t have a crystal ball to see the future for certain, we can predict what the coming year will bring based on the research and trends we’re seeing. So, what can you expect for digital commerce in 2020? 

Here are our top four predictions:

  1. The Return Revolution Picks Up Steam.

When holiday shopping is all said and done, the return season follows, bringing more anxiety than joy to the industry. Approximately 11% of goods are returned, and when it comes to e-commerce, that number can easily reach 30%. An Optoro study found that $390 billion worth of merchandise is returned in the US each year, resulting in 5 billion pounds of waste sent to landfills.

However, the retail industry is finally fighting back against the cost and burden of the return process with new approaches that save time, frustration, and the environment. From Amazon’s Returnless Refunds to independent retailers’ Happy Returns, alternatives help retailers save on the cost of shipping and processing returns, while consumers benefit from convenience and choice. We’ll see these approaches increase in 2020, including more options for retailers to resale or donate returned inventory, eliminating waste and improving their financial recovery.

  1. Recommerce is Hot and Getting Hotter.

Three in five Americans (61%) say they’re comfortable receiving a second-hand item as a gift. Research from online store ThredUp and retail analytics firm Global Data show the U.S. secondhand apparel market was worth $24 billion in 2018 and is likely to reach $41 billion by 2022. Savvy shoppers who want the benefits of the latest fashions while desiring more sustainability and affordability are fueling the trend.

With the resale market on the rise, brands need to do more than just get products out quickly. Increasingly important is the quality and design that can last for years to come. Look for more brands to expand into rentals and find other creative ways to embrace the resale market.

  1. Sustainability is In, and Here to Stay.

 Retail is greener than ever these days and this look is here to stay. Coffee shops filling only reusable cups, direct to consumer brands preaching transparency and ethics in how they source and sell goods, plastic bag bans, and a reduction in cardboard: these are all indicators of retail’s sustainable future. Consumers are increasingly prioritizing sustainability values when researching and buying products.

As the World Economic Forum affirms businesses’ purpose to include broader societal concerns, retailers are making changes to mitigate carbon emissions and reduce environmental impact, as well as meet eco-conscious consumers’ demands. According to Business of Fashion’s 2018 State of Fashion research, 66% of millennials worldwide are willing to spend more on brands that are sustainable. The voices of climate advocates are growing louder, and in the years ahead, we’ll see even more changes towards creating a sustainable supply chain for retail. 

  1. Stores are Back in Fashion.

We’ve seen a tsunami of brick-and-mortar retail closures across America, but from the ashes of an old retail model, a new wave of stores will rise. Look for more small brick-and-mortar stores to open in 2020 as mobile pickup centers rise to meet the expectations of the on-demand shopper. Mobile-only pickup stores will be a haven for the brand loyalist while traditional brick-and-mortar stores will get experimental and serve as a destination to drive new customers. 

Of course, the customer experience will become more important than ever, with shopping experiences that can’t be had online. Experiential retail will emphasize experiences that are shareable on social media, offering more than just products. Look for stores to emphasize their unique offerings through experiences that immerse consumers in their brand culture.

As we fill our carts this holiday season and think ahead to commerce in 2020, we’d love to know your predictions for the coming year. Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Attending NRF’s Big Show in January? We’d love to meet you! Drop a line to commerce@highwirepr.com and we can find a time to connect.

By: Tricia Nugent-Dawal and Stephanie Burke

PRSA Silicon Valley: Media Predicts Tech Trends for 2020

Photo by CoWomen

Last month, a few folks from our San Francisco office joined the Silicon Valley Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) chapter at their 13th Annual Media Predicts Gala and Awards Ceremony. Joined by a stellar panel made up of notable reporters, like Ina Fried of Axios, Laura Mandaro of Forbes, Mike Isaac of The New York Times, Ryan Mac of Buzzfeed and Jack Stewart of Marketplace–the team got to hear insights on what trends media are anticipating for 2020 from conversation about “Big Tech,” data privacy and more.

Ready with a delicious dinner paired with a nice glass of wine, Highwire–joined by some of our clients–jotted down some notes on key takeaways from the night for tech trends in 2020 and insight on pitching reporters at these top tier publications.

Panelists shared some noteworthy insight on what they anticipate for tech trends in 2020. Here are our top picks:

  • The road to regulation for Big Tech: Facebook has become the poster child for all the bad things happening in tech. They have no allies on any side of politics and have been losing trust from its users. Curious as to why we haven’t seen any regulation? To put it in plain words, it’s just not that easy. The two main areas the government can explore, however, are antitrust and privacy. While these areas are being regulated with regulations like GDPR in the EU, the panelists let us know we simply don’t have the same means in the US. With election season coming in 2020, we can expect to see the introduction of new laws to regulate “Big Tech.”
  • The effect of Big Tech for up-and-coming companies: We are seeing the same four or five tech companies control every part of how we live our lives. From smart devices, social media to ride-sharing apps, the lens of how the world operates is coming from just a handful of companies. Crazy, right? Panelists anticipate startups will continue to be acquired from influencing giants, making it tougher for us to know who the next company will be to join the elite as they’ll be more cautiously selected. 
  • An open conversation on why you should care about data privacy: When it comes to privacy, reporters warn that while everyone is “watching the front door,” the back door is what’s scary. Even with the knowledge of companies having access to our data, we haven’t seen public outcry. Reporters say this means the average person doesn’t have enough information to know if they should care about their data privacy. With new laws and regulations, 2020 could be the year of enlightenment for those still in the dark. The opportunity will heavily rely on the media to continue to provide the public with the necessary knowledge needed to dispell misinformation.

Beyond some insightful trends and predictions, the panel took part in a series of rapid-fire questions that shined a light on some of their personal preferences. If you’re thinking about pitching any of these lovely reporters, listen up!

  • On the record vs off the record conversations: Be careful what you say on and offline, you may see it in print. While reporters do honor “on the record” conversations, they let us know there needs to be an agreement. If there’s no two-way agreement, sorry bud, but panelists say your words are fair game *cough cough* Elon Musk.
  • Best time to pitch a reporter: Does the early bird get the worm? Ask early risers Mike Isaac and Laura Mandaro. Meanwhile, you’re more likely to catch Ryan Mac and Ina Fried with the sight of the moon as they both admit they’re night owls. Gotta get that newsletter out somehow, right, Ina?
  • Checklist before pitching a startup: If you’re pitching a startup, panelists shared a few items you need to check off your list before getting in their inbox. Does your startup have a good business model? What about real customers? Have you found the right reporter who’s passionate about your topic? If you answered yes to all of these questions, you’re ready to click send.

We’re excited to see how these media trends play out in 2020. With the introduction of new technology and regulations, anything is possible. Let us know what trends you anticipate for 2020. Share your thoughts with us on Twitter and Facebook

An Introduction to Silicon Slopes

Image credit: Jaxon Lott, @cactuskace

Utah is home to some of the world’s best ski resorts, national parks and over the past 10 years, one of the fastest-growing technology scenes in the country. As a recent transplant to Salt Lake City, it’s been incredible to witness the region’s growth first hand. As I get familiar with my new home, the following is a look into the region’s biggest companies, its growth trajectory and the companies to watch.

Silicon Slopes by the Numbers

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From the end of the great recession in 2009, Utah has emerged as one of the best states in the nation for capital investment with venture capital in Utah companies growing by 450 percent, double the national growth rate. The number of deals per year has also more than doubled in that same time period. The past five years, for example, have resulted in a total deal flow of over $700 million each year on average, with 2014 and 2015 both hitting highs of over a billion. Today Utah has 50 venture capital firms, a number of which have supported some of the state’s (and tech industries) biggest deals including SAP’s acquisition of Qualtrics for $8 Billion at the end of 2018, and a number of public offerings including Pluralsight in March of 2018 and Health Catalyst’s recent July initial public offering

Examining the past few years of deal trends, 2019 looks to be no different following investments like business management software company Divvy picking up a $200 million Series C at the end of April, emerging biotechnology Recursion Pharmaceuticals securing a $121 million Series C in July and Weave, a developer of patient communications software, whose $70 million Series D round in October make it Utah’s next Unicorn.


It’s All About the People
As the tech ecosystem scales, fueled by the states business culture and by investments in B2B enterprise SaaS applications, fintech and healthcare IT, I can only imagine the opportunities that will arise for Silicon Slope startups especially with established brands like Adobe and companies to watch like Divvy and Qualtrics expanding their local footprints with massive new buildings. 

So what is drawing all this talent to the region and creating opportunities for companies to watch like Lucid Software, Bamboo HR, and Divvy? While some will surely point to Utah’s outdoor lifestyle, tech talent pool and supportive business environment with unlimited real estate, I think it’s the supportive community that is a big driver.  For example, Qualtrics announced a new massive office space, that will include a 40,000 square foot MIT of daycare facilities as a way to support its employees with families.

Looking towards the future, in this new state, surrounded by the values that so resemble Highwire’s sense of collaboration, balance and passion, I’m confident that I’ll fit right in and I’m excited to see where opportunities take me. 

Silicon Slopes, Highwire PR is here and open for business. Come meet me and principal Emily Borders at next year’s Silicon Slopes Tech Summit or drop us a line at hi@highwirepr.com

‘The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ Has Arrived for Cybersecurity Holiday Readiness Campaigns

The online retail market is flush with cash – just last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, U.S. consumers spent a record $850 billion and sales are expected to exceed $1.1. trillion this year. This stat not only makes a consumer say “wow”, it’s the perfect “pitch ammo” for a PR pro to use to hook a journalist when conducting a holiday readiness campaign. 

We all want to land on the “nice list” for our clients and reporters, so here are 3 tips you can use to get in the holiday spirit when executing your media strategy this year and developing a plan for next season. 

  • Don’t fa-la-la behind (start outreach early!)

Lots of PR pros want to wait until peak holiday season to get outreach underway to reporters, but it’s likely too late. The trick is to get ahead of the game and start pitching your ideal storylines in early October and continue to spin new angles and follow up with reporters into the new year. This is also prime time to capitalize on your clients’ vertical business units or marketing objectives. Reason being? Think of the various “milestones” cybercriminals capitalize on throughout the core holiday months — Black Friday, Cyber Monday, holiday exchanges/returns, etc. They all tie to a vertical industry in some way (retail, financial services, etc.). Toss your stale security pitches and think outside the box — “leverage the knowns” as a client once told me. These are the newshooks reporters write about every year so it’s up to us to think of fresh ways to tell the story.

  • ….But, yule be sorry if you pitch something “just to pitch”

Poll a handful of reporters with different beats and they will all agree on one thing — don’t force feed a story. That doesn’t mean you can’t get creative in how you approach your pitch or angle (this is encouraged — especially with verticals!), but bear in mind that there has to be some tie to the holiday season that a reporter and their audience can bite on beyond just security. Maybe it’s a new cyber attack method that’s ramping up during the holidays that retailers don’t know about (looking at you, credential stuffing) or a best practices approach for authorizing holiday contractors in financial services. The key here is to push boundaries and be creative, but also be ready to admit if it’s likely too big of a stretch. Being vulnerable (and opening with honesty) to a reporter puts you in a better position to build an authentic relationship and could potentially be the deciding factor on whether or not they would go for the story. Remember, don’t be a Scrooge!

  • Sleigh the campaign by leveraging timely research

The holidays present a great opportunity for your client to tap their research team for new threat insights that may hit one of their verticals particularly hard during the holidays. Retail always comes to mind, but I challenge you to think of others. For example, cybercriminals treat tax season (which begins in January) as open season for phishing campaigns. Suddenly your retail angle becomes financial services and research insights tied to phishing could be the golden ticket to your “holiday” feature.

Now, only ~10 months until we get to do it again and tackle 2021 holiday readiness! 

Giving Thanks the Highwire Way

At Highwire, we’re known for more than creating an impact with our client work. From donation matching to organized service events, Highwire Walkers have the opportunity to give back to our communities, organizations and causes that we’re passionate about. 

Earlier this year our “Social Impact” committee rebranded to “Highwire Helping Hands” to better reflect the hands-on volunteer work our team is passionate about doing. This year alone, our offices have organized more than five events with another five left in December.

On Halloween, the NYC office and I participated in our third annual afternoon of service volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House — a charity that provides free housing and meals to patients and families receiving critical treatments at hospitals far from home. We got our hands dirty and made spaghetti and homemade meatballs to the largest turn out to date, with hungry guests dressed up as animals, superheroes, and my personal favorite, the cast of Harry Potter. It’s always a rewarding highlight of the year.

Highwire also recently announced that we’re incorporating our dedication to service into our traditional PR work. We’ve teamed up with our global partners in the Brands2Life Global Network to drive awareness of our latest pro-bono client, Tree-Nation. The organization has more than 70 reforestation projects across the globe where they’ve planted more than 5 million trees. In a time that supporting our planet has never been more critical, I’m excited at this opportunity to bring to light the alarming impact that global warming has on our world’s natural ecosystem. 

But the work our team does goes beyond organized events as Highwire Walkers volunteer in their off time as well. Panama-based Alejandra D’Croz has made it her mission to help Adopta Panamá, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding good homes for dogs and cats, mostly stray and abandoned ones. She’s engaged in the entire organization from fundraising, adopting animals out and even regularly fostering puppies.

Nida Ilahi, senior talent strategist, also engages at her son’s school. From fundraising, field trips to finding ways to show appreciation to their amazing teachers, Ilahi believes small gestures can have a big impact on bringing value to the community.

While I have a lot to be thankful for in 2019, I’m forever grateful to work alongside colleagues and a company that supports and shares my passions. Share what you’re passionate about in the comments or tweet @HighwirePR and share what you’re thankful for.