Appetite for Industry Expertise Unsatiated: Role of Trade Reporters, and Their Sources, Increasingly Vital

Despite all the talk of a digital world, physical industry trade events remain a main vehicle for networking because all the thought leaders in a given industry are in one place. Reporters rely on these events to check in with their sources or to find new ones, according to a recent Highwire hosted video chat with two key reporters covering vital industries: cybersecurity and healthcare.

Of course, with physical events currently not happening, reporters are now looking to other ways to maintain relationships with key industry experts and to hear about what’s driving innovation and business. This is just one example of how the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted how reporters do their jobs, and the role they serve given the changes we are all working and living through.

In this video chat, featuring Dark Reading’s executive editor Kelly Jackson Higgins and Rajiv Leventhal, managing editor of Healthcare Innovation, we talked about the role and lives of industry media in recent weeks, since the spread of coronavirus completely changed our world. 

The editors also discussed best practices for PR professionals whose roles have also forever changed. The roughly 15-minute chat is available in this post as well as on Highwire PR’s YouTube channel.

This is the first episode in a series, “PR: Forever Changed,” that investigates how PR for innovative companies, including those in healthcare, security, enterprise software, financial services, and consumer markets, has dramatically shifted in 2020. 

What is the role of PR as we all recognize a new normal? These five episodes will attempt to answer the question or at least initiate a worthwhile discussion. You can subscribe to the Highwire PR YouTube channel to be alerted to upcoming episodes.

The Declassified Intern Survival Guide

Highwire PR’s summer internship program has officially kicked off and the sea of new faces, virtually or otherwise, has led me to reflect on my time with the agency. On my first day, I was focused on making a good impression with my co-workers, taking feverous notes and eager to learn more about agency PR. With the next class of interns finishing up their first few weeks, I want to share the knowledge I’ve gained over the last six months. So, here’s my declassified Highwire PR survival guide.

Communication Happens in Various Formats 

Highwire has put in place open channels of communication, like Slack and Bluejeans, to keep teams engaged and connected no matter where they’re located. This helps to foster a great culture as it encourages teams to collaborate in a more meaningful way. However, when I first got started I found myself struggling to manage the stream of Slack “pings,” email chains and Bluejeans calls. I found myself asking the questions, what do I respond to? Is sending three slack messages too much? It’s easy to get overwhelmed. A good tip to overcome this challenge is to reach out to your direct managers and ask them how to best stay organized. Once you have that down, use these modes of communication to your advantage as it will drive your work forward and keep your team apprised on the tasks you’re moving on throughout the day. Transparency and communication are key to your success so it’s important you master this. 

Not All News is News

As PR professionals we serve as the gatekeepers for any and all news. And tech news cycles move quickly so it’s important to identify any and all opportunities before the next story hits. With that said, not everything is notable news. After you filter out market updates, there can be sponsored posts disguised as articles, bylines from competitors, or misleading publications that turn out to be international. Besides that, something that is interesting to you, or even interesting to your team, may not be interesting for the client. 

Below are the key questions you need to ask yourself to understand whether an article is relevant and worth sharing.  

  1.  Is this a reputable news source (as opposed to a blog)?
  2.  Is this a press release pick-up or organic coverage? 
  3.  Is this simply a trend piece or did something new happen? 
  4.  What event took place, and who were the actors involved?
  5.  Is the event timely?
  6.  Does this directly relate to services my client provides?
  7. What can my client gain from knowing this news?

These questions will help you to better identify opportunities for both your team and client and get you closer to that quality piece of coverage. 

Re-Think Your To-Do List 

When you’re just warming up to the internship, your client load is minimal and you’ll spend most of your time wrapping your head on what your clients do. Once you get into the groove of things, there will be days where you have a full list of tasks and others where you have little to do. That’s the moments where your to-do lists moves beyond tactical and towards proactive. A day where you have “nothing” to do is actually the perfect opportunity for you to shine. Clients love fresh ideas, so start scanning around for resources that will help muster them. It can be a proactive pitch piggy-backing off of a news piece you saw earlier that week, or a new take on something that’s already in the works.This won’t come easy at first but will gradually become second nature. Lastly, use that available time to connect with your fellow colleagues and offer assistance for any lingering tasks/projects. Raising your hand will strengthen connections and build relationships with your team. 

As my time with Highwire comes to a close, I’m proud of all the accomplishments and connections I’ve made. For fellow interns, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed or stuck but once more time passes it’ll feel more comfortable. And hopefully this survival guide will set interns’ up for success at the agency. Looking for an opportunity to work here? Check out our job openings here. 

Surveys: 4 Tips to Create and Extract the Story

Data is sexy.

It powers algorithms, finances and my favorite PR campaigns. While we can source it a few different ways, surveys are a powerful way to get strong data and tell trend stories, capture consumer sentiment or validate a company’s product.

But at times, numbers can be overwhelming or take a bit more effort to analyze. And even in 2019, old time survey practices are causing skewed and incorrect data. Jeffrey Henning, Chief Research Officer at Researchscape International, explained that improper survey practices from the 1960s are still being copied over into today’s survey development.

Here are a few things to consider when developing surveys to maximize your data and extract meaningful stories from it.

It all starts with a headline

When developing surveys, it’s important to develop questions based on desired headlines. More often than not, we get carried away with ideas and forget to think of the big picture. Doing this can create a few challenges, like leading questions and a non-cohesive storyline.

“The study should be built on the headlines that the research ideally would inform, but those headlines should be regarded as hypotheses to be tested – some will prove true, some won’t,” says Tony Cheevers, VP at Researchscape.

While our desired headlines will likely change once the survey is complete, it provides a good starting point and establishes a broad storyline. This helps eliminate the stress of looking at numbers and not knowing where to start.

Don’t wait for complete results

Most of the time, we send our questions to be fielded and in a few days we get the hard numbers back. It’s the standard process with most vendors. But Cheevers notes how important flexibility is when collecting responses.

“Once the first 100 responses are collected, we pause the survey and identify trends in the response data,” Cheevers said. “We often come to a new realization about the market that we may not have been expecting. From here we can craft new questions, and retire others, to illustrate the new trend we noticed.”

When fielding surveys we often gain a new understanding of that particular topic. Previewing the data helps us identify holes in our thinking and dig into new and interesting topics that we may have missed at first.

Compare, contrast, calculate

While we often get data back and instantly look for a surprising number to use as our media hook, remember to look beyond the numbers given to us. It’s important, especially with sliding scales, to add and subtract different responses together. Further, look at comparisons. While Taylor Swift thinks spelling is fun, she fails to mention that math is fun, too!

Cheevers explains that he’s seen some of the best headlines just by looking at the differences in generations, geographies and workplace environments. It seems obvious, but it’s an often overlooked step. Taking the time to crunch numbers on a calculator will let you create a more impactful story and get the most insight from your survey data.

Consider how else you can repurpose

Surveys should never be seen as an opportunity just for media coverage. As we continue to embrace digital strategies to extend traditional media campaigns, surveys can be paired with other marketing and sales initiatives.  

“Obtain the maximum ROI on a study by repurposing it for webinars, lead-generating white papers, a series of blog posts, an infographic, and illustrations designed for sharing on social media,” Cheevers said.

Looking to maximize data, client Mr. Cooper used quarterly surveys to build out their blog content with infographics, videos, whitepapers and tips for homeowners. And it’s paid off: this year Mr. Cooper was awarded Gold and Bronze Stevie awards in recognition of their blog content and data driven-series.

While surveys can be overwhelming, starting with the storyline early is critical for success. It’s also just as important to partner with a survey vendor who is able to help you meet your objectives. Looping partners, like Researchscape, into the brainstorming process early on helps eliminate bias and maximize the success of your survey. By considering these tips and putting your calculator to good use, you too can tell impactful stories through data.

Walk Your Way: Reflecting on Kickoff 2019

Highwire Group Shot
Last month, all of our teams across all offices got together under one roof for our annual Highwire Kickoff in San Francisco. Our focus this year was individuality; with our theme – “Walk Your Way” encompassing that.

With beautiful bay views at the historic General’s Residence at Fort Mason, our teams got right down to business once onsite. The conversations were based on the Strengths Finder 2.0 book from Gallup and Tom Rath, which analyzes your personality strengths and focuses on those strengths versus your weaknesses. With a total of 34 strengths, including Analytical, Connectedness, Learner, and Woo; our facilitator guided groups to ask each other thoughtful questions and put their strengths to work. The best part of these learnings was seeing how we, as an agency, compliment one another.

Another huge part of the Highwire culture (and a focal point of this year’s kickoff) is our committee groups. Highwire Helping Hands – our community group, Diversity + Inclusion, and Society – “the memory makers,” are just a few of the committees which were showcased “science fair style” to increase visibility and engagement among peers.

And finally, what is kickoff without a little competition?! This year we hosted a Shark Tank initiative with the help of Funworks, highlighting our focus of the year – Digital! This effort dove deep into impressions and pre-thought biases. It also allowed Walkers to think clearly over some pretty great ideas! Due to the nature of this activity and what it means to our business, we can’t publicly acknowledge what came of it – but more of that will come this year 😉

And now, here’s what a few of our Highwire Walkers had to say about kickoff –

Megan Grasty: My favorite part of kickoff was how hands-on and interactive it was – this was my sixth kickoff and it was by far the best. I especially enjoyed the science fair, it was fun to hear more about what all of the committees have to offer and also really enjoyed the creative touches each had, like the thumbprint tree art project at the Diversity & Inclusion booth and the “thank you” writing station at the Strong Careers booth.

Ben Liwanag: Kickoff was a great opportunity for me to see my colleagues in other offices in real-life, rather than over video. This year kickoff was an amazing addition to Highwire’s training initiatives, letting everyone get together to focus on skills to grow our careers (like this year’s Strengths Finder assessment), and establishing the agency as the best tech agency around, as seen from a fun Shark Tank competition!

Highwire Shark tank

Ali Mapplethorpe: My favorite part about kickoff was getting to spend time with coworkers in other offices that I don’t get to see every day. I also loved the “thank you” card station; that there was a dedicated portion of the event to thank our teammates for the hard work they put in day in and day out was really meaningful! 

Group of Highwire Walkers

Katelyn Lavine: My favorite part of Kickoff was analyzing our Strength Finders. It was very cool seeing the strengths of my team members, as well as my own, to then better understand how we can work together in unison when collaborating across teams.

Bailey Harmon: My first Highwire kickoff blew me away. From engaging in a real-life Shark Tank scenario and finding my strengths (and weaknesses) with a personality guru, to meeting my awesome coworkers I’ve been working with for the last eight months in person, everything was such a rewarding experience. OH, and the best memory? Carol and Emily (two of our principals) dressed in shark costumes.

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!

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.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Marketers at INBOUND 2018

Just as summer is winding down, every September more than 24,000 people flood Boston for Hubspot’s annual marketing conference – INBOUND. Touting the likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama, Bloomberg’s Emily Chang, and founder of the “me too” movement Tarana Burke, Hubspot furnishes a star-studded lineup of speakers eager to share their personal experiences, successes, failures and learnings with marketing and PR professionals from all corners of the world.

I had the pleasure of attending the conference for three days earlier this month on behalf of Highwire PR. In those three days I heard from over 16 passionate, tack-sharp business executives, entrepreneurs, celebrities and other well-respected leaders from a cornucopia of industries.

Amidst all of this excitement and a sea of Insta-worthy swingy chairs (one of which I absolutely took for a spin) here are a few takeaways that I gleaned from high-powered leaders at the conference.

The Importance of Analog

As our world becomes increasingly more connected and rooted in technologies, many of the speakers at INBOUND stressed the importance of preserving non-digital experiences. For marketing and PR professionals, technology provides an unprecedented level and frequency of communication that opens doors and enhances our efforts. However, the enthusiastic adoption of technology has created a sense of social anxiety — constantly checking email, posting on Instagram, tweeting about an experience — that directly impacts our ability to “stay in the moment.”

Joanna Coles, former chief content officer of Hearst Magazines, and SoulCycle co-founder Julie Rice both offered a solution to combat this lack of human connection by finding some sense of community around us. Whether it’s at your local spin studio, book club, community chorus —  wherever — it’s critical that we carve out a niche to forge these connections sans smartphones.

Similarly, former vice chair of GE Beth Comstock and Troy Carter, Spotify global head of creator services, cautioned against replacing our human instinct with data. While measurement is key to benchmarking success in business, it’s critical that we don’t “rely on the crutch of data,” warned Troy. Our gut instinct is invaluable and uniquely human, leading us to free thinking and possibility in a way that data does not.

Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

In almost every single session, there was a clear throughline: effective prioritization and success go hand in hand. Vimeo CEO Anjali Sud said it best when she shared that  “the ability to ruthlessly prioritize” was vital when she joined the Vimeo team. For most of us, there will never be a shortage of work. It’s easy to get distracted and suffer from “shiny object syndrome,” bouncing from task to task without much thought. However, in doing so we often spend time on things that don’t necessarily require our attention, spurring stress and burnout. Where we can reclaim our power is realizing we can’t do it all. It’s OK to push back or save a task for another time; as Anjali stated, “If you have a day where you try to do everything, you’ll do nothing well.”

Seek Out Creativity

Creativity is the lifeblood of PR — it’s what we use to help our clients stand out and share their stories. Therefore, it’s critical that we make time for creativity. How do we do this? INBOUND speakers had plenty to share on the topic.

  • Nourish our curiosities: We musn’t shy away from hard questions, but rather follow them and see where they lead.
  • Challenge gatekeepers: Beth Comstock implored us to reevaluate what we hold to be true. She urged us to invite people in whose judgement and perspectives make for “agitated inquiry” that produces sturdy, well-fleshed-out ideas.
  • Actively carve out space for creativity: Be sure to set aside designated time to flex these creative muscles and imagine new possibilities.

It’s difficult to lift your head above the PR noise, but attending INBOUND this year helped me realize just how valuable time, balance and creativity truly are. These three elements are also integral parts of the culture and vision here at Highwire. I love working for a company that encourages its employees to continuously identify creative outlets — whether that’s attending industry events like INBOUND or in my day-to-day work.  Until next year, INBOUND, and thanks so much Highwire!

A Day in the Life of: Ben Liwanag, Account Associate

As news breaks and we work to tell our clients’ stories, my days are always different. In fact, the only constant in my work week seems to be a morning cup of coffee, Taylor Swift on repeat and a delayed L train packed full of antsy commuters.

At Highwire I’ve had the opportunity to consistently level up and take on more strategic and advanced tasks, all thanks to the help of team members willing to mentor and guide me through the process. But for those interested in my day-to-day responsibilities, fret not. Every campaign, proactive pitch and rapid response release have their similarities.

I would break my role as an intern and now account associate into three different categories: content, media relations and being the team’s media maven in the making. These three main roles allow me to help the team stay  #AlwaysWired and #AlwaysWinning. So, mom, I’ve decided to answer your questions about my job for the future Highwire Walkers and curious cats on the web.

“You read the news a lot. What’s going on in the world?”

Fortunately for my coworkers, I stay up-to-date on more than just Taylor Swift news. A core component of my job is to constantly read the news and understand what reporters are writing about and broad trends that affect our clients. I have to be the first to catch breaking news.

There are a few different things that this news monitoring results in, the main action being news scans that ranging from daily to bi-weekly and weekly. I’m responsible for compiling anything relevant to our client, whether it is a new product launch from a competitor or new industry data. These news scans are shared internally and directly with our clients, and give us a broader look at the news cycle and what actions we need to take from a media standpoint. Besides being a client deliverable, it’s an important task that gives me an extra edge in the core component of my job, media relations.

“What does pitching mean?”

Brilliant songwriting is at the heart of any Taylor Swift song, just as media relations is the heart of my day-to-day role. Broadly speaking, I’d narrow this down to three core components that I particularly work on; creating media lists, drafting pitches (story ideas) and pitching (sharing with reporters).  

The key to any successful media campaign is finding the right reporters to tell your stories, and that is where media lists come into play. Whether it be curating old lists, incorporating reporters from news scans or identifying a reporter for an exclusive, spending time on media lists is critical to the success of any media campaign.

Additionally, spending time talking to reporters and sharing our news is another integral part of my role. Reporters will always say “tell me why.” Pitch writing is how we answer that question. Because we never want to copy and paste, either a teammate or myself will then draft a pitch outline with “the meat” of the narrative in it.

This is then where I spend most of my time adding the personal touches and some ideas that will most likely pique the specific reporters’ interest. News scans are especially helpful in letting me tailor each pitch to a reporter, because they allow me to really see what reporters are interested in. While this can be challenging, it’s the biggest part of the work I do. It’s also the most rewarding, especially seeing the work I do in the media.

“What’s a byline?”

I define public relations as storytelling. Part of how we tell clients’ stories is through bylines — basically a contributed article on a specific topic. While I’m not an expert in cloud computing or debt consolidation, my clients are. As an account associate, I regularly team up with client executives to help compile their thoughts and expertise into a meaningful story.

On any given day, you can find me researching different topics to help showcase my clients’ expertise, looking at how the team can speak to a given topic to meet business goals or on the phone learning more about how they see a specific topic. From here is where the magic happens, known as byline writing. While the process can be tedious, it’s an exciting aspect of public relations that plays a big role in clients’ communications strategy.

“What’s coming up that you’re working on?”

Well, mom, this is a question I’ll have to save for another time – I can’t give away any spoilers, but what I’m working on now will be in tech news headlines soon. But for the future Highwire Walkers and PR pros, this is just a snapshot of my role at Highwire. Every day is filled with new opportunities, another media list and keeping up with the news. And for those interested in PR, I know places where you can truly be a part of something different.

Behind the Scenes with Black Hat Comms Lead

Logo of the Black Hat conference

It’s nearly time for Black Hat USA and given RSA was so late in the year, it seems to have snuck up on everyone quicker than ever.

But no fear, Highwire’s Cyber Squad is on top of it—this year, we interviewed Kimberly Samra, PR Manager for Black Hat and lead for UBM’s technology portfolio, to get a pulse on what the hottest trends at the show will be and how attendees and PR practitioners alike can make the most of their time at the conference this year.

See below for information ranging from themes that will attract a lot of attention at the show—including election security, critical infrastructure and privacy—and tips for how to break through to reporters and tell your story. We hope this information helps you make the most of your time at Black Hat. If you’re heading down and want to meet up with the Highwire Cyber Squad, please email us at

Now, back to our scheduled programming to get the inside scoop from Kimberly Samra, PR manager for Black Hat:

Q) How has PR at Black Hat changed?

The PR landscape has certainly expanded with the growth of the security industry. While we still see the usual big-time security reporters covering the event, coverage is shifting across multiple verticals as the industry transitions and becomes such an essential part of our everyday lives. As discussed in Black Hat’s new research report, “Where Cybersecurity Stands” security has quickly become mainstream, touching everything from politics to international relations, commerce, money and human relations—it really has a hand in everything these days.

So as PR folks ramp up for the event, they should tailor their outreach strategies thinking beyond items specific to security and ensure their pitches demonstrate how people and consumers are affected on a grander scale.

Q) Have you seen a shift in Black Hat audience? More CIOs and technology buyers?

As the event grows we definitely see a wider range of professionals attending. While the Briefings program is at the core of what we offer to our audience, we’ve seen our Business Hall expand to welcome top vendors in the industry interested in sharing their latest and greatest tools and how they’re pushing security innovation forward through advanced research. Our Black Hat CISO Summit has also grown as more executives are making security a top priority.

Black Hat as a whole really brings together every aspect of the industry and is a hub for all things security. It’s the must-attend security event of the year and we’re happy to continue adding to our offerings and the content media is exposed to so they can report critical insights to the public.

Q) What are the top trends you expect to see at the show this year?

Of course we always see a lot of attention around big-name vendors, mobile, IoT, payment systems, critical infrastructure, etc. However, not surprisingly, we’ve seen a lot of buzz around voting technology and privacy. As folks look toward the upcoming elections and draw from all the controversy around the 2016 U.S. presidential race, they’re looking to security experts to answer questions about how vulnerabilities found in voting technology could affect outcomes and any other potential issues that could unknowingly change the course of political history.  

Privacy on the other hand is a vast issue that remains top of mind for people on many levels—from those working in government, the enterprise level and everyday citizens. We’ve all seen headlines pertaining to the Facebook investigation, the global effects of GDPR, and continued reports of security breaches. It’s no secret that people are questioning their privacy and how their data is being used. It’s a widespread topic and the research being done within the security industry is pertinent to learning more and making moves toward protection.

Q) Is there anything new happening at the show?

Yes! We’re really excited about a number of new offerings this year, specifically the expansion of our community programs. Black Hat has taken strategic steps over the years to ensure our program expands and continues to welcome and serve a wider audience. A few years back we began work around inclusivity through dedicated diversity programs. We’re proud that these programs have continued to grow and that we’re now able tap into programming specific to the needs of the community on a much larger scale.

On the Briefings side, we’ll see content coming from the new Community Track, which was developed to provide a forum for discussion on relevant issues currently impacting the InfoSec community. These talks will dive into important topics including careers, legal issues, inclusion, diversity, attribution, substance abuse, mental health, burnout, security awareness, work-life balance and more. We’ll also be holding Community Workshops which have been made to encourage collaboration among the Black Hat community; attendees will be exposed to everything from personal digital resilience to mentorship and career-building strategies.

And of course, we’ll see the return of our scholarship program and our work with non-profit partners, two items we’re really passionate about as we engage with and encourage the next generation of security professionals and give back to the community we service.

Q) What advice can you offer for companies looking to prepare to pitch reporters at Black Hat?

Companies should keep in mind the scale of Black Hat as well as the happenings throughout the week—remember, it’s called “Hacker Summer Camp” for a reason. Do your homework and tailor what you’re trying to pitch specifically to the reporter you’re reaching out to—a pitch that’s only specific to a security product announcement won’t always do the trick.

Questions you should ask yourself: Are you familiar with the headlines out there right now? Does your content pertain to big topics like privacy, critical infrastructure or maybe companies a certain journalist regularly writes about? Think of yourself as a valuable source rather than someone trying to simply sell a reporter on a story.

Also, make it easy on them! There is so much going on leading up to the event and especially onsite, you don’t want your news to get swept up in the hustle bustle especially if press have to decipher your message and how it applies to a potential big story. Take a step back, focus on what the big takeaway is, and figure out the headline—if you were a reporter, how would you envision the story? It’s like delivering a ready-made gift.

And start now! Don’t wait to get your news out to registered media. Remember, their schedules are packed onsite so you need to get on their radars now so they can make time for you.

See here for an interview with Black Hat communications director from 2016 for a look back at trends over the years.

Learn more about Highwire’s security practice here or reach out to us at to continue the conversation. We’ll be at the conference, so we’re looking forward to meeting you on the show floor to hear your story!

Tech Storytellers Gather to Discuss the “Evolution of the Story” in NYC

Highwire has been exploring “the story” throughout 2018 as we celebrate our 10th anniversary. While headlines, platforms and trends have changed significantly over the past 10 years, the unified goal of PR and the media has remained the same: to tell a compelling story. However, the ever-changing media, political and technology landscapes all have a large impact on what that story is and how best to tell it.

To dig into this concept further, Highwire invited some of the sharpest tech storytellers to discuss how the story has evolved and what the next 10 years will bring for PR and journalism. The media panel took place on June 27 at Work-Bench and was moderated by Highwire Account Director Ken Bruno. Panelists included Kerry Flynn, Marketing Reporter at Digiday; Polina Marinova, Associate Editor at Fortune; Anthony Ha, Senior Writer at TechCrunch; and Sean Ludwig, Communications and Marketing Director at Tech:NYC.

Over the course of the panel, these storytellers shared their insights into what trends are having the biggest impact on journalism and how PR pros can work successfully with the media.

The State of Journalism

We’re seeing the disruption of traditional media, with business model changes and restructuring at many of the largest media organizations. Meanwhile, smaller online outlets are delivering high-caliber reporting that is capturing the attention of many young readers.

The move toward subscription-based content and paywalls is really having an impact, noted Marinova. What these outlets are after is more quality journalism, but she expressed doubt that people will pay for more than just The New York Times and The Washington Post. Despite these concerns, Marinova was optimistic that quality journalism will still have value for readers.

“We’re all trying to figure out how we’re going to make money in the next five years,” said Anthony Ha of TechCrunch. The industry is still finding this path, and it will be a bumpy one, but Ha said there are still great opportunities for high-quality work. “Clickbait still exists, but most publications who want to be respected are interested in more than just chasing traffic.”

The Changing Reader/Reporter Relationship

In the era of social media, fake news and citizen journalism, the relationship between a reporter and their readers is increasingly complex.

“Social media has knocked all of those barriers down — and maybe that’s okay,” said Ludwig. Instead of receiving an angry email a few days after you publish a story, now journalists are called out instantly on social media when they make a mistake. This has created a very public and instant accountability for the media.

“Journalists have become more accessible than ever, which means that sometimes we are going to put our foot in our mouth,” said Flynn. She has been especially interested in seeing how major news personalities are responding to criticism online in real-time.

The Impact of Diminishing Trust in Social Media

Some industry pundits believe that social media is at an all-time low, which is impacting both the tech and publishing world in tandem. The publishing market will have to navigate the lasting impacts of social media backlash and we may see media organizations adjusting their publishing strategies.

“I hope publishers have learned their lesson about relying too much on social media for content distribution,” said Flynn. “Hindsight is 20/20, but I have faith that the younger generation gets it and will do their research when getting news from social media sites.”

Ludwig said that educators have a responsibility to teach the younger generation how to use social media in a healthy way and how to separate real news vs fake news online.

Tips for PR Pros

Panelists agreed that while new mediums continue to change how journalists and PR professionals communicate, the most important thing will remain the same: it’s up to PR pros to know what is the right fit for a publication and its audience. Do your research and know exactly what a reporter covers before pitching them.

“Journalists are humans, and every one of us is different,” said Flynn. Don’t be afraid to stalk reporters online to get to know their coverage and what will be most valuable to them.

“Keep your emails short and to the point,” said Marinova. “A quick ‘hey do you cover this’ is fine, and then we can have a longer conversation if it’s a good fit.”

Stay Tuned for More 10th Anniversary Updates

Keep an eye out on the blog as we continue to delve into what the next 10 years may hold for tech sectors like security, enterprise and AI. We’ll be publishing a series of blogs from Highwire’s subject matter experts as we continue to celebrate our 10th year.