Coronavirus cybersecurity PR Q&A with Rob Scammell, Verdict Deputy Editor

So, it’s been a few weeks like no other for us all. And as we all try and adjust to a working world that’s been turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic and a media landscape that is focused almost exclusively on stories related to the crisis, we spoke to one of our trusted cyber security journalist colleagues Rob Scammell of Verdict to get his views on how we and our security clients should adapt their tone and messaging to fit the new Covid-19 reality.

Q: How do you strike the right note? Nobody wants to come across as an ambulance chaser, but equally it’s more important than ever for our clients to be visible in the media at a time when meetings and events are cancelled. 

A: If it feels wrong, it probably is. As always, using fear to promote a product is a big no, but if there is a genuine coronavirus related threat our readers want to know.

Ask yourself if it’s news that you would genuinely be interested in reading if you were not an employee of the company that said news is about.

If you want to offer something free in light of the coronavirus, ask yourself does it genuinely provide value in the current circumstances?

Q: What sort of stories are you most interested in right now and what aren’t you interested in?

A: Stories we are interested in:

  • Coronavirus scams, cyberattacks and hacks are of interest, but it has become a very noisy area. If there is a unique aspect of the research, make that the focal point and check if similar research has been published. If it has, it is less likely to get covered. Even if it’s not newsworthy for its own story, it’s still good to be sent them to include in another wider story or a roundup piece.
  • Vulnerability research on the apps and software being used during the pandemic, e.g. remote working tools.
  • How coronavirus is changing business operations, working habits – both internally and for clients that you protect from cyberattacks. Human angles also good e.g. the extra pressures for CISOs. 
  • The usual reaction comments to cybersecurity news are always handy to have.

Stories we are not interested in:

  • The usual rules apply here from non-pandemic times: no journalist cares about companies winning awards, if you’ve opened a new office, or hired someone new (okay, some publications might). Press releases about getting on some abstract part of Gartner’s magic quadrant are an instant delete.
  • No more remote working stories, please. Every angle has been covered by every media outlet. Around 40% of pitches I’ve received in the past month have been to offer an interview providing tips for secure remote working. Unless there is a unique angle that focuses on a niche that hasn’t been covered, don’t bother.

Q:  Many cybersecurity companies are trying to help their customers and prospects by giving away free product and services. Is this newsworthy? 

A: They are not really newsworthy now because everyone is doing it and most of the time it feels like a way to buy publicity. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Unless you can show it is or will have a demonstrable positive impact for combatting the pandemic, e.g. free tools to health agencies and they are actually using them.

Q: What is the appetite for non-coronavirus stories now and in the near future?

A: Our editorial focus is on the coronavirus for the foreseeable future, but as pandemic fatigue kicks in we will likely start covering more non-coronavirus news stories again. If you have time-sensitive research, don’t hold off pitching it because it’s not coronavirus related.

Q: In this climate of depressing stories, is there any interest in some good news stories to raise our spirits?

A: The appetite is there, as demonstrated by the my story about the cybersecurity community uniting against covid-19 opportunist cybercriminals, which is now one of the most read Verdict stories of all time. The difficulty is finding fresh good news angles within the cybersecurity sector.

Q: Do you think it’s important for vendors to keep their names in the media right now and if so why?

A: I think it is still important for vendors to keep their name out there for two reasons.

1) More people are consuming news now than ever, which means many more eyeballs on stories that could have your name in them.

2) When normal service resumes and budgets are loosened, business decision makers are more likely to have your name in the back of their mind.

Q: What can vendors and PRs do to make journalists lives easier during these tough times?

A: Don’t force coronavirus pitches. Ask if it is genuinely something you would click on and read. In normal times, companies that focus on quality over quantity with their pitches always grab my attention first in my busy inbox. The same still applies. Too much exposure to a company too frequently means I subconsciously start skipping over a pitch when I see that company’s name.

Now is not the time to stop communicating

COVID-19 – the fine line between rapid response and ambulance chasing