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

With the UK entering a period of full-fledged lockdown to combat the coronavirus, those who can are working from home and many other businesses have been forced to slow down or shut entirely.

Being largely digital industries, the news media and PR sector have mostly been able to adapt and keep going in close to normal fashion. But while the media is able to function, the news landscape is of course almost entirely dominated by discussion of the pandemic – including the cyber security and wider technology and business sectors.

As a PR agency, much of our work is dictated by the news agenda and it’s only natural for agencies and the organisations they represent to try to get involved. However, the line between an effective rapid response and morbid ambulance chasing has always been a thin one – especially when actual ambulances are involved.

So how can cyber security vendors keep their media momentum going without crossing the line?

Keep it relevant

Simply throwing the words COVID-19 and coronavirus into the subject line and calling it a day will not do anyone any favours. Indeed, considering the serious nature of the pandemic, such a crass approach is more likely to get you blacklisted than it is to secure any coverage.

We have already seen many of our journalist contacts complaining about some of the ridiculous pitches they have received, with everything from makeup to online dating being shoehorned in.

The cyber security field is actually highly relevant to the crisis, with the huge number of homeworkers and reduced staffing levels presenting potential opportunities for criminals. Security vendors in areas like email security, behavioural analytics and threat detection and response all have much they can contribute to the news agenda.

Ditch the FUD

As an industry with its foundations in defending against threats, cyber security has long had an issue with relying on FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) to get attention. In more recent years most vendors have preferred to avoid FUD and keep things focused on creating opportunities instead. This is true now more than ever. Fight the temptation to lapse into hyperbole and keep things realistic and measured.

Be practical

With that in mind, the best thing any vendor can do right now is to contribute practical, actionable advice. Outline the case for increased threats and challenges around the virus by all means, but always ensure this is backed up with a genuine solution to the problem – and one that extends beyond buying a particular vendor’s product.

There is still a place for business as usual

Although COVID-19 will continue to dominate the agenda for some time, the rest of the world is continuing to turn as best it can and there is still a place for other news stories. With most people looking to the mainstream media for updates on the virus, some of our contacts in the IT security and wider tech media have told us they would prefer to stay away from the pandemic and continue to focus on areas like the psychology of cyber crime and delving into the dark web. This also means that security vendors without directly relevant solutions can still continue to grow their media presence without tying themselves into knots to mention the virus.

All of these steps are essential best practices for media outreach in any circumstances but are all the more important in these turbulent times. By staying relevant, practical and free of FUD, cyber security vendors can contribute to the COVID-19 news agenda in a positive way. 

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

RSA goes to the dogs!