Public relations (PR) is essentially the art of creative storytelling to grow brand value. According to management consultants McKinsey, this is a golden age where “great storytelling and more scientific approaches come together in exciting ways”.
In our specialist field of cybersecurity PR, clients often come from an engineering background. It’s an industry that rightly holds scientific advances in the highest regard.
Invariably, it is also a world of data and jargon that means nothing to anyone, not even a technician themselves. For this reason, in our pigeonhole the storyteller’s challenge is harder than most, especially when it comes to influencing the public at large.
For many people outside the business, PR remains something of a dark art. Often they have a vague idea that by dressing up the facts and doing favours for our journalist friends, we are somehow able to manipulate what the papers say. Even among those that have some understanding of what we do, a number of myths endure. Here are just a few of them.
Myth 1: PR is easy
Sometimes clients will ask us for some quick publicity to support a sales promotion or help bolster attendance at an event. If only it were that easy. Unless there is some intrinsic news, value PR is not suited to activities with short-term goals.
In some circumstances, it may even be counter-productive. Cybersecurity PR is all about reputation. It is hard-won and requires careful cultivation over an extended period of time. PR is not easy chiefly because it’s often not in our control.
There will always be outside factors that we cannot control – daily news agendas, major breaking stories, reporting staff shortages and so on. All of these have the potential to reduce the extent of a story’s impact. It’s one reason PR always keeps us on our toes, ensuring the pressure is relentless.
Myth 2: PR is glamorous
In cybersecurity, opportunities for even the faintest brush with glamour are few and far between. The closest we might come is to be invited to a black-tie awards ceremony with a shortlisted client or travel with a press party to some conference overseas.
But after waking up at four in the morning to catch a plane a few times, it soon becomes apparent that there’s nothing glamorous about flying, and it rapidly loses its lustre. Particularly when it requires being at the top of our game for the next few days – jet lag notwithstanding.
In any case, the current Covid conscious climate has kept this sort of thing on hold indefinitely. For the most part, the job is desk-bound and requires hard graft comprising a pressure-cooker mix of creative brainstorming, copywriting, telesales and report writing – all delivered to tight deadlines.
Myth 3: Cybersecurity PR is just for the big boys
PR at its best takes a lot of planning, ideas, organisation and commitment. The best-known brands understand this and allocate budgets to creative PR campaigns year after year.
The resulting stories boost their credentials and support specific business growth objectives. Start-ups and SMEs can also have stories that appeal to the media, but they are unsure when to invest in PR. Instead, they focus on short-term gains using tactics such as Google ads, online promotions and telesales for some immediate returns.
In truth, PR belongs as part of the integrated marketing mix of any accomplished business, regardless of size. Many start-ups and SMEs have discovered that incorporating regular contact with the media and analysts within their marketing programme helps to speed up growth. In cybersecurity, there is often the added incentive that it may lead to being acquired by a larger player in the market.
In many ways, the myths of PR relate back to a time when the news was dominated by the print and broadcast media. Today’s audiences have moved online, and traditional news sources have followed them. They have been joined by a host of independent niche news sources from bloggers, industry professionals and individuals on social media.
Google and other digital tools have undoubtedly helped companies of all sizes do more to communicate their brand identity in a measurable way. But the basic art of PR hasn’t changed. Good PR still requires industry knowledge, hard graft and a nose for storytelling. As McKinsey points out, without it, all the digital tools in the world will have nothing to measure but bad impressions.