“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” – Benjamin Franklin

I recently read an article in InformationWeek about the rising number of cyber-attacks on the federal government. Although the technology industry as a whole has been focused on cyber-security for some time, I have, as the article suggests, recently noticed the increased attention it is receiving from the government-technology industry. In fact, over the past few months I have attended several events aimed at informing companies that sell to the federal government of this trend and the implications it will have on their businesses. At one of these events – the TechCouncil of MD’s “The Business of Cyber Security” – one of the speakers mentioned that cyber-security is, in part, a public relations issue because when an organization’s security is compromised, so is their reputation. My ears perked up when I heard this. The InformationWeek article put me back in the frame of mind to explore it further.

Although there are many flowery definitions of public relations out there, it really is a pretty self-explanatory phrase (for clarification, public relations is easy to define, not to practice). As a Washington, D.C. and Seattle PR agency, our job is to manage relationships with your publics, or all the organizations and people with which you have some relationship to manage (e.g. your staff, your board, your customers, your community, etc.). Public relations’ scholars usually break these down into internal and external stakeholders, with your internal stakeholders being your board and your staff and your external stakeholders being your customers and your community, as an example. When it comes to your external stakeholders, public relations is all about your reputation. For example, your ability to retain current customers and attract new customers will depend on how they view your company. And the magic of public relations can shape the way current and prospective customers view your company.

Unfortunately, as the quote above by Benjamin Franklin suggests, one cyber-attack in which you and/or your customer is involved can compromise your reputation. But even in a crisis, public relations can help you manage threats to your reputation and maintain a positive view in the eyes of your customers.

When it comes to the role of public relations in cyber-security, I suggest that organizations in this space can benefit from public relations at two levels.

  1. You should invest resources in proactive media relations, not only to establish a solid reputation for your company, but to leverage the current media attention on cyber security to stake your claim in the industry. If you don’t already do so, start combing the Internet for media that cover these issues and build relationships with them by discussing their content with them and, eventually, offering your company as a source for content. As this InformationWeek article demonstrates, cyber-security is a hot topic right now and your company can benefit greatly from being a part of the dialogue.
  2. If you don’t already have one, put time into creating a crisis communication plan to help your company and your customers manage their reputation in the event of a cyber-attack. While media may not care to write about how your stellar technology solution helped one of your customers successfully ward off a cyber-attack, they definitely will be more than excited to write about how your product failed to secure sensitive data from being compromised . A crisis communication plan will help you respond to the media, your customers and the public by outlining your response ahead of the crisis.

While issues of cyber-security are causing government and IT media to churn and Internet security business to boom, the industry should recognize the importance of reputation in the cyber-security discussion. Public relations is a useful relationship and reputation management tool in every industry, but companies in the cyber security space can and should employ public relations, specifically proactive media relations and communication planning, to create and maintain a positive reputation even in the midst of a crisis.


Learn more about our Cybersecurity PR practice, including a sampling of the type of media coverage we earn for our clients and several case studies.