Cybersecurity Awareness Month Q&A

Nick Bowman, CyberArk

Having fallen unwittingly into the world of corporate communications with McAfee rather too many years ago – his words not ours – Nick has been responsible for CyberArk’s media profile in EMEA and APJ since 2016. Along the way, Nick has dabbled in consumer PR at McAfee and application delivery at F5. Still, his passion and background mostly involve raising awareness about how large organisations approach cybersecurity.

What attracted you to cybersecurity as a career path in comms?

“Both were a complete accident, a mixture of luck and opportunity. Leaving university, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you the difference between software and hardware, but it all started when my friend told me about a potential job with an IT catalogue reseller – in those days, the internet was just getting going. I landed the role without knowing anything about the industry.

“I stayed in tech, moving to McAfee a few years later to market its home-user software. The role included some comms, which I much preferred to retail marketing, so when a communications role became available, I was keen on it. The rest is history as far as my career goes. I do feel very fortunate to be where I am. If I were leaving university now, IT would be an obvious industry to choose, but it wasn’t at the time. A lot of my peers went into publishing, FMCG companies or to the financial sector. To happen into this exciting and enduring sector was a bonus.”

What do you feel is the most significant change in cybersecurity comms since you entered the industry?

“Coming from the era of old-school long-form articles, it’s the speed. Lead times are quicker, and we move at a much faster pace. There was more time for thought and insight when coverage was in the paper or trade magazines. Today, the media have been forced to become generalists, often writing pieces offering less detail and with deadlines of yesterday.

“My EMEA and APJ role has shown me this change is happening at different speeds in different geographies. What we see in the UK, for example, isn’t the norm in Singapore or Germany. Saying that I still get a kick out of longer lead print and broadcast coverage. Even if it doesn’t necessarily have the biggest impact to the person buying the technology audience compared to more technical pieces, colleagues and stakeholders still care about the traditional stuff.

“Looking specifically at cybersecurity comms, the main change has been about what journalists class as news. At McAfee, we used to always be on TV or radio talking about the latest virus outbreaks. Now, it’s all about the hot topics, like nation-state and ransomware. Threats have moved on, just like everything else.”

Is there still a place for events and trade shows in 2023? If so, which one’s a can’t-miss in your calendar?

“Yes, and a lot so more than people were thinking in 2020. During the pandemic, marketing budgets for lead gen pivoted to digital overnight. But, after two years of speaking on a screen, people have rediscovered their appetite for face-to-face contact, and while I can’t speak for the whole industry, for CyberArk, 100% digital has morphed into a more mixed lead gen approach.

“Saying that, we haven’t been interested in the big billboard shows for some time now, at least in the UK; there’s one we haven’t done for years, which used to be unthinkable not to do. We find more value in the smaller, focused shows – even the vertical events. It’s where our partners and customers want to meet us.”

Cybersecurity is a famously crowded space – from a PR/marketing perspective, what makes a company stand out from the crowd?

“There are a couple of things. The first one is something a lot of companies, including CyberArk, can’t or don’t want to do – be controversial and shocking in their comms. This really is a strategy for pre-IPO organisations looking to make a name for themselves. Investors will question what you put out in the media, either positively or negatively, so those post-IPO must be responsible with the information they release. While this often means having a less ready media audience, it does mean you get to be more creative with your work.

“Secondly, organisations can benefit from tying themselves to a hot topic. For example, those who were quick off the mark last year with a strong stance on generative AI would have been golden. Being out there with your commentary on trending topics is important but a difficult trick to pull off.”

What’s been your biggest challenge?

“It’s age-old, but proving the value of PR. We’ve made some good steps forward at CyberArk, but, as with other B2B organisations, as hard as we try, we often can’t show how PR translates to revenue and profits for the company. Working out the dollar value PR brings has been a B2B challenge since the inception of the industry.

“Media evaluation has moved on in the last few years. Onclusive has been helpful for our CMO in showing how powerful our voice is for the market by taking information and making it easy to understand for those who need to see it and understand the awareness impact that we have.”

What are your comms predictions for 2024?

“For CyberArk, I think it will be about rebalancing spend around the EMEA region to support our changing revenue mix. More widely, I think we will start to understand and see what the next stage of AI will be. I’m personally excited to know what it is and hook into it as soon as we possibly can; I think there are tremendous possibilities for its use in PR across the gamut of content creation, reporting and our audience understanding. There will also be something new which will cause us to stop and think about how we fit in with it.”