Hello, I’m Kerry Guard and welcome to Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.
Welcome back to season 11!
In this episode, I hang out with Naz Kim, where we discuss PR and what great PR looks like when finding your partners. This conversation is so good because she's so candid, making for an honest conversation. And given the current state of events, we all need a good dose of honesty, especially when it comes to cyber security.
Naz is an award-winning communication strategist at the UN and the Director of Global Marketing Communications at keeper security. She comes equipped with more than a decade of experience orchestrating integrated communications campaigns for a diverse number of technology companies. She brings that experience to the table here in this conversation.
Here's my conversation with Naz.
Kerry Guard: Hi, Naz thanks for joining me on Tea Time with Tech Marketing Leaders.
Naz Ekim: Hi, Kerry. Thanks for having me.
Kerry Guard: I’m so excited to have you. You’re in the UK, so this is great because we're at the same timezone, which is unusual and awesome.
Naz Ekim: Exactly, and we're both Americans.
Kerry Guard: Small world, isn't that?
Naz Ekim: It is.
Kerry Guard: Expats for life. It's going to be great. Before we get started, we need to hear the whole thing. Tell us your story, Naz. What do you do? And how'd you got there?
Naz Ekim: I got into PA probably over 15 years ago. I worked as a sales assistant out of college, where I was a cold caller, and I thought I would be a marketing assistant. I was required to make 200 calls a day, setting up appointments. It was a kind of an environment where people would go to lunch and not come back. I lasted for about eight months and made so much cash, realizing I didn't have any problem with rejection. So then I went to grad school, and I was on a student (H1 visa), which means one year to find work that will sponsor you and get your work visa. After doing my master's of management, I had no idea what I wanted to do with myself because I was good at a little bit here and there. I studied marketing and then business. So back in those days, I think it was about 2004, there was Craigslist, and that's how you found jobs. After writing cover letters for about three months, I saw this one ad that said, email us your resume if you want to learn PR, and I remember this very specifically. It was 8:30 in the morning, I had no idea what to do, and all I said was, “I wanted to learn PR. Here's my resume.” which had nothing on it. I didn't work during school because I didn't have the right to. So then that afternoon, I got a phone call, and I was like, “this has to be a scam-like scenario.” It turns out it's the second-largest tech PR firm in Chicago. I drive out to the suburbs, and I meet with Steve Simon, who will probably mentor me. He's the type of guy who would close a press meeting and put a client on CNN with just like a thirty seconds phone call.
On my first day, I remember I was handed out a picture of a suitcase and was told to call every radio station and just read it, and I was like, okay, I guess this is what PR is because of what they teach you in school. I took PR 101, and they make you do campaigns for McDonald's, Starbucks, etc., and that's not what real life is.
Real-life is full of small companies who want to get their brand. And most of the time, in my experience, I'm not a corporate person. So what I learned in school is completely different than what I'm doing in real life. I miss going to school. If I had the time, I would just go back to take the classes I want. I like writing papers, but three months at PR in Chicago, my clients were all tech consumers and B2B, and I didn't know this about myself at the time, while consumer tech is really fun. I had clients like kitchen gadgets. My company, Wild Charge, was the first wireless charger for Blackberry, and it was picked in Time Magazine's 100 best inventions years later, and I saw that on Black Mirror. So those are the type of cool accounts I had, but what interested me was the B2B side. Green data centers, cloud computing, and chip architecture are where my sweet spot is, which is funny because, over the years, every time I get a job, or I talk to a recruiter or a job hunter, they're like, wow, you're genuinely interested in about the system and that's how I get into PR. I worked there for about a year and a half, and then I said to Steve, “Look! I'm from Istanbul, Chicago, and it's a small town. I want to explore and move to New York. Let's move you to New York, so we have a colleague of mine.” He founded some office space and moved to New York, and then from then on, I got other jobs. I worked at a bunch of PR agencies and New Yorker stuff. I lived in New York for about 15 years. If you make it ten years in New York, they say you're a New Yorker. So I consider myself a New Yorker. I learned a lot, and it's that New York state of mind that compared with the Turkish state of mind. Turks are built on common sense. Mix with the new directness, and you just exist. No one cares who you are unless you are someone and unless you accept that you're not going to last there.
I worked with both agencies and in-house, and I came to a point in my career on this. I was making a lot more money in New York. I was never going to move out of the apartment that I had in, which is I had a garden in Brooklyn, New York. My husband found a job in Chicago, where I went to school and work. So we moved to Chicago, and in the middle of the pandemic, we moved to London. So, in a nutshell, that's my story.
Kerry Guard: Where are you now? You’re still in PR. Are you in-house?
Naz Ekim: I work for Keeper Security, a cybersecurity company. And I found that when I moved to Chicago, I can see that I've consulted for a bit, but I was looking for the right opportunity. I saw this ad two and a half years ago, and it's a password management company. They have a big B2B platform, so I've been working for them during the older corporate comms fall leadership. My role has evolved from PR Tomorrow. To include content, I executed webinars, managed three agencies, which is good and bad, because I speak the language of PR, and I could write you a 10-page report about drinking tea, and you'd be like, oh, yeah, that's legit. I would buy that. But when PR agencies do that, I don't buy that because I know you're following up. And the funny thing is the current agency I'm working at is the agency I used to work for about 12 years ago, and they're still the same team. It is indeed a small world.
Kerry Guard: I want to get into our conversation because I don't get to talk to many people in PR, especially the smaller tech companies. The people we're talking to have an element of PR that they're doing, and they probably want to grow that. I'm excited to share that with you. But before we do that, I always like to ask questions because we're all human, and it's nice not to feel alone in this big world. What’s one challenge you're currently facing?
Naz Ekim: Consumer PR has a saturated market. There are a lot of products out there. Good consumer agencies are hard to find, and that's the one challenge I'm facing. I wouldn't say I'm facing that many challenges because I don't think that I'm not in crisis palms. There's a reason I don't want to go into crisis columns, and as long as I work for the companies, there won't be any crisis. The company I work for is open to suggestions. Our CEO is great, and he's like, let's do it, whatever you want to campaign unity and execute it. I'm lucky that I worked at companies where CMOs, want reports about reports. And I just find that that kind of bureaucracy hinders your job. I'll write a report, but I'd rather get the job done than explain to you for 10 hours why you think this will work. I'm lucky in that sense. I would honestly say I don't have any challenges right now. Knock on wood.
Kerry Guard: I'm with you. While you're talking, I was on nerd alert.
Naz Ekim: I like understanding things. If I were smarter, I'd probably be a programmer or someone trying to some sort, but I'm not good at math. I'm good at strategy, and I'm good at figuring things out. I like to have a social life.
Kerry Guard: That's a different podcast, and they’re nice. Let's talk about this because PR is really interesting, and I don't get to talk about it often. I don't know much, which will be great, and more fun. But in terms of B2B tech companies getting into PR, or realizing they need or trying to figure out how to begin, let's start with simplicity. Is this something that they should do? If they're that small or more in the startup range? Is that what they should do in-house? Should they look for an agency? Where should they start?
Naz Ekim: For a small tech company, they either start if they're small and sell the consultant who knows what they're doing, or hire a small agency because unless you know how to do PR, you're not going to be able to do it yourself. I've had CEOs be like, what can I email the editor myself? That's a no, which shows you need someone to represent you. I would say look for a specialist for tech companies looking to get into PR, not just any PR person, and look for someone who can provide you guidance because every company is different. Some companies want they have a headshot on the cover of Forbes, which is great for your ego, but you'll probably get the sale you want from a technical byline placed in a technical magazine. Do you want the right consultant to guide you in increasing awareness or increasing sales? Or do you want to do both to have a multi-pronged strategy? I would say they shouldn't unless there's someone who knows how to do PR. I'm not just talking about a marketing manager because there's a certain way to talk to editors. Editors are underpaid and overworked. They don't have time for people who don't know what they're doing.
Kerry Guard: That was my question. You said that's a big no for just anybody to show up and call on editors. And so it so now we're talking about somebody who knows what they're doing. Is it because they've created relationships? Is it because they've talked our language? Is it a bit of both?
Naz Ekim: It's because they understand the product, they know how to sell the product, they know who covers that industry, and it's because you look at what that report has written, you will look at is this something that reporters are going to write about. If it's completely out of his beat, you're wasting that guy's time, and they will just sometimes forget. I don't just pick up the phone and call the breaking desk of CNN when we have company news, but I know that our PR people do that. You should hire someone who knows what they're doing, and if they're that small, like 20 or 15 hours a week that focuses heavily on media pitching. The other thing I should say is, like PR, and you're not going to see results in two or three weeks, I would do at least two or three months. It doesn't matter if you have a relationship with the reporter or not, just because you can build relationships with anyone. I'm still friends with reporters I used to pitch 15 years ago. I talk to reporters I've never spoken to before, and we become fun. They will appreciate that as long as you know who you're pitching and what they're writing about and don't waste their time. Because they are sitting there waiting for stories to come in. If a good story comes in, and if you look at it from the reporters' point of view, they don't have to look for new stories. All of these PR people emailed me this, and it looks interesting. You're doing their job for them, and provide them with something useful, and you won't be disappointed.
Kerry Guard: You mentioned something around it takes it could take months before you see the ROI on PR. Why should anybody be doing PR?
Naz Ekim: Because how else will people know about your products? Don't you want to be in the news? Doesn't everyone want to be in the news and positively? Some brands launched their products on Instagram, but if you're talking about an encryption platform that only talks to the government agencies, you can do targeted email marketing, etc. You also want to be in the publications like government technology, so the decision-maker is reading about it. Why does Kim Kardashian want to be on the news? Why do they need PR? Not all PR is good PR.
Kerry Guard: Answering my question feels like PR, especially if you're talking aboutB2B and cybersecurity. There's a risk of ending up in the news for not a good reason secure. Are you worried about having PR in your back pocket to facilitate navigating right?
Naz Ekim: If you resume and the pandemic hits and realize you haven't secured your security architecture, you're a bit screwed. I would advise any company doing business with millions of people to ensure they secure their endpoints. But the company I work for provides all of that, and we're completely zero-knowledge, which means we can't be 4solar winds, the biggest hack their password was solarwind123. They blamed it on an insert. When you're a big company like that, there's no excuse. So I would say, yes, they should have some crisis comms agencies ready. But what's better is to make sure you secure your endpoints, especially if you're dealing with data with financial information with credit cards with PII personal information. Because at the end of the day, you can get sued.
It's serious stuff. We hear about ransomware, and like small businesses getting hit all the time, that doesn't make the news because they want a couple of thousands here, but when a big breach happens, there's a gas shortage, and it impacts the consumers. Congress should be asking, why or what did you guys think this happened? It's so simple to prevent all of this. It's just people are not thinking thoroughly.
Kerry Guard: I want to go back to what you said about finding a specialist, agency, or even a big company, bringing in-house. You talked about many things in terms of what to look for, and I just want to break that down a little bit. When you're looking for someone, you do need them to want to come in and understand your product and what you do, especially in B2B when it's complex. I mean, you're not selling parachutes here.
Naz Ekim: You can't hire a PR person who's been doing fashion PR to come in and understand a complex architecture. They wouldn't be interested in the problem being resolved in two weeks. It's something like a salesperson; you believe and like what you sell. So for example, the companies I've chosen to work for are the leaders in their industry, or if they weren't, I make them because I like working for the leader. I don't expect much from life, but I take great pride in my work. They should hire someone who understands the product because they will get grilled when they get on a phone call with an analyst or an editor. Sometimes you have to brief the reporters yourself first. And guess what? Reporters read a lot, and they know more than you. You have to know the story and have an answer.
Kerry Guard: Do you now find that people are niching down from a PR standpoint, where you could find a really good partner either at an agency or at another specialist who wouldn't be just B2B? It could be something like cybersecurity or FinTech.
Naz Ekim: Some agencies specialize in cloud computing and cybersecurity. Some agencies just specialize in FinTech. There are agencies like big brands, entertainment brands, etc. I'm on my third agency, and I find that they get burnt out, and I haven't been able to find an agency that can do B2B and consumer just as well. I managed two agencies because one was purely consumer, and the other one's purely B2B. It's a complete different beast. The consumer, your pitchings like Valentine's Day and cute stories. On the B2B side, it's like data breaches. It's not the same time, and I'm saying vibe. I've sat through many pitches with agencies trying to do both, and I was convinced.
Kerry Guard: Make sure they know what you do and what you're talking about.
Naz Ekim: You want a partner that cares about you. I listened to pitches, or I could say, “Yeah, they did Google News, but they didn't do much digging into our brand.” And I've sat through pitches where I was like, wow, we haven't done this internally, you guys are hired. It's like passion goes a long way, and that's how our CEO runs our company to like our employees are all in it. If you want to keep people, and if you want to be successful, that's the key.
Kerry Guard: I love that. The product can speak to it from industry knowledge. I want to understand you as a brand.
Naz Ekim: You have to have a good product because PR will go so long if you do PR and your product sucks. You'll secure a review opportunity with the Consumer Reports, and they'll rip it apart and then the client will fire the agency. Even if you might have warned the client, this is not ready for Consumer Reports. You have to make sure your product is good, and when you need PR, it comes last. Once everything's done on the backend, you announce everything's ready to go, and everything's signed, and the last thing you want is the media ripping you apart because they're ruthless.
Kerry Guard: I like what you said. There is bad and not all PRs are good.
Naz Ekim: Exactly.
Kerry Guard: You have one side where they understand you as a brand and a product and the industry. And then it sounds like there's a whole other side, in terms of trying to make sure that they can put the right strategy in place for your needs that even though you want to end up on Forbes, they're able to put it back and be like, is that the right spot for you? Here's the strategy we recommend. What is that strategy? You mentioned a few tidbits about the types of magazines like government technology. Is that going that niche on it? Is it thinking about the different types of media you could be in? Is it what you are smoking?
Naz Ekim: I like to approach it like ABM cell, content, and account-based marketing. Hit all the verticals you're selling and business magazines as it's relevant because the business media will write about you. New York Times will write about you once. They're not going to cover you every time if you're selling to all the different verticals like education, finance, etc. There are so many publications, and they're always hungry for contacts, so you get a lot more fruit from those types of publications in October. It was cybersecurity awareness month, and we rebranded the back cover of Time Magazine. It was a big branding opportunity. I'm not sure if it brought us any sales, but it was something cool to do. We have some other campaigns that are in the works, but where it's most successful is when we get written up in places like ZDNet or dark reading because that's how our audience reads the CTOs, the CIOs, etc. And they think those publications are credible. Those people also read the Sunday Wall Street Journal, but then the higher investment crowd depends on what the company is or where the companies headed. You want to be mentioned in as many leash publications as possible.
Kerry Guard: In terms of the actual connections, there's a whole art to the relationship you build as a PR person. How do you know when you're vetting your agencies or your specialist and trying to find the right people? You're not getting somebody who's being like, I got this, and they had the strategy piece, and they know your business. Are they going actually to get you into those publications?
Naz Ekim: I've been in this business long enough that I can read people. I can see, even via zoom, their passion coming through. And like I said, you give them two or three months, and if they got nothing, they're out the door. And that's how agencies work. If I'm to write to my agency like, what are you guys working on this week? That's an email you never want to get from a client. Luckily, none of my agencies get that. I also have enough industry friends that I asked around. I can tell when someone's bullshitting, especially in PR. If someone says, “Yeah, I got this.” That person is not getting hired. If someone is telling me, I see what you're trying to do, but to get there, we will have to do this, would you be open to that person being more likely to get the job? Because that means they've put some thought into it.
Kerry Guard: I find it fascinating how you talked about building relationships with the industry experts.
Naz Ekim: It's not just pure. I've lived away from home for 20 years, and I'm still friends with the same high school people. I keep the relationships. I'm still friends with reporters that I don't even pitch anymore and haven't seen in years. So I think PR was just like a natural extension of my personality. I don't go out of my way. I've heard this lecture from a few people, which I take as a compliment, “ Oh, you're not like the other PR people I'm used to dealing with.” I say, “What do you mean?” they're like, “ Well, you don't have a high-pitched voice, and you're direct, and you're not like, oh, my God, I would love to write this.” I don't talk like that. I'm in PR, and it comes with personality. if you don't have the personality when you're unsure, and when someone's not genuine, the client will also notice that.
Kerry Guard: Absolutely!
Naz Ekim: I remember this one time I drove to Boston, and the guy I was consulting was about to fire his third agency. He turns to me, and we're in this big meeting. Why am I not in Forbes? And I said, have you read your press releases? He goes, yes, fine. I said, well, because I fell asleep. You're not going to get a Forbes with the content you're putting out?. He turns to his marketing manager. He said, “This is what I want to hear. Why is it my agency now telling me this? You're hired. Therefore, you're firing?” Most of the time, that's what people want to hear. They don't want to hear and get you on the cover of Forbes. They want to hear what you need to do to get there, which goes a long way.
Kerry Guard: I love what you said about how you speak to your partners in the media world, something you mentioned early in our conversations before this, like, editors do not have time or energy. They're overworked and underpaid. So it sounds like when you show up, you got to sort of have that New York state of mind.
Naz Ekim: I don't pitch anymore, but it's like a paragraph when I used to pitch. It’s like, hey, thought you might be interested as soon as we've covered this. Here's a story I have, yes or no. If I'm making a phone call, it's like you never call on reserve Friday there on that line. You never call on a Monday morning. Tuesday around 11, not before lunchtime, maybe after lunch. If they've had good lunch, then there'll be an issue. But then you say, they pick up the phone, they'll know it's a PR person calling, and the first thing you say is, “Hey, are you on a deadline?” If the answer is no, they'll say, “What do you get?” And then you have 20 to 30 seconds to make a pitch. If you're not confident or don't know your product, they're like, “Oh, my God, this guy's talking to them.” So, I have this part; you'll hang up. You have to be on point, know what you're talking about, and have no fear. All this talk on Twitter, like, “Do not call me. I will not pick up the phone.” I've never DM the reporter yet. I don't DM because I'm going to call you. If they're annoyed or whatever, they'll ask many questions most of the time. Most of the time, we hang up the phone laughing. I have a funny name, so they remember me. But they still remember when they don't like me, which is fine.
Kerry Guard: You're used to rejection. It sounds like in this industry.
Naz Ekim: You have to be rejected. I have reported friends who have told me that I sit there and wait for pitches to come in. I pick what story I want to write about. I don't want to bash editors. They're overworked, and I respect them. There are so many people pitching so many things, and they're overwhelmed, so you have to stand out and get about three seconds to catch their eye. It’s like making door-to-door sales? I do not give away my age. If you have 20 seconds, and if someone liked what you said, you would sell it. PR is sales, except you're selling ideas, hopefully, intelligent ones, which is why I like being in B2B.
Kerry Guard: Are the PR agencies usually writing the content, or are they picking up?
Naz Ekim: I work with a copywriter who knows our messaging well. The agencies will probably write the press releases. Sometimes, I write the press releases, but they'll the first draft, then the copywriter and I will go over it, our CMO will go over it, and then our CEO will approve it.
Kerry Guard: Press releases are those do you call up with the press releases? I'm sorry, this is a whole new world for me. Do you have to call the press releases? Or do you email them? blast them out?
Naz Ekim: No, you write a press release. So that's like an official announcement. It keeps a security analysis XYZ. You put it on the Business Wire or PR newswire.com at a certain time, and they add then that gets distributed to every newspaper, whichever you selected. Every news desk gets that official press release, and then once that press release is live, or before it's live if you want to do embargo outreach, you reach out to the editors, and you say, “Hey, this news is about to hit the wires. Would you like an exclusive on it?” But that press release is the official company announcement.
Kerry Guard: Exclusive sounds good. Does that mean they get to?
Naz Ekim: The exclusive is basically. There's an exclusive embargo, so if you want to give, let's say New York Times or Wall Street Journal, they exclusive you reach out to them first, and then you give them a day or two. If they say they, you move on to the next one, there's usually like three or four targets you would like exclusively focus on, and then embargo is you email a bunch of outlets saying, “Hey, this news is coming out on the 17th. Would you like to write about it?” Then some of them say yes, and they write the article. All the articles come out on the same day the press release hits the wire. If they take the exclusive, the exclusive will get published before the press release hits the wire, so they get the first one. You’re like extending courtesy.
Kerry Guard: Is there any other last piece of advice you would give people looking to use a PR in general, whether an agency or specialist?
Naz Ekim: Don't do PR for your ego. Hire a smart person who knows what they're talking about. Do not spam journalists, and do not waste their time. Have confidence and get ready to be rejected or grilled about your platform or product. Why it matters? Because that's the first question, they're going to ask one shot right about it. If you think your product or brand is worthy enough for people to know, if it's helping people, I would say, look for a consultant or an agency. Some agencies charge small retainers their consultants on Upwork. Don't hire someone who will be like, “Yeah, I got this. I'll get you the results in a month because they will be superficial results.” Looking for a long-time partner would be my advice.
Kerry Guard: It's exciting and awesome. Thank you for joining me before we wrap up here. As your story showed, I have my people's first questions because you're more than just a marketer. So three quick questions for you: Have you picked up any new hobbies and moved to the UK in the middle of a pandemic?
Naz Ekim: Yes, I started swimming because swimming pools are very affordable here compared to the US. I've been eating way too many sundae rows. I realized that the food here tastes so much better. I went to Albert Hall yesterday to see Cirque du Soleil but like trying to do many historical things and just walking around like looking at well-dressed men and women. Where do you live in London?
Kerry Guard: I thought New York had well-dressed people, and then there’s London.
Naz Ekim: New york has well-dressed people like 45 and up Park Avenue Madison like a Lexington. Grand Central during rush hour is great.
Kerry Guard: I live in Guernsey across the river
Naz Ekim: I'm in Chelsea. I've never seen more Aston Martin's in my life. It's ridiculous.
Kerry Guard: In New York, I lived near the East River, which was more by.
Naz Ekim: I was by the L by the Grand stop on Metropolitan. I had a nice backyard and had a lot of parties there. Because people just show up, you have a garden like, “Hey, I'm here.”
Great talking to you. Let me know if you want to do part two. I'd be happy to join if you want to talk about life in general or marketing or content. I do a lot of content. I executed all of our webinars and surveys.
Kerry Guard: Awesome. Thank you so much. It’s so good to have.
Naz Ekim: Thank you.
That was my conversation with Naz Ekim. What a story and a wealth of experience in the PR industry. If you'd like to hear more from Naz, continue to follow her journey. You can find her on LinkedIn, and the link is in the show notes.
Thanks for joining me, Naz. It was awesome to get to know you, and I'm so thankful that I have you in my network. What an honor!
Thank you for tuning in to this episode of season 11!
In the final episode of this season, I chat with Jim Mitchell to talk about a wild ride. He's got a great story and a deep passion for cybersecurity, especially for those on Fast Track growth companies, meaning you're getting huge rounds of funding left, right, and center. Gemini day again to answer the challenges, pitfalls, and how companies can do better in and with the money they get. Stay on, and autoplay will take you there.
This episode is brought to you by MKG Marketing the digital marketing agency that helps complex tech companies like cybersecurity, grow their businesses and fuel their mission through SEO, digital ads, and analytics.
If you'd like to be a guest please visit mkgmarketinginc.com to apply.
Naz is the Director of Global Marketing Communications at Keeper Security and a United Nations-awarded communications strategist. She has over a decade of experience coordinating integrated communications campaigns for a variety of technology companies.