Articles Written by the Edge Marketing Team

How many applications are open on your device right now? And your second device – likely a mobile phone – how many alerts have you received this morning? Which message or alert has captured your attention?

In the digital age, where posts are limited to 140 characters and conversations may contain more emojis than text, the average human attention span has shortened. According to a study by Microsoft, the average human being now has an attention span of eight seconds. This is a sharp decrease from the average of 12 seconds in the year 2000. This means it’s more important than ever to quickly capture and keep the attention of prospects and leads.

As storytellers, authors and educators, marketing professionals can overcome the attention deficit with interactive content that engages the reader.

Static black on white text is boring. Visually interesting, interactive multimedia content is captivating and will inform and engage readers on any device. Whether in a news article, white paper or e-book, readers love a challenge, enjoy quizzes, factoids and drilling down for detail on the information that matters to them. When they are engaged and actively participating, readers offer more information about themselves, helping marketers build out the lead or customer profile and better understand them.

To increase reader engagement, meet the reader with content that is compelling, engaging, easy to access and easy to experience. Here are four ways to render content in a more engaging, interactive way:

  1. Provide value with a calculator.

Calculators do a lot more than solve math problems – they also provide self-qualified leads. Prospects appreciate a calculator they can use on their own to determine the cost of a product or service or to compare their needs against your solution. Calculators in the legal and accounting services industries may offer, for example:

  • Billable utilization calculations
  • SaaS vs. on-premises software cost comparison
  • Managed services pricing calculator
  • ROI calculator to determine return on investment for practice management software

With a self-service calculator, an interested prospect can determine if your product is a fit for them and whether it is affordable within their budget before they speak to a salesperson. Calculators can shrink the sales funnel and deliver better qualified leads, so make an effort to capture user contact information when they try the calculator. Effective calculators can deliver conversion rates of 40-50%, according to one platform provider.

  1. Include video or interactive email images.

Have you ever found a video thumbnail so compelling that you just had to click on it? Video is extremely attractive. According to Wistia, emails that contain a video thumbnail see 40% more engagement. But creating videos can be expensive and time-consuming, and crafting good-quality content requires talent and experience.

B2B brands have been somewhat slow to adopt TikTok – the new darling in short-form mobile video. It achieved over 1.5 billion downloads from the App Store and Google Play in 2019. It is already more popular than LinkedIn, Twitter and Snapchat and showing no signs of slowing down.

If your brand isn’t quite ready for TikTok, an image rollover can be a great alternative. Rollover or mouse-over images are ubiquitous on the web. E-commerce websites often feature images of products where an alternative view is displayed when the visitor hovers a cursor over an image. A rollover image is a great way to highlight key features on a technical product image.

  1. Build revenue with surveys and quizzes.

People love quizzes and surveys. It’s part of human nature that we love to share our thoughts, and we like that quizzes help us compare ourselves to others. Create a quiz or survey to attract new and high-converting leads, to understand and qualify different audiences and to gain insights into their preferences.

Surveys tapping readers’ perspectives on the economy, industry trends, firm management practices or technology adoption can be a source of valuable information that can be communicated across a variety of channels and content formats:

  • Pre- and post-survey emails and social media posts
  • A downloadable survey report with thought leader perspectives on the results
  • A live webinar presentation on survey highlights, offered jointly with an industry luminary or high-profile client
  • Infographic highlighting key takeaways from the survey
  • A video interview with an in-house thought leader or an industry partner
  1. Develop dynamic white papers.

White papers are a great way to establish your business as an authority on a particular industry topic or issue. The challenge is that the often complex nature of white papers can make them dry and unengaging. Consider improving the reader experience with interactive content.

Incorporating a quiz, assessment, timeline or infographic into a white paper can add interest to the paper and keep readers engaged. The interactive content can be hosted online rather than sent as a static PDF, so analytics can also be gathered to see what parts people interact with most.

Interactive content is one of the fastest-growing areas in content marketing. To succeed with interactive, think from a mobile and software mindset, rather than a printed content mindset. As a result you will build a more interesting, engaging experience for leads, educating, challenging and delighting them as they move through the customer journey.

 About the Author

Megan Miller is a senior consultant with Edge Marketing, assisting clients in development and execution of strategic marketing plans and implementation of marketing technologies. A global technology hound, Miller has built brands, trained teams and introduced successful products for global companies and startups. A certified e-discovery expert, Miller has written on trends and topics in electronic discovery, consumer electronics and the internet of things – before the IoT was even a thing. Her work has appeared in Attorney at Law, US Tech, TechnoLawyer, ACEDS and other industry publications.

These are unusual, highly stressful times. Across every industry, jobs have been reduced or eliminated. Movements have been limited to those deemed essential. Parents are working from home while their children are getting educated from home. News headlines are grim with reports of financial losses, illness, and death.

The only places to find stress relief seem to be in a long walk outside, a glass (or two!) of wine, or the bottom of a Doritos bag.

But does it have to be that way? What if you could spend 10 minutes every day not just reducing stress and anxiety, but also improving creativity so you can solve your most pressing business challenges?

Move over, Cool Ranch. Meditation is here.

Numerous academic studies have shown that meditation increases cognitive flexibility, which leads to greater creativity. Subjects of these studies have displayed an increase in the key components of creativity: problem-solving skills, originality, insight, sustained attention, and mental flexibility.

These are potent skills for business owners and their employees to develop right now, especially during a time when organizations are looking for new ways to do business, increase or preserve sales, support staff, and maintain client satisfaction. Staying relevant these days requires creativity.

Research on creativity suggests that it is unlearned as we age. Children are born with more creativity and tend to unlearn it as they progress through traditional education systems. Other research indicates that we produce our greatest insights and biggest breakthroughs when we are in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind. This is likely because meditation develops the key components of creativity. Adults can use meditation to relearn creativity.

In a recent unscientific study of one, I leaned across the desk I currently share with my husband and asked if he felt meditation increases his creativity. Several years ago, he started meditating to manage symptoms of stress and depression. “Meditation leaves space in my head for more and better things,” he replied. Creativity is not the only benefit of meditation. It can also improve attention, reduce stress, decrease anxiety, and bolster moods.

How much should you meditate? Research varies, but somewhere between ten and twenty minutes per day on most days seems to provide sufficient benefit.

How do you get started? Don’t bother googling how to meditate, or you will get overwhelmed by the “rules”. In my experience, getting started really isn’t difficult. Here is what has worked for me:

  1. Find a place where you will not be disturbed.
  2. Sit in a comfortable position. It can be on the floor, on a pillow, on the couch – wherever you are comfortable and can sit up, with your spine straight and your chest open.
  3. Set a timer. This way, you won’t have to think about how long you’ve been going, which you’re going to do anyway.
  4. Close your eyes.
  5. Breathe – whatever way you can. It doesn’t have to be in through the nose and out through the mouth. I suffer from allergies so, this time of year, I can only breathe through my mouth.
  6. Pay attention to your breathing. Notice how air moves into your body and back out.
  7. Bring your focus back to your breathing. Inevitably, your mind is going to start wandering. When you notice that happening, you’re not doing anything “wrong”; just refocus back to breathing.
  8. Repeat steps 5 to 7 until your timer goes off.

This practice might not work for you, and that’s okay. If it doesn’t, there are really great apps that can guide you through any number of different ways to meditate, and thousands upon thousands of articles on the internet that can offer up other ideas.

In addition to the benefits of increased creativity, reduced stress, and improved mood, meditation has also shown to increase feelings of compassion and unconditional love toward all living things. In these stressful and uncertain times, we all could use a little more of that.

About the Author

Cindy Kremer Moen is working on practicing unconditional love for her two adult/teenage sons and husband, who are all observing stay-at-home orders and working/schooling from home … all the time. In addition to working with several Edge clients, she currently is also cleaning the kitchen – constantly – and reigniting her love for Doritos.

We are facing a new time in the history of our country – and the world – and learning to adapt can be challenging. We are all adjusting to either working from home or working differently, social distancing and doing our best to keep our family and friends healthy and safe.

Marketing and sharing information about your organization is also challenging. You need to continue to showcase your offerings, but what is the best way given everything else people are dealing with today? It is important for all organizations to continue to communicate with their customers and clients about what they are doing as companies. Are you open? Are your products available? Do you have tech support lines open? But what about talking about new offerings and carrying on with the marketing plan you had laid out for the rest of the year? Here are a few tips:

  • Be considerate. Everyone is experiencing an overload of information right now given what is happening with COVID-19. Make sure the information you are bringing is relevant and interesting to your audience. Be thoughtful and considerate to only share information that will be interesting to them at this time.
  • Know your audience. You may have to change the way you market. Take a look at the medium you normally use to reach your audience. For example, if your company has advertised on billboards in the past, this is not a good option right now. People are spending more time on digital media. Get information on the publications your audience reads and consider online ads. You should also be working with a public relations professional who can help you in reaching out to editorial staff to get your message to your audience.
  • Modify your message. If you planned to launch a new offering in April and it’s still ready for launch, take another look at the offering and think about what aspect of that product is important for what organizations are facing today. While you may have had a key message identified before, is it still relevant or is there a better way to showcase what this offering does based on what people need now? Think about what people are facing today and make sure your message is on target to help them in the current crisis. If it doesn’t, consider putting a hold on releasing the product. Make sure you don’t miss the mark with your messaging and that what you are talking about is relevant today.
  • Be creative. With trade shows and conferences being canceled in all industries, organizations need to get more creative with their messaging and outreach. There is competition for engagement and leads, and for the most part, everyone is distracted with the health crisis we are all facing. Your marketing and messaging need to be on target, professional and creative to get the attention you want.
  • Look at the future. Plan now for what you will want to do after the country starts to return to “business as usual,” even if it is in stages. Get your team together and look at the 2020 plan that you had in place prior to the coronavirus. What modifications do you need to make? Look at the product offerings, timelines, budget and staffing. Make a new plan.

Remember, now is not the time to stay quiet. Your customers, and the industry, want to know what you are doing. If you are making efforts for the community to help get through this pandemic, talk about it! Let people know how your team is and what changes the organization has made to keep your employees safe. Show that you have empathy for what is happening and are not just focused on the bottom line. Now is the time to share the human side of your organization.


About the Author

Nicolle Martin is a senior account manager for Edge Marketing. She has more than 18 years of experience doing public relations and marketing in the legal industry.

At Edge, she works with clients to market their companies through many different avenues to corporate legal departments and law firms.

Originally published on Legaltech News

Welcome to marketing during COVID-19 (aka coronavirus), a time where face-to-face marketing efforts like conferences, seminars, and on-site sales calls are minimized in favor of safer, virtual forms of contact.

How will this affect marketing to law firms and corporate legal?

Digital marketing is crucial, yes. But face-to-face meetings – when they can happen – make immediate impressions, allow you to gain information quickly, and can melt time off year+ sales cycles for B2B technology companies.

Legal technology conferences put companies right in front of their prospects and clients – not only on the exhibit floor but during educational presentations, demo sessions, parties, and networking. Companies spend months planning for them to promote brand awareness, win leads, and close deals. But if these conferences and the chance for in-person meetings decrease, how can marketers fill the gap? Here are a few ideas.

Click to read the article on Legaltech News.

About the Author
Melanie joined Edge Marketing in 2010 after an in-house career focused on marketing, public relations, and communications for private and publicly traded technology companies. Since then, she’s helped close to 50 technology companies make lasting and beneficial impressions in the legal and accounting communities. Her guiding mantra: “It’s not about results. It’s about the RIGHT results.”

As senior account manager for Edge, she creates cohesive PR and marketing plans formulated to help businesses reach their goals. A typical day includes anything from strategic planning, brainstorming and writing content, and delivering new ways to engage the media and target markets.

Known for her “helium hand” (but she likes to call it leadership), Melanie is a past president of the Austin chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) and a former board member for the Houston chapters of AMA and the Public Relations Society of America. She lives in Austin, Texas, and actively spoils her two dogs every day.

As a business owner, you are acutely aware of the fundamental risks and benefits of thinking outside the box. You know the pros and cons of taking that leap of faith and you have done it, successfully. You have carefully crafted your company and everything that entails, and you are, justifiably, proud of everything you and your team have accomplished.

So, then what?

With so many factors to consider (your company’s reputation and longevity, and employees who depend on you for their livelihoods, to name just two), it’s no wonder successful entrepreneurs can find themselves in a tug-of-war between contentedly trucking along the same safe, well-worn road as always, or forging into uncharted territory.

Here are three ways to nurture an innovative mindset, as you consider your firm’s “then what”:

Challenge the status quo.

There is a time and place for tradition, and business is not it. Take a step back and ask, “Why do we do this, this way?” If the answer is, “It is just the way it’s always been,” then it could be time to change things up.

Remember Blockbuster Video? In 2000, they rejected the opportunity to acquire a scrappy little startup called Netflix for $50 million. Instead, Blockbuster teamed up with Enron (Yes, that Enron) to start their own video-on-demand service; however, focusing so myopically on their brick and mortar stores, Blockbuster walked away from the first major iteration of widescale VOD.

It did not take long for Netflix to start chipping away at Blockbuster’s customer base; not by undercutting them, but by reimagining movie rental in the digital age with its mail-order DVD rental service. In five years, when Blockbuster finally hopped on the bandwagon and started its own similar service, Netflix already had 3 million customers, none of the overhead incurred in physical retail, and was well on its way to launching the streaming service we know today.

According to this study by PwC, 81 percent of homes in the United States used Netflix in 2019, versus 68 percent who are pay-TV subscribers. As for Blockbuster, they’ve gone from almost 9,100 stores worldwide at their peak in the early 2000s, to one single location left in the world.

Just because it’s the way it has always been, does not mean it’s the right way, or the only way.

Don’t compete: Create.

Keeping an eye on the competition can be a necessary evil for a business owner. It can trigger innovative ideas and strategies for your own brand; however, you can set yourself apart by reframing your thinking: You are not competing with another product/service: You are creating a new solution in the existing marketplace.

What do Play-Doh, Post-Its, and the Slinky all have in common? They were all created unintentionally, by inventors who were intending to create entirely different products. Play-Doh was intended to clean coal residue from wallpaper. The inventors of Post-Its wanted to create a super-adhesive and ended up with the opposite. The Slinky was invented by a naval mechanical engineer who was developing springs to support and stabilize sensitive instruments aboard battleships.

When these innovators took a step back, they saw that their product served an entirely different purpose than they’d originally intended, and they rolled with it.

Though you likely have no intention of changing your company’s commodity from wallpaper cleaner to a children’s toy, recognizing a different need you could fulfill may help unlock your imagination.

Be a brave, lifelong learner.

Trends, laws, and technologies are changing continually, and you can use that to your advantage. Stay current by taking formal and informal opportunities to learn. Expand your opportunities for growth, both personally and professionally, by taking a class or joining a society or club (or creating one, if one doesn’t exist!). Check out inspiring or informative podcasts and YouTube channels. Don’t know any? Ask around: Everyone loves recommending their favorites. Skip the Seinfeld rerun one night a week in favor of doing some reading, or even just going for a walk. Get out there, and allow yourself to dream big!

As a business owner, you already embody the frequently-used quote with variations attributed to everyone from Nelson Mandela to Franklin D. Roosevelt: “Being brave does not mean you’re not scared: Being brave means you are scared and you do it anyway.” Commit before you know all the answers, and take that leap.


About the Author

Tanya Amyote is Marketing Assistant, database and Excel guru, and token Canadian at Edge. Tanya possesses a strong work ethic, impeccable communication skills, and a can-do attitude. In addition to their son, James, Tanya and her husband, Brian, have three rescue dogs: Luna, Gary, and Gus.

Our December News with Edge article outlined some basic principles of sales and marketing that have remained constant over time, despite modern advancements in how we reach our target markets. Knowing your audience, refining your message and using a multifaceted approach to reach the segments of your audience the way each of them wants to be reached are some of the core tenets seasoned marketers have followed for decades.

But in fact, there is much that is new in marketing today.

Customer experience or “CX” is among the most talked-about trends for B2C and B2B businesses alike, which is all about prioritizing the overall experience clients have with your company and its products or services. Emphasize a positive culture and provide great service to elevate the customer experience at every touch point to build loyalty that keeps them coming back for more and strengthen your brand to attract new clients. In addition to superior service, factors like convenience, modern technology, personalized communications and brand image are other high-value assets contributing to a positive CX.

Personalization is its own topic under what’s new in marketing. Tailored messaging helps you cut through the noise and get your audience’s attention while they are tuning out everything else. Advancements in AI-powered technology and marketing automation tools allow us to leverage data to customize communications that help both clients and prospects better connect with the brand.

Speaking of your brand, content marketing continues to evolve but remains an important strategy for highlighting your expertise and leadership as part of your overall identity. Revisit these tips for repurposing content to maximize the value of your articles, white papers, case studies and other assets, but don’t limit yourself to plain text materials. Advancements in voice search are changing the way content is being created and searched, with interactive, video and other visual content increasingly important parts of the marketing mix for expanding engagement.

Your 2020 plans surely include other components of digital marketing, which is really anything that uses the internet or electronic devices to connect with current or prospective customers. Know which channels offer the best opportunity to convey your most important messages to your target audience.

  • Websites – Beyond staying current with both your layout and content, ensure your site is optimized for mobile devices so visitors get the best possible first impression regardless of how they’re accessing it. Don’t forget to include video and effective visuals wherever possible.
  • Email marketing – Email inboxes today are like our mailboxes a couple decades ago: filled with junk, much of which goes into the trash before anyone reads it. Always be strategic in how email marketing is used.
  • Advertising – Even for established brands, advertising remains a viable way to keep your name and key messages top of mind among large audiences. Take advantage of opportunities that enable targeting of narrow segments of the market with tailored messaging.
  • Social media – An effective social media strategy doesn’t require a presence on every platform. Evaluate the channels available to determine which are the best fit to reach your core audiences with your key messages.
  • Blogs, podcasts & webinars – In addition to posting news and insights regularly to your blog, try sharing some of your knowledge and thought leadership in a podcast or webinar. Modern tools make it easier than ever to provide tutorials to your clients, and many travelers and commuters enjoy listening, rather than reading, to stay current on industry trends.

AI technologies and automation are changing the way businesses reach and interact with their audiences. And while smart assistants and chatbots may perform base-level customer service, they don’t negate the importance of the human aspect of marketing. Technology doesn’t replace people, but rather should enhance your marketing efforts to target and personalize communications.

As you finalize your 2020 PR and marketing plans, be sure to consider a variety of strategies and the modern tools and channels available to reach your targets that will best help achieve your goals.

About the Author

With Edge since 2007, Jennifer Marsnik specializes in helping clients develop and implement strategic plans that support their overall business goals. She lives in the Twin Cities area with her husband and two daughters and enjoys golf and cheering on the Twins, Vikings and U of M Gophers.

It’s the middle of fall with the holidays quickly approaching. It’s also the season for finalizing strategic plans and budgets for 2020, prompting many legal vendors to wonder … what’s new?

Not much, it turns out – at least not with some core tenets of sales and marketing.

Legaltech News published an article on November 15, 2019, by Frank Ready, a reporter on the tech desk at ALM Media, titled “For Legal Tech Vendors, the First Impression is Everything.” The piece acknowledges the difficulty of marketing to and maintaining relationships in the legal industry and includes insight from three different perspectives: a law firm director of e-discovery, a law firm attorney and a corporate general counsel.

What I found most interesting is that I probably could have read the same article back when I started working in this space in 1996, perhaps without the reference to email. Because it turns out that with all the technology and advancements in the channels used to reach this market over the past 20+ years, nothing has really changed with respect to basic principles of sales and marketing.

Ready highlights several insights from his subjects that, as marketing consultants in this industry, we’ve been telling clients for years …

  • Know your audience. Every organization is structured differently, so the decision-maker or influencer at one firm won’t have the same title as the decision-maker at another firm. Salespeople and marketers must do their homework to ensure they’re targeting the right individual at each firm with any direct outreach.
  • Having a message that resonates is the best way to get someone’s attention.
  • Ongoing marketing and relationship management is critical to keeping the clients you have.
  • A multi-pronged approach is necessary to reach various people in the legal market because everyone wants something different –
    • One wants relevant content she can share with her clients about something new and how/why it impacts them, but then she goes on to admit she also gets this info from conferences/panels.
    • One prefers a more direct approach but admits that even if your message is compelling enough to get him to open a marketing email out of curiosity, he’s probably not going to buy from you anyway.
    • Another wants to see evidence that your solution is uniquely able to address a specific pain point or a case study sharing how a similar organization found success with it. She wants succinct messaging but acknowledges that is hard to achieve in a crowded marketplace.

All in all, Ready’s article doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know but rather serves as a reminder of why reaching the legal audience requires a thoughtful approach. His timing is perfect, though, as vendors are revisiting their strategies and actively working to map out their marketing plans for 2020.

The real takeaway is this: Unless you have a money tree and can truly afford to market to all these segments in all the different ways they want to be reached simultaneously, the best things you can do are to prioritize your audience and messaging, be strategic and get focused.

  1. Prioritize your audiences. Know exactly who your primary targets are and tailor your outreach accordingly.
  2. Revisit your messaging. Know exactly what your differentiators and value proposition are to ensure your key messages are accurate and impactful enough to resonate with your primary audiences.
  3. Have a strategy. Outline a PR and marketing plan that leverages the available channels to reach your primary audience with the right messaging or content at every touchpoint.
  4. Stay focused. Don’t get distracted with the latest opportunity or channel that becomes available. Rather, be purposeful and make sure every activity in your 2020 plan actively works toward your goals and objectives.

Need help refining your message, developing a strategy or getting focused? Call the experts at Edge today.

About the Author

With Edge since 2007, Jennifer Marsnik specializes in helping clients develop and implement strategic plans that support their overall business goals. She lives in the Twin Cities area with her husband and two daughters and enjoys golf and cheering on the Twins, Vikings and U of M Gophers.

Tips to Make Your PR Sparkle During the Holidays

Ah the holidays… the most wonderful time of the year! How do PR professionals make it the most wonderful time to maximize PR opportunities? Here are some tips to keep in mind to capitalize on the last weeks of the year.

Keep Pitching

Though November and December are the busiest months of the year when it comes to the holiday season, they can often be slow when it comes to news. The holidays can be an ideal time for a publicity push. Journalists and reporters have space to fill and are looking for fresh content, particularly newspapers and news sites. Because most PR departments scale back efforts at year end, PR pros who pitch during the holiday season find less competition for media attention.

Make Content Relevant

While the holidays may be a slower news period, it doesn’t mean that anything goes. It’s still important to pitch topics that are timely and tie into current news and events. Consider the following topics to pitch during the holidays:

  • Holiday themes
    If your business or product allows, do your best to work clever holiday themes and terms into your content. Write a how-to article that connects your company to a topic or current issue or trend, such as tactics for winter survival or making the most out of seasonal activities. Be sure to include holiday hashtags to maximize exposure on social media channels.
  • Year-in-review recap
    Write a year-end overview that recaps industry and market trends, company performance and achievements. Consider linking to videos and infographics that highlight important metrics and accomplishments. PR professionals can use year-in-review articles as an opportunity to generate buzz and reinforce their position in the market for their target audience.
  • Make predictions
    Predictions for the coming year can earn substantial media mentions. They can establish executives and clients as experts in their field. Make sure your predictions are compelling enough to matter or coincide with industry happenings throughout the year. Explore new theories, unique perspectives and edgy ideas that would cause the average industry reader to click on the headline.

Timing Matters

While timing is always important in public relations, trying to get media coverage can be especially challenging around the holidays. Keep in mind the holidays change the production schedules of some publications. You’d be better off to avoiding any major announcements during the busy weeks of November and December, unless your news plays into those holidays somehow. Many reporters are out of the office trying to enjoy time with friends and family, so you’ll be hard-pressed to get their attention. If you must make them, do time your holiday announcements wisely. Think about all the email that will be in a reporter’s inbox. Do you want your pitch stuck in that queue waiting for days to be opened? Look at the calendar and try to plan for the week before the holiday or wait until after.

Thought leadership pitching is all about strategic storytelling and positioning yourself as an industry expert. If you’ve got a great angle that can be written with a holiday news hook or event, take advantage of the opportunity. The end of the year may not be the ideal time for major news or product releases, but both news sites and their readers are hungry for tips on navigating the holidays, year-end wrap-ups, year-ahead predictions and inspirational stories. Warmest wishes for productive PR this holiday season!

About the Author

Vicki LaBrosse, director of global public relations, Edge Marketing, has more than 17 years of marketing and communications experience in both the legal and accounting industries. She works with clients to develop and execute comprehensive PR and marketing strategies that will help grow their business.

Try catching a mosquito from the bed of a pickup truck that’s bumping over soccer ball-size rocks. To many, nailing this is easier than addressing today’s cybersecurity challenges.

Law firms and accounting firms are target-rich environments for cybercriminals. A firm’s systems can provide everything from Social Security numbers to privileged corporate data – all items that can fetch big dollars on the black market.

How can organizations defend against or even stave off digital threats?

In honor of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, I (virtually) sat down with the following five technology experts:

  • Matthew Brothers-McGrew, CISO and EVP of technology of Reveal Data
  • Randy Johnston, EVP of K2 Enterprises and chairman and CEO of Network Management Group, Inc.
  • Mike Paul, CTO of Innovative Computing Systems, Inc.
  • Steve Salkin, managing editor of ALM’s Cybersecurity Law & Strategy
  • Tomas Suros, chief solutions architect at AbacusNext

Together, they shared the following advice on how best to protect organizations.

Bolster your strongest lines of defense

Firms have a built-in line of protection from digital threats: their employees. But to activate that level of vigilance, they should concentrate on security education and awareness.

“No matter the type of technology deployed, the users share responsibility for securing the system,” said Mike Paul, CTO of Innovative Computing Systems, Inc. “It is not only IT’s job to handle security. The end user is key in helping keep threats at bay, and security education should be an ongoing quarterly/annual process.”

Steve Salkin, the managing editor of ALM’s Cybersecurity Law & Strategy and a legal technology veteran for more than 20 years, echoed this sentiment in the context of current threats.

“One of the biggest cybersecurity challenges facing law firms is from within with attorneys and support staff falling for phishing schemes,” Salkin explained. “Let’s face it, many attorneys and law firm staff are still not very tech-savvy, and a well-constructed email asking them to update account information or change a password can elicit a response. I think progress is being made here. Firms are issuing warnings, telling lawyers and staff to contact IT before responding to emails asking for such information and conducting tests to see who within the organization responds to phishing emails. But the old saying about leading a horse to water applies. I think that the best way to combat this threat – and many firms are now doing so – is to send phishing tests and follow up with a training session.”

Takeaway: Invest in security awareness training so that users on the front line can identify trouble before it starts. Likewise, ensure that users know where to turn to in case they spot potential threats.

“Next-generation phishers are taking the time to research their targets – monitoring company news, identifying employees and gathering the information that will help them craft convincing, custom phishing campaigns. Criminals may pose as a company administrator or business partner and make requests like the ones you receive every day,” said Tomas Suros, chief solutions architect at AbacusNext. “When in doubt, contact your company or business partner’s support line to find out if the email is legitimate.”

Embrace agility

“It’s not a matter of if you’ll be attacked, but when. Even if your internal or external IT team does everything correctly, you can still be attacked,” said Randy Johnston, executive vice president of K2 Enterprises, a leading technology CPE provider to CPA professionals, and chairman and CEO of Network Management Group, Inc., a managed IT consulting and services company. “While firms are spending time, money and effort to address cybersecurity, they are not advancing as fast as the attackers. For bad actors, breaking into systems is a full-time job. For most system administrators, cybersecurity is only part of the job.”

Always evolving cyberthreats demand accelerated responsiveness from firms.

“Security is never set it and forget it,” said Paul. “Threats are constantly evolving and require a nimble company to navigate the changes.”

While the pace of cyberattacks may seem relentless, the innovation of the threats may be lacking – which is good news for firms and IT professionals.

“There is nothing terribly novel about cybersecurity threat actors as they are in many ways just con men, criminals and tyrants of yore with updated tactics,” said Matthew Brothers-McGrew, CISO and EVP of technology, Reveal Data, who began work in the security industry as a testifying expert focused on cases that intersected with complex computer science, software, breaches and cybersecurity issues. “With each new year, I read a lot of ‘emerging threat’ lists, and lately these have all been new takes on old cons. This is good news because it means many of the basic tools of a strong risk-based security program remain surprisingly relevant and effective even in this world of emerging threats.”

Takeaway: Johnston said a straightforward act could help protect your organization.

“Backup is the most important part of cybersecurity preparation with user training being second,” he comments. “In 2019, I’ve seen about two attacks per week. Both a CPA firm and law firm in New York City wound up paying $1 million ransoms because they were attacked with crypto-viruses and didn’t have sufficient backup.”

Brothers-McGrew endorsed revisiting security tools.

“Security teams must constantly tweak these basic tools to match the adversary’s evolving tactics. These tweaks are akin to moving to hybrid cars from traditional fuel cars. Nobody who drove a ’70s Impala is totally flummoxed when getting behind the wheel of a Prius.”

Establish holistic security programs

Sometimes, weaknesses result from incomplete visions and plans or measures that have engrained themselves into processes over time.

Suros cautioned against settings that provide convenience at the expense of security. “The default [of some firms] is to give everyone access to everything. Access to sensitive information and software tools should be limited to protect client information and company information.”

Paul agreed and stated: “The biggest challenge [organizations] face relates to an evolution of their current processes and practices as it pertains to security. A company may have had a certain way to carry out adding new users, securing the desktop/server or evaluating a vendor. However, this may have been set up several years ago, or ad hoc, with little consideration given to security.”

Firms should also avoid ranking compliance over security.

“Most firms struggle with implementing meaningful security programs rather than merely being compliant in this environment of ever-increasing regulatory regimes and breach litigation. In my experience, many law firms are naturally focused on compliance as a means to security rather than implementing a security program with a strong foundation that is built on the fundamentals,” explained Brothers-McGrew. “To understand why security and compliance are not always in alignment, one must accept that regulation is often created as a means to shift liability away from a regulating body onto their members. I’m not saying that regulations are inherently bad, but that the goals of regulation can be at odds with a security professional’s primary mission to manage and reduce real, recognized risk for their organization. I have seen firsthand the devastating consequences when companies that hold multiple compliance certificates are breached because they were prescriptive and focused on compliance.”

Takeaway: Revisit the firm’s security program and processes to enforce a holistic approach.

“The most successful security professionals are steering the conversation away from a compliance-first mentality with its endless regulation, questionnaires and auditor checklists,” said Brothers-McGrew. “With the right strategy, it can have an effective security program while being compliant by building a culture that is focused on security first.”

Many thanks to the experts that contributed their time and expertise to this article!

About the Author

Melanie joined Edge Marketing in 2010 after an in-house career focused on marketing, public relations, and communications for private and publicly traded technology companies. Since then, she’s helped close to 50 technology companies make lasting and beneficial impressions in the legal and accounting communities. Her guiding mantra: “It’s not about results. It’s about the RIGHT results.”

As senior account manager for Edge, she creates cohesive PR and marketing plans formulated to help businesses reach their goals. A typical day includes anything from strategic planning, brainstorming and writing content, and delivering new ways to engage the media and target markets.

Known for her “helium hand” (but she likes to call it leadership), Melanie is a past president of the Austin chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA) and a former board member for the Houston chapters of AMA and the Public Relations Society of America. She lives in Austin, Texas, and actively spoils her two dogs every day.

The European Union General Data Protection Regulation, better known as GDPR, came into effect in May 2018. Just a month later, the state of California passed into law the California Consumer Privacy Act, nicknamed California’s GDPR. The CCPA, scheduled to take effect in January 2020, creates sweeping new rights for Californians and onerous transparency and other obligations for businesses handling their information.

While it’s natural to make the comparison, calling the CCPA California’s GDPR may be a bit of a misnomer. The two laws share some key components, yet differ in several aspects. If your company created a compliance program for GDPR, you may be a step ahead, but you’ll still want to take a thorough look at the new CCPA, adapt internal processes where needed and train employees to understand and appropriately handle information requests from California contacts.

CCPA in Short

The CCPA was created in response to high-profile data breaches, as well as the increasing trend of mishandling personal data by brokers and marketers. Designed to protect consumers from the mishandling of their private data by giving the consumer control over what data is shared or sold, the law will take effect January 1, 2020. By that date, qualifying businesses need to make their data protection and user privacy policies compliant with the new regulations or risk stiff penalties.

Under the CCPA, consumers have the right to:

  1. Know what personal information is being collected on them.
  2. Know if their information is being sold and to whom.
  3. Opt out of that information being sold.
  4. Obtain a copy of their personal information.
  5. Receive equal service and price regardless of whether they exert the above rights. A common example of this would be loyalty programs, which often require customer registration to earn benefits.

Will CCPA Impact Your Business?

The CCPA applies to any business operated for the profit or financial benefit of its owners, which:

  • Has annual gross revenues in excess of $25 million.
  • Derives 50% or more of its annual revenues from selling consumers’ personal information.
  • Buys, receives, sells or shares for commercial purposes, alone or in combination, the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households or devices.

If one of the above is true, and the organization collects the personal information of anyone in California and controls the purposes and means of processing that information, then that business is subject to the CCPA.

The owners of a small or regional business outside the state of California might initially conclude that they are likely not subject to these rules. However, the definition of “personal information” under this law is fairly broad. Any business with a website will likely have information on visitors’ IP addresses, browsing information and/or geolocation data. These data elements are considered personal information under the CCPA, so having an active website accessible to Californians can make your company subject to the law.

Comparison to GDPR – A Few Key Differences

If your organization is already compliant with GDPR, it may be easiest to think of the CCPA in terms of the elements that are different from that regulation. An important caveat here is that the CCPA is still evolving, and amendments currently under consideration may change the ultimate form of the regulation.

  • CCPA is not in its final form. GDPR is fairly well-established, detailed and in active use. The CCPA is not complete, and some legal experts say it’s overly complex. Debates on several amendments are ongoing. On September 6, the California legislature passed amendments to the state’s data breach notification statutes and information security statute. Amendments in process will require an up or down vote of both the Senate and Assembly before they can move to the governor for signing. So it’s important to keep an eye on the evolution of the law and pending amendments, some of which may impact decisions on data governance that companies need to make soon.
  • Processing vs. Sale of Data: For data collection and processing to be compliant under GDPR, one of six legal bases for processing data must apply: consent, contract, legal obligation, vital interests, public task or legitimate interest. Consent and contract are “opt-in” bases. The CCPA does not have a concept equivalent to “basis for processing.” It provides consumers with the right to opt out to prevent businesses from selling their personal information. “Sale” is defined as selling, renting, releasing, disclosing, disseminating, making available, transferring, or otherwise communicating orally, in writing, or by electronic or other means, a consumer’s personal information to another business or a third party for monetary or other valuable consideration.”
  • Nonprofit Organizations: GDPR applies to any organization that collects the data of EU residents, irrespective of whether payment is required. The CCPA is different in that it applies specifically to businesses. The CCPA defines a business as any legal entity (e.g., corporations, associations, partnerships, etc.) that is “organized or operated for the profit or financial benefit of its shareholders or other owners.” U.S. nonprofits are exempt from many data privacy and security regulations, including the CCPA, experts advise.
  • Consumers and Households: While GDPR is specifically focused on all data related to the individual EU consumer or citizen, the CCPA considers both the consumer and household entities. The CCPA doesn’t clearly define the word “household.” Until that term is clarified, providers should consider it broadly in compliance efforts. For example, a business may assume that two unrelated individuals sharing an apartment are considered to be in the same household for the purposes of the law (though in many cases that information won’t be known to the business). The challenges of compliance are evident here, and amendments to it – or removal of the term – have been suggested.
  • Fines: Under GDPR, an offending business may be fined up to 20 million euros, or up to 4% of its total global revenue of the preceding fiscal year, whichever is higher. Depending on the offense, civil penalties under the CCPA may be up to $2,500 per violation or $7,500 per violation for intentional violations. The law states that damages will be calculated on a per-capita basis. Each user whose profile is illegally processed, sold, etc., will represent an independent violation. So, for example, the sale or disclosure of a database with information on 10,000 California residents could incur a fine of up to $75 million. However, enterprises have 30 days after receiving notice of noncompliance from the California attorney general’s office to cure it, and only thereafter are they subject to an enforcement action for violating the law.

Actions to Take Now

The CCPA may change shape a bit before January 1, but it’s a good idea to get on top of it now and identify any data management processes, or even application changes, that may need attention to be compliant by January 1. First steps include:

  • Determine whether your business is subject to the CCPA.
  • If the CCPA applies to your company, get executive-level support and begin an internal education program to help employees understand the new laws.
  • Consult with in-house legal, compliance or outside counsel for advice on meeting requirements.
  • Take an inventory of existing data: know what personal data your company is collecting and why, where it is stored and which people (partners, third parties, vendors etc.) it is shared with.
  • Identify existing methods for customers to make data requests. The CCPA requires two means of access for consumers: a toll-free number and a web form request. Create or update these to be compliant.

Keep up to date on amendments and changes to the CCPA. Some good resources include the following:

  • The International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) offers many resources, including an Amendment Tracker on CCPA amendments.
  • The state of California attorney general’s office website offers background on the law, timelines and public information on data privacy.
  • Am Law 100 law firm Norton Rose Fulbright offers Data Protection Report – a series of posts on evolving law and compliance topics in data privacy.

At Edge we help technology and service providers build brands and grow client relationships. While we are not legal consultants on GDPR or the CCPA, we help clients meet their own compliance efforts by supporting marketing communications, public relations, marketing automation and website design.