Campaigns: Public affairs/digital - Forum battles to beat cyber crime

Campaign: Bring back the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU)
Client: The Corporate IT Forum
PR team: In-house
Timescale: 2006-ongoing
Budget: C. £10,000

Cyber criminals are using increasingly sophisticated and advanced methods to steal customer and company data and damage corporate networks. An organisation called the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) used to exist, but the Government abolished it in 2006. Since then there has been no single national body charged with investigating electronic crime, and no dedicated route through which IT chiefs can report cyber crime.

Blue-chip IT user group The Corporate IT Forum has been campaigning since 2006 to bring back a dedicated unit to investigate cyber crime.

OBJECTIVES

To persuade the Government to establish a formal law-enforcement unit, staffed by people who are trained to understand the nature of high-tech crime and the behaviour of high-tech criminal gangs.

STRATEGY AND PLAN

The central message was that without a dedicated cyber crime unit, e-crimes could be going unreported or be misunderstood by the police. In 2007 the campaign brought to light the fact that the only formal route for large businesses to report e-crime was through police at local stations who were, through no fault of their own, unable to deal with crimes that could be very technical and complex in nature.

The forum argued large businesses urgently needed a central e-crime investigation unit staffed with technical experts.

Case studies and anecdotes were put together, explaining the experiences and frustrations of security chiefs - all of whom were members of the forum. These case studies were used to brief journalists and build the case for action.

Trade magazines such as Computing were given exclusive access to senior security chiefs who offered frank off-the-record opinions to help the issue gain momentum. The forum also built relationships with national and trade online publications to spark debate among bloggers.

The turning point for the campaign came in April 2008, when the then shadow home secretary David Davis launched a series of Tory proposals on fighting cyber crime. The proposals centred on the re- establishment of a central dedicated e-crime investigation unit. The Tories produced a green paper on the subject that included the forum's core messages.

A survey was released in early November 2008, revealing that many IT bosses had little faith in the Government's approach to tackling cyber crime. It found while companies were experiencing high levels of cyber crime attacks, they rarely reported them as they didn't think they would be properly investigated.

MEASUREMENT AND EVALUATION

The forum was the first body to make the lack of a cyber crime unit a real issue among many professional bodies and highlight it at a national level. The campaign was covered by the BBC, both online and broadcast, and features appeared in The Guardian, the Financial Times and the International Herald Tribune. Trade publications including Computer Weekly, Computing and Silicon.com regularly covered the issue and the latter even launched its own e-crime crackdown campaign. The survey results were given to the BBC as an exclusive, and featured in more than 20 IT trade publications and 38 blogs.

RESULTS

In June 2008 the Home Office announced it would put £7m into establishing a central policing body, called the Police Central Ecrime Unit, to investigate corporate electronic crime. The forum has pledged to continue to monitor and apply pressure to make sure the new body is established as quickly as possible and fulfils the needs of UK businesses.

The issue is still so high up the parliamentary agenda that in November MPs questioned whether £7m was enough money and pushed the Home Office to set aside more cash.

SECOND OPINION - Rachel Brewin, Director and senior PR consultant, Bottle PR

What makes this campaign stand out is the clear and straightforward strategy, with a single, obvious and very real business objective in mind.

This makes the ensuing campaign a robust proposition, with a strong and simple core message that has resonance with a wide range of businesses and organisations.

The broader context of high-profile data loss and theft, as well as the impending ten-year anniversary of the Data Protection Act, must have helped.

The fact that the members of the Corporate IT Forum seem to be a closely guarded secret presented a challenge. While the 'off the record' briefings could have been considered risky, clearly there was a good level of trust with the relevant journalists and the fact that this was successfully handled is very impressive.

There is always a danger with this type of issues-based campaign that the client can get lost. For this reason, understanding everyone's motivations and making sure that everyone involved is clear about the required outcome is vital.

In this instance, the specified objective for the PR campaign, while ambitious, was helpful in allowing a clear demonstration of success.

The public affairs campaign that ran alongside the media relations campaign would have played (and will continue to play) a key role in achieving the objective of stamping out high-tech crime.

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