Federal and local agencies spent nearly $50 million on security at the Democratic National Convention in Boston this summer, closing 40 miles of roads, installing hundreds of surveillance cameras, and hiring thousands of additional officers.A month later, security at the Republican National Convention in New York was just as intense.
But there was a kink in both conventions' unprecedented security efforts: Delegates and media members using unencrypted wireless internet-enabled laptops were left vulnerable to potential hackers.
Security tech firm Newbury Networks, working with FitzGerald Communications, seized the opportunity to demonstrate to consumers and the media the risks of WiFi, even in otherwise secure environments.
A small company in a competitive industry, Newbury hoped to establish itself as a thought leader and major security solutions provider for corporations, government agencies, and the military, says Chuck Conley, Newbury's VP of marketing. The company's Watchdog application uses patented technology to protect against vulnerabilities like those at the conventions.
With the DNC taking place in their own backyard, the client and agency decided to use the opportunity to give the security issues surrounding the convention a new spin. At least in one respect, the venue for the DNC, the Fleet Center, was not quite the fortress it was supposed to be - and Newbury could help.
"As an agency, we have a lot of experience in the security space, and we're very opportunistic," says Jean Serra, SVP at FitzGerald and account manager for the Newbury effort, adding that FitzGerald tries to identify vulnerabilities or hacking trends and allow clients like Newbury "to step in and be the experts."
By collecting hard data to back up its security claims, the PR team hoped to attract mainstream, business, and IT media.
To obtain that data, Newbury and FitzGerald launched a "war drive" around the Fleet Center. Combing the area in a van armed with its Watchdog application, Newbury execs searched for wireless access points. Such war drives are not uncommon in the industry but, in recent years, have become passe, says Conley. However, when attached to a high-profile political event, he says, the war drive was able to take on new significance.
FitzGerald crafted a press release on the results of the war drive, how the technology worked, and what could be done to combat the security holes at the convention and elsewhere.
"[Wireless security is] a complicated subject, and it's something that journalists struggle to understand, especially within the time frame they have to write a story," says Maura FitzGerald, the PR firm's president and CEO. "This particular program made the issue very tangible."
Following success in Boston, the team turned its attention to the RNC in New York, offering reporters a chance to ride along during the war drive.
The war drives snagged the attention of top tech reporters from the Boston Globe and Computerworld, as well as IT and business publications and even the Boston ABC affiliate.
In the weeks surrounding the conventions, Newbury's website experienced a 30% increase in traffic, and a webcast about the benefits of its security products hosted mid-campaign attracted 100 people. Conley estimates that the web traffic led to 300 or more sales leads.
Months after the conventions, Newbury continues to see gains in name recognition and media exposure, including a piece by The Wall Street Journal's tech reporter in early December - a significant feat, Conley says, considering "[Newbury's] not at the top of this guy's list of companies to mention."
Although the national conventions won't return until 2008, Newbury and FitzGerald are already exploring venues for their next war drives and other efforts.
PR team: Newbury Networks and FitzGerald Communications (both Boston)
Campaign: War Drive Project
Time frame: June to August 2004
Budget: $10,000 to $12,000