Blue USB stick

Position, Reputation

CompTIA IT Tech Social Experiment

IT trade organization converts PR-driven social experiment into 3,000 downloads of new cybersecurity solution.

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IT leader CompTIA was looking to establish brand authority in the cybersecurity space before rolling out its new program, CyberLaunch. So Walker Sands designed a social experiment and promoted the results to key media outlets with a white paper and infographic.

These strategic placements allowed CompTIA to expand into a new market, garnering over 53 million impressions and nearly 3,000 downloads for their training solution.

media placements


downloads for CompTIA’s new solution

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is the voice of the information technology industry. As a leading nonprofit trade association for global IT professionals and organizations, CompTIA advances industry growth through educational programs, market research, networking events, professional certifications and public policy advocacy. In addition to its 2,000 member companies and 3,000 academic and training partners, CompTIA has issued nearly 2 million IT certifications.

Program Highlights 

  • Rapidly established brand authority in the cybersecurity space.
  • Positioned the organization as a provider of non-IT training and certification programs.
  • Established a market foundation for the successful rollout of new solution offering.
  • Earned more than 100 media placements, 53 million impressions and nearly 3,000 downloads for CompTIA’s new solution.

The Challenge

CompTIA has cultivated a reputation as a trusted provider of training and certifications for IT professionals. But the organization faced two unique challenges as it prepared to launch Cyber Secure, a new cybersecurity training program for everyday employees:

  1. Credibility – Until now, CompTIA’s expertise had focused on networks, servers and other IT issues – not cybersecurity. To successfully launch Cyber Secure, CompTIA needed to quickly establish authority and credibility in a new area of expertise.
  2. Audience – Similarly, CompTIA’s other training and certification programs focused exclusively on transferring knowledge to IT professionals. However, Cyber Secure would target everyday workers and non-IT audiences.

CompTIA asked Walker Sands to spearhead an effort to raise awareness for the new program, and establish the organization as a reputable leader in both cybersecurity and training for non-IT personnel.

In essence, Walker Sands was tasked with developing and executing an integrated public relations program that would capture the attention of two new audiences in a very short period of time.

The Solution

From the outset of the project, Walker Sands realized that CompTIA needed a creative campaign that would attract the attention of the cybersecurity community and demonstrate the need for HR and IT managers to conduct cybersecurity training for all personnel.

To maximize visibility with target audiences, the campaign would also need to coincide with National Cyber Security Awareness Month in October, just a few short months away.

In late August, Walker Sands designed a social experiment to test security practices in the workplace. The experiment called for the random distribution of 200 USB devices in public spaces across four U.S. cities: Chicago, San Francisco, Cleveland and Washington D.C.

Major components of the experiment included:

  • Walker Sands preloaded the USB devices with a text file containing a link and instructions to contact Walker Sands at a provided email address. This allowed Walker Sands team members to track the number of found devices that were plugged into users’ computers and acted upon.
  • The USB devices were placed in public areas frequented by office workers. For example, in Chicago, USB devices were left in coffee shops and on benches in the Loop; in San Francisco, devices were left in public spaces throughout the Financial District.
  • Over the course of the next month, Walker Sands monitored and measured the results, tracking the locations of people who found the USB devices, plugged them into workplace computers and responded by email or click.

After analyzing the data, Walker Sands found that 17 percent of the USB devices were connected to workplace computers. Users’ willingness to insert unknown USBs into workplace devices uncovered serious security vulnerabilities because USB devices can run executable files and unleash malware programs that jeopardize data and system integrity.

“By coordinating the distribution of the USB devices in tech-friendly cities like San Francisco and Chicago, we were able to show that no workplace is safe from cybersecurity vulnerabilities,” said Will Kruisbrink, vice president at Walker Sands. “This created an opportunity for us to position CompTIA and its new offering as a practical security solution for HR and IT decision makers across a range of industries.”

The results of the experiment, along with findings from an IT security habit survey of 1,200 full-time employees, were compiled in a white paper and infographic, which Walker Sands then promoted to key media outlets and influencers in cybersecurity, IT, general business and HR. By timing media outreach with National Cyber Security Awareness Month, Walker Sands generated vertical and mainstream media exposure for CompTIA and shined a light on the demand for cybersecurity training in the workplace.

Walker Sands also developed a series of four videos about the experiment. The videos explained the rationale and results of the experiment, garnering the attention of key audiences and reinforcing CompTIA’s knowledge of cybersecurity issues.

The Results

Walker Sands’ work elevated CompTIA’s profile in the cybersecurity and HR communities, paving the way for a successful rollout of the organization’s Cyber Secure training program.

The team secured 115 placements for the campaign in October and November alone. In addition, coverage was secured in all four local markets where the social experiment was conducted. Placements included The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, NBC Chicago, ZDNet, NPR Radio, HR Magazine and CSO Magazine.

The placements garnered more than 53 million impressions and over 30,000 social media shares. The strong media relations efforts of the team drove meaningful traffic to CompTIA’s site, generating 2,430 white paper downloads and 570 infographic downloads. This provided CompTIA with a sales pipeline full of qualified leads prior to the Cyber Secure product launch in January.

“At CompTIA, we’re committed to meeting the IT needs of organizations around the world,” said Ann Batko, senior vice president of marketing at CompTIA. “By helping us quickly gain traction as a cybersecurity training resource, Walker Sands enabled us to expand into a new market through the successful launch of the Cyber Secure program.”

Walker Sands continues to serve as CompTIA’s PR agency of record and is actively involved in furthering the organization’s mission through a variety of integrated PR activities.

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