You probably have at least a vague idea of what technologists in the cybersecurity industry do all day as they fight criminals aiming to steal information, demand ransoms and even commit acts of terrorism. But that important work happens, inherently, behind the scenes. Someone has to tell people, companies and government entities about the software developed by cybersecurity companies, and how it can protect them.
That’s where cybersecurity marketers like Gianna Whitver and Maria Velasquez, as well as thousands of other members of the Cybersecurity Marketing Society, come in.
Whitver and Velasquez started the association as a Slack channel where cybersecurity marketers like themselves could network and keep on top of the latest industry news, in an industry where new threats pop up constantly.
It wasn’t intended to become a full-time business. Both of the founders had jobs in the industry. Though they live in different states — Delaware and Connecticut, respectively — they had met virtually when Maria was a candidate for a job at the company Gianna worked for at the time. Although Maria didn’t get the job, the two of them kept in touch, sharing experiences in the industry.
“Cybersecurity is a really big market,” Whitver told Technical.ly. “There are lots of companies, it’s very fast paced, it’s highly technical. The buyers don’t like to be sold to or marketed to at all, so it’s a really difficult industry, I think, to navigate for someone who was new to cyber, which I was. We shared information back and forth about the market, buyers, events and best practices in the industry.”
Growing a community, and company
The two launched the Slack in 2020. Through word-of-mouth and grassroots outreach, the group quickly grew into an international association without paid advertising or heavy marketing.
“We have people from the APAC region, Europe, Israel, Africa,” Velasquez said. “It’s amazing to see what the community has flourished into, so naturally and so organically, too. … We started seeing people inviting their colleagues. We started seeing chief marketing officers inviting their entire team to join the group because they’re seeing the value in the engagement, the content that’s being shared, the advice, everything really.”
Today, both of them run the society, a membership-based association that organizes industry events like the in-person CyberMarketingCon. It’s grown into a full-time business — and in true 2020s fashion, they did it without ever meeting face to face. Aside from the IRL events, the society is all virtual.
CyberMarketingCon 2022 was held in Arlington, Virginia, and the founders plan to have a presence at cybersecurity conferences like BlackHat USA in Las Vegas, as well as meetups in New York City, Denver, Boston and Tel Aviv, with demand from Nashville and Houston for future events.
“There’s something really magical when you’ve known someone online for years and you meet in person for the first time,” said Whitver, who moved to Newark in 2022 from the Tampa Bay region.
That’s not to say that virtual events, which they started hosting at the height of the pandemic, are a thing of the past. Members who require or prefer virtual events (or who enjoy both virtual and IRL events) can participate online for events like Friday lunch networking and the occasional webinar.
Telling their stories
Those who are curious about the cybersecurity marketing industry can get a taste of what it’s like via the society’s podcast, Breaking Through in Cybersecurity Marketing. The show is hosted by Whitver and Velasquez and features industry guests sharing their favorite campaigns.
“We like to have guests that have really interesting stories,” Velasquez said. “We love when guests come to us and share the results of a cool campaign and how they did it. We love digging into the details so our listeners can maybe get inspiration from it and know how to apply it and the type of results they should expect if they were to do something similar.”
As far as their own work goes, the cofounders have big plans for the Cybersecurity Marketing Society, including adding premium memberships.
“We are growing, we’re creating more and better content,” Whitver said. “I quit my job in January because the demands of the society grew significantly last year. We love the continuing requests because it shows [members are] engaged, and we needed to dedicate more time and resources to it. Our goals are to grow without losing our soul and without losing our value and our relevance and our mission, because a lot of communities grow for the sake of growth and we’re growing for the sake of the cybersecurity marketer.”
And those cybersecurity marketers, representing a diverse segment of the industry, are proving themselves to be a vital part of the cybersecurity ecosystem.
“Cybersecurity is a male-dominated industry,” Velasquez said. “I think that that’s it’s really cool that all of this is stemming from two women that got together.”
Bonus: Cybersecurity advice for small biz
Though businesses aren’t their target audience, the pair did offer some advice for small businesses who want to protect themselves from cybercrime but aren’t sure what to do.
“If you’re a small business and you can afford it, it’s probably worth it to engage with some sort of firm that does security for small businesses and do a gap analysis and see where things are potentially vulnerable for you,” Whitver said. “Small businesses are the least likely to be able to survive a ransomware attack. You might think that you’re not a target, but I would argue that you’re an easier target to hackers and threat actors than some of the bigger businesses. They might have a bigger pot of gold, but they have a lot more fencing around them.”
Knowledge is power!
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