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Driving Black Hat Buzz: Tips for Success from Media and Analysts

It’s not news to anyone in the cybersecurity community that Black Hat season is chaotic. Even before “masks required” signs went up and social distancing stickers were glued down to floors, companies had a hard time finding ways to actually generate some buzz at the conference. That’s why we reached out to reporters and analysts to get the scoop. We wanted to gather real insights from the mouths of media experts in the cybersecurity space on how to break through the conference noise. 

Merritt Group reached out to Bree Fowler of Consumer Reports, Tim Wilson of Dark Reading, Jack Poller of ESG Global, Neil Rubenking at PCMag, Freelance Technology Journalist Sean Kerner, Chris Steffen at EMA, and Fernando Montenegro at S&P Global to gather advice they have for participants and a few other insights. From merch suggestions to-dos and don’ts when it comes to briefings, these cyber stars didn’t disappoint.

Question 1: How (if at all) are you planning to shift your coverage of the news at the show given the hybrid model?

“The tough part for me is trying to remember to login when there’s a session I’m interested in and make time for it. The trouble with online shows is that you can’t get away from your regular duties in the same way. Life, whether it’s your editor or your kids, gets in the way.”

Bree Fowler, Senior Technology Writer, Consumer Reports

“Dark Reading is doing heavy virtual coverage of the event, both pre-show and during the show, via staff and freelancers. We expect to post more than 30 stories about the event, since every session is outlining a new vulnerability that security professionals need to know about. Our News Desk, which typically takes place at the live conference, will be all virtual this year. We will post about four hours of interview content to be broadcast on Aug. 4-5. We’re also hosting seven virtual sessions in the Sponsored Session Track. Our live coverage will be lighter than in pre-Covid years, but still present — we will have three staffers at the event and many writers covering it virtually. We will also host three Sponsored Sessions in Las Vegas.” 

Tim Wilson, Co-Founder and Editor in Chief, Dark Reading

“As an industry analyst, I always try to connect with companies and security practitioners to understand current trends. Unfortunately, I won’t be attending in person this year which will make it harder to have those great random hallway and lunch conversations. Thus, I’m focusing on virtually discovering new companies and approaches to solving security challenges.” 

Jack Poller, Senior Analyst, ESG Global

Question 2: What are you most interested in covering for this year’s show?

“I’m going to try to listen in on sessions about digital privacy, government regulation and, of course, ransomware. Creative hacks are also always interesting.”

Bree Fowler, Senior Technology Writer, Consumer Reports


“Ransomware, threats to critical infrastructure and supply chain threats are key to this year’s coverage. You can get insight on what Black Hat attendees are worried about by reading the 2021 Black Hat Attendee Survey, which Dark Reading helps to put together. Obviously, SolarWinds, Colonial Pipeline, and Kaseya are huge drivers behind this year’s concerns.” 

Tim Wilson, Co-Founder and Editor in Chief, Dark Reading

“As always, I’m most interested in covering the briefings. I have an audience of consumers, so not everything is suitable, but I always find talks that I can turn into something interesting for them.”

Neil Rubenking, Lead Analyst, PCMag


Question 3: Can you provide some DOs and DON’Ts for Black Hat participants this year when it comes to reporter/analyst meetings?

“Don’t assume everyone is going in person. Black Hat isn’t RSA — though the vast majority of PR people in my inbox think it is. While vendor stuff is interesting, what makes Black Hat special is the researcher community, research and, oh yeah, did I mention, research.” 

Sean Kerner, Freelance Technology Journalist

“Shaking hands: I will personally have to break myself of this habit, but I think that the handshake is still a no-go this year. Meeting spaces: preferably out in the open — the small cubicle meeting rooms of the past are not ventilated enough. Better to meet somewhere more open (whatever that might mean).”

Chris Steffen, Research Director, EMA


“For those looking to interact with analysts this year, my suggestion is to focus on what’s concrete in terms of new developments: many analysts are quite up to date on the key industry developments. Meetings at conferences (in-person or remote) are not the same as regular briefings: we need to be efficient in how we use time.” 

Fernando Montenegro, Principal Analyst, S&P Global

Question 4: What’s your favorite conference swag you’ve ever received?

 “I always need more Moleskine notebooks…”

Sean Kerner, Freelance Technology Journalist



“Something that stands out and is not the standard fare – regardless of how it directly relates. Neck gaiters will likely be interesting this year — make them quality. Everyone will be giving out some flavor of mask, but very few, if any, neck gaiters. Best swag that I ever received — shoe inserts: high quality ones (I still use them) and support socks (again, not the cotton logo socks, something to help with arch support). The key here is to provide something that people will use, and that can cost about as much as quality T-Shirts when purchased in bulk. It also indicates that you are interested in the person (and their well-being), not the advertisement. People remember that…”

Chris Steffen, Research Director, EMA

“Best swag ever wasn’t swag — it was a donation to a charity.”

Jack Poller, Senior Analyst, ESG Global



All in all, the name of the game seems to be timeliness, consideration of COVID measures, research and, of course, ransomware. Whether you’re planning to participate virtually or in-person, following these reporter and analyst tips when it comes to one of the biggest conferences of the year is sure to put you on the path to success. 

Struggling to have your voice heard in the crowded cybersecurity market? Download Merritt Group’s report “Want to Dominate the Buzz at Black Hat? Storytelling is Priority #1″ and learn more about our tried and true approach!

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