September 6, 2022. If the terms OSINT, HUMINT, analysis, source evaluation, and the 5 W’s sound like they come from a spy novel or a military intelligence operation, you are right. Well, maybe you’re not entirely right — these terms also come from the much less understood world of Public Relations (PR).
So, what is PR and how does it relate to the mysterious world of intelligence collection?
PR is a term that is intertwined with the term marketing. Both are connected to a company’s goal of achieving growth, recognition, and financial success. That said, marketing can be defined as the process of getting people interested in your company’s product or service. On the other hand, PR is the process of building authority and relationships between organizations and their public based on the delivery of trusted and unbiased information. Beyond this fundamental difference, marketing goals are often tied to measurable metrics whilst the results of PR campaigns can be difficult to quantify and may take longer to materialize.
“Let me explain,” says Avi Shachar, a former fraud fighter and military intelligence officer turned PR specialist, currently working at Blue Oceans PR, an international boutique PR agency b. “As a PR agency, our main purpose is not to sell our client’s products or services. Our purpose is to sell stories. And in order to sell a story, it needs to be interesting, eye-catching, insightful, newsworthy, and one that will appeal to journalists and media outlets across the globe.”
“Our goal is to create brand awareness and credibility in a way that is unique and creative,” he continues. “Every company is trying to attract media attention and, in today’s world of endless amounts of open-source information, it’s not good enough to just make bland declarations. You have to convince the media that you have something interesting to contribute. Something that their audience will be interested in reading about.”
The challenge remains: how to write an interesting story? It starts with the well-established intelligence community’s 5 W’s — who, what, why, when, and where.
The Who — Who is the story about and who might it affect?
The What — What is new?
The Why — Why is this news important and what difference will it make?
The Where — Where is this happening? Is there a geographic angle to the story?
The When — What is the significance of the timing of the story?
The above needs to be followed by a concise, neutral and simply written text of 500-700 words and a climax — a “killer” headline that will make journalists do what we would really like them to do — click to read more.
According to Kristina Skindelyte, co-founder of Blue Oceans, PR is not simply about writing a press release, as many would assume. Press releases are only one of many tools in the public relations specialist’s arsenal. Media pitches, press kits, press trips, and PR events are some of the others at their disposal.
“But maybe our most important asset is our ability to establish honest and trust-based relationships with the media. Not for blatantly promoting our clients but for the purpose of offering journalists a constant stream of reliable, knowledgeable, and interesting sources of information, who happen to be the leaders and employees of our clients. This might sound a bit confusing but, in reality, good public relations are about asking journalists “What can we do for you?” and not vice versa,” says Skindelyte.
Shachar explains that serving the media is as important as serving the consumers of security related intelligence. Both “audiences” expect reliable, original and timely content that will grab their attention and assist them in making informed decisions. That is why PR has adopted many of the intelligence world’s methodologies and tools. OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence), the collection of publicly available information, is crucial during the research and monitoring phases. HUMINT (Human Intelligence), the collection of information from human sources through mutual relationships with journalists, clients, and experts. The 5 W’s.
“These and many others are examples of how public relations professionals go about performing their trade and craft. Our objective is to raise awareness of threats and opportunities,” adds Shachar.
“Intelligence, in the security context, is like any other commodity. It has to be “sold”. So do the “products” of public relations activities. Press releases, for example, need to be delivered in a concise and informative manner, and based on new facts or relevant trends. We help our clients with market intelligence gathering to ensure press releases create value for both journalists and their audiences. Adopting this approach enables our clients to reap the rewards of lead velocity due to increased brand recognition and trust,” concludes Skindelyte.