Google Security’s Scott Westover on Moving from an Agency to a Global Tech Firm and Being a Trusted Client Advisor
Editor’s note: This interview is part of Mission North’s Communications Pathfinders series, an ongoing forum with the communications leaders of today and tomorrow.
When Scott Westover joined Mission North, he quickly became known around the office as a welcoming presence and a client whisperer with a knack for security PR. In October 2018, he spread his wings to join the Security team at Google as a communications manager.
While he’s been missed at Mission North ever since, Scott was kind enough to catch up with me recently to talk about what has surprised and delighted him working at a major tech company. He also shared the valuable lessons in prioritization, media relations and client service that he took with him to Google from his time spent working at PR agencies. What follows is an edited version of that conversation:
What appealed to you about working at Google?
First of all, I’ve always been interested in cybersecurity. Google attracts some of the most talented people working in the security space, so the opportunity to work directly with many of them was exciting.
Beyond that—as cliché as it may sound—I actually do just love Google’s products. I still remember the first time a neighborhood friend showed me Google Search. It was (and still is) the type of product that just instantly changes how you interact with information.
How did your time at Mission North prepare you for your current role?
Mission North gave me a huge leg up when starting at Google. My time there taught me a valuable lesson in prioritization, which you need whether you are in house or at an agency. PR people don’t tend to have the luxury of following a consistent to-do list, and we’re always adjusting our focus based on new information—whether that’s a breaking news item, an unexpected product launch, or a crisis.
Even though you don’t have a roster of clients when you move in-house, you still have a broad range of stakeholders. The need to prioritize the multiple teams, execs, products, etc. never goes away.
“When you move in-house, you still have a broad range of stakeholders. The need to prioritize the multiple teams, execs, products, etc. never goes away.”
Before Google, you worked at a few PR agencies including Mission North. What was the biggest surprise about the transition to PR at a major global tech company?
My half-joking answer would be that reporters actually respond to most of my emails these days! Anyone who has worked at a PR agency (and is honest) will tell you that more pitches are going to fail than will succeed. Telling the right story isn’t any easier at a big tech company, but you at least usually get a “no” versus just radio silence.
The flipside of this is that the attention reporters do place on some companies can feel a bit overwhelming at times. When you are representing a startup or mid-sized company, you are very much used to doing the chasing and trying to light fires. It takes some adjustment to accept the fact that a large majority of the stories you will end up working on weren’t the result of some pitch you carefully crafted, but are purely driven by external interest in your company.
What’s the most fun part of your job at Google?
This part of the job hasn’t changed much since going in-house. I still take a huge amount of joy in seeing a story through from pitch to publishing. It’s even more rewarding when you work with a spokesperson who is really passionate about what they are building, and you help to give them the first opportunity to really nerd out about it with a reporter. It can be a nerve-racking process for spokespeople, so sharing the experience with them when they see the article that (hopefully) landed well is always really fun.
“I still take a huge amount of joy in seeing a story through from pitch to publishing. It’s even more rewarding when you work with a spokesperson who is really passionate about what they are building.”
What advice do you have for others who are getting started in PR?
There is a ton of good advice out there that can also come across as somewhat boring and non-original like: Read the news a lot, try to work in a field you are interested in, and study a reporter before firing off that pitch. That’s all good advice, but also sort of obvious.
One thing that I always thought was important during my years at agencies was the “client voice.” This is not a Googleable concept, but there is a way that some PR people speak to clients that always drove me crazy. It’s full of buzzwords, lots of “circling back” and “double-clicking,” and an overarching fear of saying “no” or just disagreeing generally.
I always felt the best PR people spoke to their clients like they spoke to their peers. Because they weren’t simply offering a response they thought the client wanted to hear, they ended up forming a genuine relationship as a trusted advisor.