It’s summer time! Maybe you have fond memories of going to camp – or at least of watching summer camp movies. Who says the fun is just for kids? Amidst the “dog days” of August, thousands of otherwise sane adults descend on Las Vegas (average daytime temperature: 103 degrees) for two of the hottest cybersecurity conferences in the industry: Black Hat USA and DEF CON. Known as hacker summer camp, they have a lot in common (showcasing the latest cyber research, new industry developments and hacking trends), but also some notable differences (protocol, culture and cost, to name a few).
How do you know which conference is right for your company’s marketing and media goals? If you’re heading to both, how do you correctly prepare for these distinct events? W2 Communications’ hacker summer camp veterans Tom Resau, Joyson Cherian and Dex Polizzi got together to offer their perspectives to help you prepare for these two influential and colorful happenings.
Start early. Ideally preparation starts with each conference’s call for papers, especially if you have innovative research you’d like to present. That requires coordination between R&D and marketing well in advance. It’s never too early to start thinking about newsworthy goals for your research findings. Factor these shows into your annual media relations strategy.
Up your game. Black Hat has become large and highly prestigious by showcasing the best in security research. Especially since the 2015 conference where researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek demonstrated the hacking of a Jeep Cherokee, competition to earn a presentation slot has really stiffened. The audience is looking for something groundbreaking. DEF CON also showcases meaningful research, but in a slightly more freewheeling and community-driven environment.
- If you score a formal presentation. Raising the research bar means more attendees, which brings more vendors and more potential eyes on your company, but with a greater need for differentiation. While larger companies garner more attention at Black Hat, it can be a great equalizer for smaller companies if your research is good. DEF CON also approves over two hundred talks and workshops. If you’re awarded a spot at either show, you must embargo your research findings until they are presented on-stage; although chosen presenters are encouraged to promote selection of their talks in advance.
- If you don’t score a formal presentation. Even without an official agenda slot, Black Hat still offers opportunities to schedule interviews and discuss your research news with the many reporters in attendance. Invest enough time and thought to make your story interesting and relevant, and be gracious about other research being presented. DEF CON’s experiential vibe and informal culture allow for and encourage many casual opportunities to share your IP and ideas.
- If you have no research to present. There is still value in attending both of these conferences even if you have no research to share. Be part of the community; join the discussion; learn; collaborate—but don’t try to sell. And adjust your expectations about getting media attention – without compelling research, it won’t happen here.
Prepare as you would for any mainstream event. Both conferences require that you have thoroughly prepared your message, trained all conference-goers from your organization on it, and pre-requested press interviews where all authorized spokespeople will be on-message. Be careful – you need to tell a research or technical story, not a product or company story. Respect the ethos of these shows.
Engage with the press. A lot of reporters come to Black Hat, anticipating that same breakthrough news that excites attendees. Note that Black Hat itself has its own major news cycles – if something really big hits, your previously scheduled interview just might get bumped. Roll with it, and follow up with the reporter later. While the media presence at DEF CON is less noticeable, it’s definitely there. Year after year, our agency fields a growing number of press requests for DEF CON. Beyond formal briefings, engage in organic conversations to generate awareness and invite media curiosity. Rely on your well-prepared messaging to guide those conversations, but do NOT come to discuss product launches, mergers or anything corporate.
Once you’re there. Both recognizable and new brands have a presence at Black Hat. Be ready to network, and have something interesting to say. Dress business casual. Bring your content and your hippest give-away swag. DEF CON, which starts right after Black Hat, is hacker paradise. Security geeks come to revel in their craft and learn from their peers. Hoodies rule. Edgier brands may have a low-key presence, and it’s a great place for newcomers and smaller vendors to mingle and get noticed. Expect a lot of hacking. The Wall of Sheep is a DEF CON tradition where credentials from attendees’ hacked devices are published; yes, shaming is a thing here – so don’t bring ANYTHING that could be compromised. Even the admission fee (a modest $280 vs. the thousands for Black Hat) gets paid in cash.
Have fun. As with any summer camp, fun is part of the hacker camp experience. You’ll be part of a vibrant, eclectic and very current movement—and possibly a witness to the next big cyber breakthrough.