This week on Inside the Media Minds, I sat down with my colleague Steve Bosk, Vice President at W2 Communications, for the second part of our two-part RSA Conference (RSAC) series.
With RSAC quickly approaching (less than a month away!) Steve and I wanted to recap some of the great insights we heard during my conversation with AJ Vicens from CyberScoop. AJ shared his approach to scheduling, what makes an in-person briefing the most valuable, and key topics he’s covering at the show – addressing just a few common questions we hear from our clients!
As a seasoned RSAC veteran, I asked Steve what his thoughts are on timing and planning for RSAC (spoiler alert: the earlier the better). He also shared some of his key best practices and the strategic guidance he provides to clients to make the most of their presence at the show.
Tune in to the full podcast (or read the transcript) to hear us discuss topics, including:
- Feedback directly from security trade reporters who are attending RSAC
- The role of research at RSAC
- Common questions we hear from clients while planning for the event
- Best practices for vendors to cut through the noise
0:58 – Differences with 2023 RSAC
3:32 – How to approach RSAC as a brand
7:14 – What makes an RSAC briefing more valuable
10:42 – Most common RSAC questions from cyber companies
15:40 – Recommendations for vendors
19:01 – When to prepare for RSAC
21:52 – Wear sneakers and attend CYBERTACOS!
Want to hear more from Inside the Media Minds? Find all the past episodes here!
Christine Blake (CB): Welcome to Inside the Media Minds. This is your host Christine Blake. This show features in-depth interviews with tech reporters who share everything from their biggest pet peeves to their favorite stories. From our studio at W2 Communications, let’s go Inside the Media Minds.
Hi, everyone. This is Christine Blake, the host of Inside the Media Minds. And today we have a special episode. It’s a part two, actually, to the discussion that we had yesterday with AJ Vicens from CyberScoop. So today, Steve Bosk, Vice President at W2 Communications and I are going to speak a little bit about RSA this year, what has changed from last year feedback that we’ve been hearing from media and some takeaways and insights on how to approach the conference this year. So welcome, Steve. Thanks for coming on.
Steve Bosk (SB): Thanks for having me.
CB: Of course, I know, we actually met on the same topic last year, and last year was totally different, because it was really the first RSA back after COVID. And it was in June, and people were a little bit more tentative on how to approach things. So I think we’re gonna see a little bit of a difference this year, maybe? I don’t know, what do you think?
SB: I think I mean, last year was a great experience, I think that certainly a lot of people that were attending for the first time in a couple of years took a very sort of cautious approach more on an individual level, because they didn’t know really what to expect. But, and it was great to, you know, obviously, it’s one of the best industry networking events that are out there for this industry, to be able to connect with everybody in one locale, and really have some really great conversations and catching up with people. You know, you can’t ask for a better, you know, a better event platform.
But certainly, you know, there’s certain there are things that are much different this year, compared to last year, I think, you know, last year, there was while people might be cautious about getting together with, you know, big group settings, you know, in light of, you know, COVID I think everybody was wanting to invest a ton of time and money and resources into the event, it was certainly a different economic environment then, things have certainly changed. You know, now, in light of all of the challenges that many cybersecurity firms and technology vendors have faced in this first quarter of the year. And so I think, going into this show, in particular, I think it’s really about applying the people and funding and resources and marketing and PR dollars in a way that’s going to be efficient and generate the most ROI for the brand. You know, moving forward. So, in that way, I think the brands are taking perhaps a little bit more of a cautious approach into this year, as conference compared to last year.
CB: I think so. And I think it’s a different kind of caution than the large groups of people, it’s more of the economic how do we cut through the noise and the most effective way? I know you know, at W2 Communications we get you and I have both been in the cybersecurity space for a while now. And we often get asked by companies, prospects, clients about how to approach RSA and cut through that noise.
And if you listen to the podcast yesterday, with AJ from CyberScoop, he gave some really great insight on how the media and how he’s approaching RSA this year, I think one thing that we we see is, you know, there’s a lot of announcements happening. There’s product announcements, there’s funding, but what a lot of reporters are really looking for is data driven insights to help tell stories that matter to the audience. So one thing we heard from AJ yesterday was about how they’re looking for research and looking to pull back some of the layers and some of the reports that vendors are putting out to really understand what is happening in cybersecurity from a global perspective. So, Steve, I know you’ve been talking to a number of reporters as well. Do you think the research theme is true again, this year? Is that something that a lot of media are looking for insights on to set companies apart?
SB: Yeah, I mean, I think research is always going to play a significant role in helping to shape dialogues and storytelling, for both, you know, brands and also for the larger cybersecurity community in general. And so yes, I think to answer the question, definitely research is very top of mine for a variety of reporters, and I think, you know, if it’s, but it all comes back to the types of research. I know, for a number of companies we’re working with, we’re really putting forward research assets and reports that are diving into, you know, brand new areas or giving significant updates on other challenges, themes and areas. I think that can add value to existing dialogues, I think, you know, for brands that are putting together reports, and, you know, putting forth research that really is this more affirming certain things rather than, you know, I think giving some quantitative and qualitative insights that show where something new is happening, I think that’s the, that’ll be the biggest difference in seeing sort of successful outcomes.
I think if you’re just putting out report assets, again, that just reaffirm things that just adds to like the big noise machine that is the RSA Conference. But if you’re, again, really putting effort into uncovering some new elements, even if it’s to, you know, staple themes, or you’re you know, uncovering new vulnerabilities or, you know, new attacker techniques, etc. I think those things, definitely open doors to having some meaningful conversations, either in the weeks leading up to RSA or, you know, for grabbing that quick coffee or 15/20 minute touch base while on the ground in San Francisco.
CB: Yeah, you hit the nail on the head. And it definitely affirms what AJ said on yesterday’s call as well. We asked him, what can a vendor or spokesperson share during a briefing that’s truly valuable, and you don’t walk away saying, Hey, that was a waste of time. And I think what you just said about unveiling new insights, not just contributing to this echo chamber of people discussing the same things all the time and the same themes, really being able to walk away from a sit down interview, being able to tell the story of something new that’s happening or a different perspective on something that’s happening. I think we’re hearing from a lot of reporters that that’s what they’re looking for. There’s so much so many conversations about, you know, zero trust and different products and solutions and these big industry topics that a lot of companies are talking about on a regular basis.
So what makes an RSA briefing different? So, what would you say to someone who asked like, what would make an RSA briefing different and more valuable?
SB: I think what would make it different and more valuable is one, you’re giving, you know, a preview to, you know, a piece of research. Were you know, if you have that research in hand, and the reporter or set of reporters have reviewed it already, I think, you know, it’s all about optimizing the time for both the reporter and for the spokesperson or subject matter expert, I think, you know, just getting right to the heart of it, which is, you know, you know, based on the piece of research, either, you know, here’s something that was probably, you know, confusing to a reader and giving clarification on hey, this might be confusing, but what it actually is, is this and or, Hey, so this is what the research is about, but what’s not in the actual report that I could give more context to that I think makes this these findings, even more important is extra, why you’re giving something of even greater value to the reporter or said to reporters that they don’t necessarily have in hand yet, you know, either in the physical research or in their notes, etc.
And, again, giving those valuable tidbits of information just allows the reporter to you know do two things one, not question while they’re talking to somebody, why did I agree to spend 20 minutes to talk with them, but two they come away with you know, two great things one, I think the final the final stretch to the plate in terms of you know, I have the final sort of elements I need to maybe um you know, write a potential story on this or have it be part of a bigger analysis piece when I wrap up the conference, or, wow, I wasn’t really thinking about this going into the show, and now there’s something here that might be worth digging into more, right? You’re giving them a it sparks a story idea, it sparks an angle. So I think those are the two important things.
CB: Yeah, that makes sense. And then Steve, while prepping for RSA this year, what were some of the most common questions that you’ve heard from cybersecurity companies?
SB: I think it’s a, you know, a couple of things, which is, you know, what’s it’s I don’t think it’s anything necessarily new. I think it’s more of, you know, what, what are the things you know, you’re hearing about or, you know, how do you think we would, what would be the best way to go about, you know, trying to line up some valuable conversations? Are there any, you know, themes that reporters want to be, you know, talking about? And I think some questions are harder to answer than others. And I’ll go in reverse order, which is, you know, defensive reporters, right? Not every reporter knows exactly what they’re going to cover going into the conference, I think it’s certainly it’s influenced by news cycles that, you know, inch closer to when the conference actually takes place. It’s influenced by the conversations that they actually had at the conference. It’s certainly influenced by, you know, the story elements or, you know, quote on quote, news that a brand is able to provide. And I think the, you know, another thing is, you know, how in terms of how to approach the conference, and conversations and so forth, you know, if you’re reaching out to reporters to say, oh, so and so can talk about cloud security, or so and so can talk about malware, that’s not really a value to reporters at all, it’s so ambiguous. And these are things that they’re covering on a daily, weekly basis.
SB: What are you able to add to a conversation that’s new or add value to an existing, you know, staple topic? You know, I think that’s, that needs to be a leading question to, you know, influence the approach that you want to take with reporters and two is, you know, reporters and media organizations are there to cover a conference, but at the end of the day, you know, they are also competitors with one another too. And so, you know, it’s all about reporting on the best stories, the best angles, the biggest, you know, news items, and so forth.
And I think what gets lost a lot of times is the importance in certain instances of offering exclusives to different outlets, you know, for outlets and reporters that a brand or set individuals have been talking about talking with throughout the year, you know, you’re having different conversations and so forth. But, you know, it’s getting to that conference, too. There might be a bigger piece of news or a big piece of research that, you know, might be worth offering as an exclusive to a certain outlet, because, you know, based on the outlets, you know, readership and what’s been covered up to that point, by set reporter and outlet. And, and also too, you know, offering exclusives is also a way to make the briefing experience that much more valuable for the reporter. They’re very they know, going into it, they’re the only ones that are going to have this set of information or this, this research asset or this, you know, breaking news item or major announcement. You know, it’s all about quality conversations and results and not always about quantity.
CB: I love that that’s 100% backed and I think I’m so glad you brought up exclusives. I actually heard from three reporters in the past month or so when talking about RSA that they are looking for exclusive opportunities, whether it’s on data or special announcement or something of that nature. So I think, you know, kind of looking at the conference, like you said, quality, what are the maybe it’s one quality, exclusive briefing. That’s it. And that’s perfectly fine. Rather than a number of quick meet and greets, I really don’t move the needle at all. So I’m really glad that you brought that up. And I think, yeah, looking at some of the takeaways so far, it’s, you know, our recommendations are for vendors to, you know, to come to the table with interesting research, data driven insights, a unique story, something that’s not been told before I’d offer exclusives.
I know we had this conversation last year, and one of the things I think still rings true, is it’s okay to do RSA focused briefings either before or after the show, it doesn’t necessarily mean like meeting in person doesn’t necessarily net a direct outcome. So I think if there’s research that’s coming out before or after, or, you know, other news that’s happening, a lot of reporters are attending the event virtually again this year. I think we’ve seen that in the past last year and this year. So I think, kind of opening vendors opening their minds and knowing that there’s other opportunities outside of just a 20 minute onsite coffee briefing at RSA, I think that’s important to know, as well.
SB: Yeah. I think something that also sort of, you know, gets lost a little bit in this in a new era of hybrid workplace environments, and, you know, hybrid engagement and so forth, is that I think you can’t, the, you can’t discount the importance of in-person engagement, but you know, at the same time, if you think about the large group of stakeholders, a brand or set of individuals wants to be engaging with at any one time. You know, stakeholders are on their own schedules and so forth. And maybe they can’t spend the three or four days in San Francisco at at the show. How can you create, like, how can you create, like preview or curated experiences for said, stakeholders or said journalists, either like, before the show, right, you’re giving them what you’d be giving and delivering to them, if you were seeing them at the booth or seeing them at networking events, or, you know, seeing them, you know, at the at the restaurant, like, you know, being able to package up that type of like, pre-event experience the week before, even, you know, a week after, And it’s, it’s something that is certainly worth exploring, you know, in the future.
Because I think the other thing is yes, RSA still has a lot of importance. It’s just one moment in time throughout the year, it’s just, you know, four or five days. And, you know, I think there’s, you can have just as important of an of a conversation two weeks after RSA ends that you would have while RSA is in session.
CB: Yeah, I’m 100%. And I’m sure you got asked a lot about timing, from your perspective. How far in advance, should vendors be preparing their assets for RSA or pitching media briefings? What are your thoughts on that?
SB: I think it’s a it’s a, it’s not an exact science. And it takes a very delicate balance, because, and I’ll answer this two different ways, to answer the question directly for brands. I mean, there’s the saying, you know, like, the sooner the better, right. And that always is not always possible, because brands and different decision makers are trying to execute on a number of other critical initiatives in the lead up to RSA, but I would say, you know, trying to get everything in a good place 90 days in advance is ideal. Because the more time that, you know, goes by and sort of you wait on certain things. Before you know it, you’re three weeks out and you’re really behind the eight ball.
Now, on the other side of things, I think reporters get probably pretty irked at, you know, being pinged well in advance of of RSA in terms of, you know, doing briefings and so forth, because it’s certainly not on their radar yet. They haven’t figured about their schedules and so forth. But I think the exception to that is this goes back to sort of the bigger storytelling efforts and exclusives and so forth is that if there is something really big in the works from a research perspective, or major announcement perspective, and, you know, you really want to get on the radar of a reporter to have that big exclusive, you know, news and or, you know, conversation, I think it’s certainly fair game, and I think would be seen as valuable to the reporter to put that out there, you know, early, just to say, look, yeah, this is this is big, this is forthcoming, and here are all the elements to it. And, you know, just getting the laying the groundwork for that, you know, early on, because, you know, when you’re five weeks out six weeks out, you know, you and 90 other people are sitting in an inbox with the same, you know, RSA briefing invite, and you’re now part of a noise machine that, you know, they don’t like and that you are not liking either, because there’s probably more questions than answers of well, is this just the best briefing offer we can we can provide?, Are they not getting back to me for other reasons? It’s, you know, it’s completely avoidable if you take the right approach and plan early.
CB: Absolutely. Great. Well, I think Steve, I mean, that kind of wraps up a lot of the discussion that I wanted to have with you and some of your insights and takeaways. Any other pieces of advice or wisdom that you’d like to offer for this year’s RSA Conference?
SB: Wear sneakers.
CB: Yes, wear sneakers! Also, I think, I think I know there’s a lot of different networking events and happy hours and things of that nature. And I think those are super valuable, too. I think it’s great for you know, companies to attend these. I know we are doing our CYBERTACOS event on the Monday at RSA, which is always a great time. So we always have awesome conversations there with vendors, researchers, media, so we encourage everyone listening to come to CYBERTACOS. But otherwise, we’ll be following along from the Inside the Media Minds Podcast perspective with some of the happenings at the show. Otherwise, we really appreciate everyone who tuned in to listen to this episode. Thanks, Steve, for coming on.
SB: Thank you, everybody. Have a good RSA.
CB: Yeah, you bet.
Thank you for joining us on today’s episode of Inside the Media Minds. To learn more about our podcasts and hear all of our episodes please visit us at w2comm.com/podcast and follow us on Twitter @MediaMindsShow and you can subscribe anywhere podcasts are found.