Inside the PR Minds — The RSA Edition!

For this episode of Inside the Media Minds, we flipped the script and chatted with W2 Communications’ Vice President, Steve Bosk about the fast-approaching RSA Conference. Anyone familiar with RSA knows it’s packed with wall-to-wall attendees, informative sessions and exhibits – a cacophony of thousands of voices all straining to be heard. So how do you rise above the noise and get your company to stand out?

During this conversation, Christine and Steve share their perspectives on how cybersecurity vendors should approach the conference from a public relations perspective and how companies can make the most of their presence at the show.

Tune in to the full podcast (or read the transcript) to hear their insights, including:

  • Releasing research and/or company news
  • How to approach media briefings
  • Feedback from directly from security trade reporters who are attending RSA


1:00 – The types of announcement that get attention at RSA

5:01 – Main themes according to reporters

5:33 – The impact of informational briefings

7:54 – How vendors should approach announcements around RSA

11:05 – Approaching media briefings

13:46 – Insights from security trade reporters

18:00 – Five key takeaways

21:20 – Parting thoughts


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 we are here today with a very special edition of Inside the media minds podcast. We are going to be talking about the RSA Conference and some media strategies, tips and takeaways for vendors to keep in mind during the show itself. So I’m joined with my colleague, Steve Bosk, who is a vice president at W2 Communications and specializes in cybersecurity companies. And Steve and I are gonna talk a little bit about RSA, how to approach the first RSA in two years. So welcome, Steve, good to have you.

Steve Bosk (SB): Thanks for having me.

CB: Of course, I can’t believe we’re just under a month away from one of the biggest in person events that we’ve had in a long time here in the cybersecurity industry.

SB: Yeah, it’ll be it’ll be exciting. It’s good to have it back.

CB: I know. So, to start out, what are the types of announcements that you typically see, get attention and coverage at RSA?

SB: So I think, you know, with with RSA, I mean, so much has changed in the last, you know, five, six years. And, you know, this is that, I think, traditionally, a lot of companies had saved up their big product and solution announcements to drop in around the same time as the conference, you know, wanting to really utilize those as major news drivers. But, you know, at the same time, you know, putting on a reporter’s hat, I think reporters who have covered the space, or even that are new to the space know how much the cybersecurity marketplace has just exploded and expanded. And so there is so there are so many different solutions, and products and services categories now. There’s so much to react to, from a product standpoint, that it’s almost as though it’s, it’s, you know, too much in terms of how those products can really differentiate and be, you know, significant newsmakers, unless they are, you know, truly, you know, something brand new to the marketplace that are creating an entirely new category.

So, I think we’ve seen companies over the years, you know, really react to this, and react to this in a different way, and try to make that pivot away from, you know, using the conference to make those big product splash announcements and really focusing on things like, you know, research, you know, various interesting, you know, case studies, you know, doing more custom storytelling activations where they’ve brought customers on site to do sessions, and doing sort of joint interviews with, you know, customer, and, you know, an SME and reporters. And I think, you know, for reporters that, that I think has been really appreciated. I think, at the end of the day, what reporters really want and they’re spending a lot of time on is “I have a finite amount of time on site. So I really want to prioritize the most compelling and interesting conversations with sources, new sources, you know, new, you know, companies, existing companies, where they can add real value to my reporting slate, not just in real time, you know, for the RSA news cycle, but really, for the next, you know, six, twelve months. And that’s where they really see value in, you know, doing these valuable on-site conversations so that it could perhaps, you know, influence things that they’re thinking about, introducing new things that they hadn’t thought about, you know, moving forward.

CB: Yeah, I totally agree. And I think it’s interesting, because maybe in years past, and you and I have been, you know, working on activities related to RSA for years now in both of our careers and I think in the past, we used to see so much coverage, coming out of like, day-of announcements day-of have things, anything from products, to, like executive announcements, all that kind of stuff. And we really don’t see that any more. And actually, what later on in this podcast, we’re going to share some specific feedback from reporters who are attending the conference as to what they’re looking for, and how they’re approaching news coverage at the show, but I think that’s one of the biggest differentiators for this year. And even what we saw a little bit two years ago, it’s, you know, it’s more about the quality of conversations that you’re having at the show and less about the quantity of announcements and things because things just get lost in the noise now. And so I know this year, we actually did hear from a couple of reporters who, who told us that, you know, what they’re seeing as some of the main themes are focusing on critical infrastructure protection, supply chain security, those types of things, as we’ve seen a lot in the news lately about ransomware attacks. So anywhere that vendors can help data-driven storylines related to those topics, I think those types of things are going to stand out this year in particular.

SB: Oh, absolutely.

CB: Yeah. And, Steve, one of the things that you and I were talking about lately, was about informational briefings. Like, from your perspective, do we see informational Meet and Greet type of briefings or conversations having the same impact as they maybe used to years ago?

SB: I think so there’s still real merit in doing informational briefings. I think the approach probably has evolved a bit and needs to be tweaked. You know, we saw that over the last couple of years where I think a lot of times, you know, in years past vendors have approached informational briefings of, hey, you know, we should you should speak to be great to speak to so and so this is their experience, this is what they could talk to. And, and certainly, you know, that, again, has merit in terms of giving context to a reporter. But I think it’s, it’s even more important to think about, okay, yes, the person has experience in this, this is what they are doing. This is what they’ve done in the past, why they could be valuable. But why could they be valuable moving forward? What new insight, what new data point have they found from their work? What new anecdote could, you know, have they gleaned from their work and so forth, that, again, is used really as the tip of the spear for the discussion to make it more real time and valuable for for that reporter? I think, you know, going into everything, it goes back to earlier point is, you got to think like the reporter. If I have, you know, six, seven, eight slots a day, over the three, four days that I’m there, you know, I’m going to be judging my briefing offers on a variety of different factors. If it’s just a informational briefing, because hey, this person has a great resume, you know, I’ll come back to it. But if it’s person has a great resume, and you know, of late, they’ve actually seen X or Y, which is new, because of A, B or C, hmm, I’m gonna, I’m gonna think about that a little bit more and try to squeeze that in, because the higher they know that, okay, coming out of that there’s a higher probability, there’s going to be some valuable insight that I can glean from it to help with my reporting.

CB: Mm hmm. Yeah, those are all really good points. And, you know, that kind of segues us into the next topic on what used to work at RSA and what doesn’t work now. We kind of set the stage for the RSA landscape as a whole. But I think some of the things that you store that don’t work now, one being announcements the week of RSA don’t work as well anymore. There’s so much noise, unless your company or the vendor has really cutting edge, breaking research that may rise above the noise. But we’re seeing now more than ever, companies putting out researcher news either before or after. And actually want to share a really valuable piece of insight that we got from one of the, you know, the security trade reporters related to this topic. This person said, I recommend putting out research or announcements before the show. That way, it doesn’t get lost in the glut of information that’s being released a week of the show, and I can plan my coverage accordingly. It also means that I have a great reference point for onsite meetings and follow up after the show. And, Steve, I think that goes to your point as to, you know, these meetings can be useful for even topics coming out after the show, six months down the road. And really that relationship building aspect of RSA.

SB: Yep. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s a great insight. And it’s something in terms of feedback. We heard from reporters, even last year on the tail end of the conference, you know, various tweets saying, you know, like, from reporters, my biggest gripe is, I’m getting all of these, you know, embargo lifts on, you know, for the first day of the show or the second day of the show, and if they’re getting 15 or 20. I mean, yes, reporters are are, you know, on tap to file multiple stories a day being at the show, but, you know, they can’t necessarily file 8,10 12,20, you know, different different stories each day. They have to really pick and choose. So, I think vendors going into the show, you have to realize, yes, it’s important to raise brand visibility to show is it realistic to to help, you know, we could influence and own the RSA news cycle? No. I mean, the RSA news cycles is its own noise machine. And so the more significant news that a brand has, and a vendor has and can get it out ahead of time. It not it does two things for the brand. One, it helps to influence an earlier news cycle going into the show. It provides higher probability that reporters are likely to cover that news. And second, it’s appreciated by the reporters knowing that, you know, their their bandwidth is extremely, extremely limited while on site when they have to file things, the first, second, third day of the show. So, I think it’s just, you know, key things to keep in mind, you know, in terms of how to properly navigate, and really, you know, look at the RSA news cycle in the most effective way possible.

CB: Absolutely. And another point I wanted to make about what used to work and doesn’t necessarily work as well now is vendors don’t have to think of media only being on site at the show, especially in light of the COVID pandemic. Many reporters are still covering RSA news, but from a remote, remote location. So, you know, pitching news during the show does not have to be just the reporters on site just as valuable, our briefings that are held beforehand, Zoom briefings, things of that nature. RSA used to be kind of looked at as a bit, one of the biggest news drivers of the entire year. Vendors sometimes took an all or nothing type of mentality, but that’s not really the case anymore. And I think that that point about reporters not just being on site, but available virtually kind of speaks to that as well. And one of the things that we’ve seen change a lot in the past two years.

SB: Yep. Yep. I think the other thing too, for vendors is, you know, they’re looking at the show differently. I think many are realizing, yes, you know, it’s probably good to get our news out ahead of the show. I think at the same time, too. There’s a, there’s a lot of other dynamics and factors that play. You know, RSA has now been rescheduled from February to this June timeframe. It sort of threw off, you know, everybody just in terms of looking at the year where they were going to really map out their, their announcements and their, you know, communications, programming and activities. So, you know, going into the show, you know, there could be vendors that are still thinking, Okay, what, what should we announce at the show, or, hey, we’re, it’d be great to do this research, it just might not be ready at the show. And that’s perfectly fine. I think it’s probably best, you know, if the research isn’t done, there’s, you know, things that need to still be buttoned up that probably best to wait until after the show ends to be able to announce that new research or data. But it shouldn’t necessarily stop the vendor from maybe engaging with various reporters to provide some sort of preview on that research and data and what’s to come. I think there’s ways about going about it that can still generate value while on site. I think it’s just, you know, does what happened on site convert into immediate coverage, right, that doesn’t necessarily always happen.

CB: Absolutely agreed. And, of course, Steve and I can talk about this this all day, right. But I think some really valuable perspectives come from the security trade reporters that we reached out to you to get some of their insight. So I’m going to review some of these topics, and then we’ll jump into some of the KPIs and ways that you can measure success at RSA.

Um, so shared a little bit of this earlier. But really seeing that, you know, the theme this year of RSA is transform. And that can mean a number of different things. And we can even look at the PR program and the PR approach as a transformation. So we’ll likely see that theme throughout the entire event. According to some of our security trade reporters that we’ve talked to you there’s going to be a big emphasis on critical infrastructure, supply chain ransomware, the physical movement of goods and products, diversity and inclusion efforts as well in the cybersecurity space. I think we saw that a few years ago as well. And then the privacy. So how privacy sessions have developed, you know, and been focused on different topics over time, privacy in policy and with lawmakers related to cybersecurity as well. Also, you know, we asked about how we think how us reporters think this RSA will be different than those in the past and some noted that it’s really really an interesting and cool feeling to be at the first, one of the biggest first in person events in years. It’s almost like a reunion of sorts. And it’s going to be really great to be connecting with people for these media contacts to be connecting to resources. And people that we’ve had so many phone conversations and Zoom meetings and be able to see them in person, I think that’s going to be one of the really, really exciting parts about RSA this year.

SB: Yeah, definitely, I think it’s, it’s always good to put a face to a name and do do so in a physical setting. Definitely long overdue. And I think every type of attendee will will appreciate that. Vendors, analysts, reporters alike. And I think the collective gathering, you know, in conversations that will be had, I think, will have, I think, big payoffs for everyone, you know, down the line.

CB: Exactly. And then, you know, one of the other things that we often hear from reporters is how many pitches they get. And, you know, how many vendors are doing different announcements and things of that nature. And we asked some reporters about how they would tell vendors to cut through the noise and to get through with, you know, what they’re doing in RSA and their pitch. And so what we heard back is to understand the audience that a media outlet is geared towards. And this is a theme that we’ve heard almost on every episode of Inside the Media Minds, and it’s for the pitching company to understand who their audience is, like, is it relevant is what you want to talk to this reporter about, it’s not going to be relevant for their audience, because otherwise, they’re getting so inundated, they’re not going to pay attention to this pitch, right. So I think it’s really important to understand how each media outlet frames their coverage, how they’re approaching the event and to even even keep it casual, like, hey, you know, understanding you’re getting inundated with RSA meeting requests, what are you looking to cover this year? And how can you know, we as the vendor be the most beneficial to you?

SB: Yep. Yep. And I think, just to bring it back to the theme of RSA, its transform, I think transform is a call to action for cyber vendors, you know, PR teams and their agencies too. It’s time to really, you know, we’ve seen the strategies and tactics for how to approach RSA evolve. And it’s time to really you know, if they haven’t done so already, really transform the way in which you engage and, you know, work with with journalists and vendors to generate and secure those valuable conversations on site and virtually around RSA moving forward.

CB: Definitely. So to sum up this, this conversation and this podcast, we have five key takeaways that we’d like to leave you as our listeners with as as you’re approaching the final three to four weeks up to RSA. So takeaway, number one, data driven storylines and research. That’s that’s the way to go, right? Product announcements, other types of company momentum announcements don’t necessarily cut it this year. So really look to tell those data driven storylines and leverage research to set your company apart.

Secondly, is timing. You know, there’s so much noise during RSA week. So consider putting out your research or, you know, having conversations prior to the show preempt the RSA new cycle and noise machine and get ahead of the conference.

Takeaway number three is don’t feel like RSA is your only chance to create a new cycle. It’s not an all or nothing mentality. It’s important to, you know, leverage this event as much as you can. But also consider your conversations during the event throughout the rest of the year, and really position your company as a resource, maybe three, six months down the road.

Relationship building, having quality conversations versus quantity. It’s not always the number of briefings and conversations you have, but it’s really developing that relationship and that mutually beneficial relationship with the media and with reporters to set your company apart and really showcase differentiators.

And then finally, as Steve mentioned, takeaway five is at transform theme. This is time to transform how your PR program is executed to better respond to current events, what’s happening in the new cycle and continue to adapt.

SB: Yep. And I think you know, the biggest things are that it’s, it’s, we still see a ton of value in marketing and sales teams taking a very sort of integrated approach to RSA with respect to the communications and marketing and sales activities. I think it’s just important to keep in mind that, you know, if there’s a piece of content that the sales team is using for engagement on site at RSA, it might not be that same exact form of content that’s going to be valuable and useful to inform conversations with media. Right? Bring it back to, you know, what media really want is, is doing those data driven stories, new insights, new anecdotes. And so I think it’s, it’s important to always be putting it through that lens when thinking, okay, how can one piece of content be useful for multiple, you know, internal audiences. It can definitely inform, you know, where things go from a PR perspective, but I think it’s, it’s really on the the PR team and vendors to, I think, approach media conversations with that piece of content in a very thoughtful way. And ensure that whatever, you know, comes of that content, that it’s positioned in a way that truly is going to add value for a reporter.

CB: Absolutely. Um, so I think you know, this has been an overall really good discussion talking about some of the media strategies to leverage up until RSA and then during the show, and then, and then post RSA as well. So thanks, Steve, for joining me on this conversation in this special episode of Inside the Media Minds. Any final, parting, parting guidance or pieces of advice? You can offer vendors leading up to the show?

SB: Yeah, just to say, you know, good luck to everybody. It’s gonna be a great show. Looking forward to our RSA reunion event, first night of the show, Monday, June 6, with SC media. And yeah, just look looking forward to a great, great show and some great conversations. And yeah, now’s the time to transform.

CB: Yeah, love it. And then we’ll also be on site recording podcast episodes with some of the media in attendance as well. So please follow along with Inside the Media Minds podcast, and we look forward to hearing your feedback. And good luck to everybody. Thanks for joining us.

Thank you for joining us on today’s episode of Inside the Media Minds. To learn more about our podcast and hear all of our episodes, please visit us at W2 and follow us on Twitter at Media Minds Show, and you can subscribe anywhere podcasts are found.