4 Big Changes for RSA

A record number of 33,000 attendees gathered at the recent 24th annual RSA Conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The event featured nearly 500 sessions, keynotes, tutorials and seminars, with 700 speakers.
A record number of 33,000 attendees gathered at the recent 24th annual RSA Conference at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The event featured nearly 500 sessions, keynotes, tutorials and seminars, with 700 speakers.

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Like some of you reading this, I’m building on a lot of great conversations, networking and momentum coming out of this year’s RSA Conference – the cybersecurity industry’s preeminent “see and be seen” conference. After 16 years in technology-focused public relations, mostly within the security realm, RSA feels like a high school reunion – it’s a terrific event. I’m not kidding when I tell friends I see the same attendees at RSA’s power spots and expo halls every year – all that’s really different are the corporate logos on their shirts.

At W2 Communications, we game plan with our clients for months in advance on how to execute new ways to drive visibility and impressions at the show. We like to approach each one differently because RSA – like the security industry and those who cover it – is changing dramatically over time.

When it comes to the changes at the 2015 event, here are a few observations:

Everyone in this “small world” says RSA is “almost getting too big. A common refrain halfway through the most recent conference, even among fellow repeat attendees was, “This show is almost too big; I still haven’t made it to the other expo floor...” Yet, many of these same people (including myself) still feel RSA draws together a tight-knit, familiar group of professionals. I think both sentiments are correct: RSA is massive. But it can still be a really impactful show if you go with the right tailored plan: Decide on what you want to accomplish and which audience is most important. (Business partners? Investors? End users? Media and analysts? Who, precisely?) You have to align your communications outreach to what is most important; otherwise it’s difficult to measure where you succeeded and what you can improve upon, which is crucial for budgeting purposes and fine-tuning for next year.

At the same time, RSA is trying to become more relatable and accessible. This is an intimidating conference, period. Whether you are attending for the first time and feel overwhelmed or spending weeks drafting speaking submissions every fall, the experience can seem more like “survival” than “participation.” I think the popular Innovation Sandbox and – this year – the first crowdsourced track go a long way toward making a big conference appear a little more accessible. Your start-up might not get selected to present in the sandbox and your speaking abstract might not make the cut – but maybe you can vote for another innovator you think is interesting, or take a shot at a crowdsourced speaking title. For communicators in this field, RSA’s democracy and crowdsourcing afford even more opportunities to place companies, insights and ideas on a much bigger stage.

Product news is everywhere – but in the background. RSA will always be a “product-heavy” show because it is fundamentally about producers courting buyers. However, the days of getting noticed simply by putting a product news release on the wire on the first day of the conference and saying “Meet us at our booth!” are long gone. With few exceptions, facts about new products (and even new companies) do not have the currency they used to in today’s news cycles – let alone amid the din of RSA.

For this reason, we often explore ways clients can incorporate RSA in a launch, without betting everything on the show. Key announcements made shortly before RSA, for example, can help set the table for more in-depth conversations at the conference. Or, it might be advantageous to “soft launch” a new product on the site and seek a few, select meetings to see how things are being received before rolling out new features and use cases in force after the event.

At the show, ideas, experiences and debates are the currency today, which leads to the most important advice we give clients – revisit what you expect to “make news” and see if it needs to be recalibrated. As opposed to just a booth demo, host an interview with well-known security figures. See if you can pull together a responsibly provocative panel for a speaking submission, instead of a more “corporate” solo presentation sourced from a whitepaper. Understand that as much as you might prepare spokespeople to talk about a new product or service, condition them to also take stock of buzz, controversy or revelations bubbling out of the conference. The shortest path to sharing their experiences and insights is applying these to facets of each day’s news.

Measuring impactful conversations, not briefings. One advantage of RSA is that the conference draws more reporters, bloggers and authors from more organizations, industries and geographies, because of security’s growing stakes. This creates tremendous relationship-building and visibility opportunities for attendees. Yet, these opportunities are overlooked when people arbitrarily define “success” at RSA as topping last year’s media and analyst briefing total, with less thought given to tailoring and prioritizing this outreach carefully.

Our teams focus on the type of specific conversations clients want to have at the show. We’ll stake-out a mix of objectives for catching up with close media contacts and brokering introductions. We may join clients and journalists for an off-the-record breakfast or coffee, use a reception or dinner to catch up with other influencers in group settings, and reserve formal “briefings” for certain journalists or analysts in cases where everyone benefits from that kind of setting, to dig into more technical issues. You have to be realistic and specific in seeking different kinds of dialogues and accept what can (and cannot) be easily conveyed in conversations during the week. This is the difference between having productive and memorable exchanges – or booking a jam-packed schedule to crush last year’s briefing numbers, only to wonder on the trip home whether anything really actionable, for anyone, came from all the handshakes and PowerPoint.

Everyone is always a little more well-informed after attending RSA, it’s invaluable for keeping skills sharp, staying apprised of issues and opinions and observing the forces shaping cybersecurity’s technologies and business models. It takes a day or two to recover, but I’m already looking forward to walking miles in the Moscone Center next year. If this sounds like the kind of client service you’re interested in, then please do contact us.


Tom Resau

Tom Resau is a vice president at W2 Communications, focusing on clients’ information security and privacy communications/PR campaigns.