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IT Security Trade Shows: How to Maximize Conference PR in 2015

With the Black Hat Conference now a memory, the 2014 trade show season ends for many IT security companies. Surely, some will attend SecureWorld events or Black Hat Europe, but most go into “bunker mode” in Q4 and stow trade show booths for a few months. 

MSLGROUP clients were busy at Black Hat 2014 with more than 75 interviews taking place with journalists and industry analysts.

From a PR perspective, what did technology companies that exhibited at the RSA Conference, Black Hat, Interop and other conferences gain and lose? Did you have a successful trade show year? Here are a few of my observations from my visits to RSA, Black Hat and other conferences.

What we know is that RSA and Black Hat were bigger this year, with record numbers of exhibitors and attendees—at RSA, the North and South exhibit halls were used for the first time. The big boys of the security industry were in the North Hall (with many up-and-comers as well) and the South Hall was packed with the startups and smaller innovators. Through my informal conversations with MSLGROUP clients and other exhibitors, most were happy with the results, the discussions and leads. The drama in February surrounding RSA and the speaking boycott over new Snowden/NSA revelations turned out to be a dud. A handful of speakers dropped out and nothing really came of it. Bottom line is that you should build an extra 10-to-15 percent into budgets for 2015. As one client told me, “RSA is expensive, but we have to have a presence on the show floor for current clients, prospects and partners. They need to see us on the floor.”

Fast forward to August and Black Hat, and the new location at Mandalay Bay after a great run at Caesar’s Palace, the conference’s home from its infancy through its teenage years. What was telling for me in 2013 during Black Hat’s last year at Caesar’s was the fact that many companies were exhibiting in the hallways outside the main hall due to the space crunch. That growth and an expiring contract meant it was on to Mandalay Bay, where there is ample room for additional growth, booths and exhibitors in 2015.

So as marketing departments plan for 2015, what PR lessons were learned? What were the takeaways from a very busy trade show season?

1. Both shows enjoyed a strong media presence. Were you able to maximize media visibility for your company this year? If not, it’s likely because your PR team doesn’t know the right reporters or you didn’t have compelling news to share. Or maybe it’s both. For 2015, remember that reporters want fresh content–it can be a survey, research or compelling observations about the state of the IT security industry. In 2015, you’re wasting time if you plan to launch a new product or partnership at a show. From past surveys conducted by MSLGROUP, only about 10 percent of reporters that attend trade shows want to hear about product or partner news. They would much rather meet with startups and innovative companies that have a new and fresh perspective to offer the industry. They care even less about speaking sessions as only about 20 percent of reporters have enough time to attend many sessions.

2. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Just being at the show is the most important thing; the size of your booth doesn’t matter to media. I’m sure most companies would want a primo location on the show floor and a 30’ x 30’ booth. But with that comes additional expenses. I’ll tell you that just as many attendees and media members walking the show floor, and reporters want to meet with the innovators in the 10’ x 10’ booths. They are the life blood of technology conferences. One reporter told me at RSA that she “prefers meeting with smaller companies where there is less PR spin and more conversations about innovation, than with the bigger companies that just expect me to write about them. The smaller companies don’t expect as much and they usually have hungry executives that are bright-eyed and eager to turn the tide on the bad guys.” And if for some reason you don’t see a lot of value in having a booth or you just don’t have the marketing budget to justify this cost, consider booking a suite at a hotel near the conference, as it’s cheaper and reporters sometimes enjoy getting off the show floor and into a quieter location.

3. Reminder that next year’s RSA Conference takes place in late April. So don’t wait until a few weeks before the show to start reaching out to reporters on the RSA Conference press list. Reporters with whom I speak want companies to engage with them throughout the year. It builds much-needed credibility for you as a company. The longer you wait, the less likely they will want to meet with you at the show. Sure, you might be lucky when a few random reporters stop by your booth, but the bigger picture is that there is nothing random about PR success. You need a strategy in place that allows you to interact regularly with reporters. And always use trade show meetings as a chance to connect directly and to network. Don’t expect immediate media coverage—view it as a bonus.

4. If you’re planning to meet with reporters, keep in mind that the middle days of any show are usually their busiest and they probably won’t have as much time to meet with you. So be flexible. Find out the date they are arriving and leaving because they might be more likely to take a meeting on day one. Or maybe it’s the last day of the show when a lot of people are packing up and leaving. Many reporters who I’ve spoken to in 2014 told me they might stay the extra day to get caught up on all the findings and briefings and it might score you a face-to-face meeting when everyone else is on their way home.

Happy planning for 2015!

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Bill Keeler

Bill Keeler

Vice President

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