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The cost of doing business at the RSA Conference

Steve Ragan | March 11, 2014
Each year, hundreds of vendors head to the RSA Conference in San Francisco, California, arguably the largest security gathering in the U.S. For many of those vendors, the show is a requirement, but there's a steep cost involved. For smaller companies, the show can create a sink or swim environment.

Each year, hundreds of vendors head to the RSA Conference in San Francisco, California, arguably the largest security gathering in the U.S. For many of those vendors, the show is a requirement, but there's a steep cost involved. For smaller companies, the show can create a sink or swim environment.

The 2014 RSA Conference began like any other show. On Sunday, workers and booth staffers moved about in order to put the expo areas together before the floor opened for a preview on Monday night. Outside of the Moscone Center, where the RSA Conference is held, a group of people are standing around smoking, discussing their frustrations with the booth design and building process.

As it turns out, the events team for this vendor didn't share the details of the extra costs associated with their presence at the show, and they're concerned over budgets for the week, as well as the rest of the year. They're a small vendor, so money is tight, but they're hopeful the show will do some good.

The RSA Conference started in 1991. It was a small gathering then, but in 2014, nearly 30,000 people attended the show, and more than 400 vendors booked space on the expo floor. Saying that the show is massive only scratches the surface; it's an industry powerhouse when it comes to sales and marketing.

Still, for some security vendors, having a presence at the RSA Conference can be a risky proposition, and money is the largest risk factor.

For example, despite what the Washington Post article would have one believe, $100,000 USD doesn't get much at the RSA Conference, not if that's all an organization has to spend for the year in their marketing budget. The Post made a point that "spending $100,000 on a big show to land a multi-million dollar deal is a bargain."

This would be correct, if multi-million dollar deals were common at the show. But they're not. The RSA Conference, and shows like it, are a good source for business partnerships between vendors, and a small amount of M&A (mergers and acquisitions) prospecting. Hard sales happen, but they are not all that common on the floor. At best, there is a moderate amount of lead generation, but unless those leads turn into sales, they don't offer value. For the most part, the RSA Conference has become a good way for vendors to meet existing customers face-to-face.

In a conversation with CSO, one vendor at the show this year (who asked not to be named for this story), said the conference was a vendor love fest two years ago — meaning booth traffic consisted of people working for other vendors and not potential customers. That's changed some over time, but not much.

 

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