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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.

The price for material hanging, sign labor and electrical work will hit about $15,000 USD. Audio and Visual needs, which for one vendor included 6 monitors and a sound system, adds another $5,000 USD. Lead retrieval software, needed if the goal is to scan badges at the booth, adds another $1,500 USD. Extras, such as offering coffee to booth vendors from a cart, will tack on another $5,600 USD for two days.

So in all, excluding the coffee, a vendor with a moderately-sized booth should expect to spend at least $84,100. But there's more. Other things like trash cans and network drops come at an additional fee too. Finally, the cost to transport, house, and feed the booth's staff for the week is another consideration, and if there's plans to give anything away (shirts, pens, etc.), that'll press the budget harder.

While there's a real crunch for smaller firms, costs such as those detailed above don't come close to hindering the larger security vendors. For example, including the cost of sponsorship and marketing, Juniper spent at least $405,000 USD for their appearance at the RSA Conference this year.

However, even companies like Juniper will pay the required extra fees, as well as any additional costs associated with parties, hosted dinners, or the like. Plus, the larger the booth, the larger those fees will be.

So considering the high cost for a single show, do those fees get passed on to the customer? In some cases, yes it will, but most vendors believe this is a bad business practice and said it isn't a common occurrence. Event budgets are separate from the other business costs and shifting money from R&D for example, is just a bad idea.

Still, none of the vendors CSO spoke with would go on record with a flat denial. So on some levels, it's a clear case of the more a vendor is forced to spend, the higher product prices will go. It's also important to note that while the RSA Conference may be the largest show, it isn't the only game in town. Many vendors attend several shows a year to support their marketing efforts, each one with their own unique costs.

Caught between a rock and a hard place each year, some organizations are faced with a dilemma; blow the budget on the largest show in the U.S., and hope there are residual gains because of it, or skip the show and risk the year's sales cycle.

Martin McKeay, Security Evangelist for Akamai, put this thought process in perspective earlier this year.

"Any vendor that's mid-size or larger in the security field has to be at the RSA conference. In many cases, this conference is the keystone for the whole marketing effort of the year," he said. "Quite frankly, if you're a security vendor and you don't have a presence at RSA, you're not really a security vendor and everyone knows it."


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