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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.

Smaller booth space is available at the RSA Conference, but smaller booths don't see that much traffic, so it's a catch twenty-two. Mirroring McKeay, the aforementioned anonymous vendor said that having a presence at the RSA Conference was a show of force. "If you're not at RSA, that says something about you."

But what about attending the show and opting for a smaller booth?

"You get a little visibility being a small player at RSA, but if you don't have the partnerships, or existing industry ties, RSA isn't the best use of your marketing budget," the vendor explained.

In fact, a company would be better off focusing on lead generation to develop said relationships before focusing on attending the show. They could also opt to attend the conference, but focus on face-to-face meetings instead of the expo hall. If there is a bit more in the budget, hosing a dinner or cocktail party is another networking option.

When all is said and done, the decision to attend an event such as the RSA Conference boils down to the overall value it provides. However, given that attendance is almost required, it comes as no surprise when the RSA Conference organizers report that 85 percent of the vendors re-sign their contracts year-over-year. They have to if they want to seriously compete.

For most vendors, the cost of attending a show like the RSA Conference is simply part of the cost of doing business, for others it's a gamble, but one that many of them are willing to take.

Perhaps the RSA Conference has grown too big. What started as a small conference created to advance and improve the art and science of information security, seems to have turned into a massive business designed to sell the art and science of information security first, with improvements and advancements becoming more of an afterthought.

This is why the demand for secondary security conferences (e.g. BSides events) is growing. Security practitioners are looking for conferences that are less about sales, and more about solving the problems that haunt them at work, networking with peers, and educating themselves and others if possible.


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