In the wake of 9/11 and the dot-com bust, security was one of the few technology sectors that was not dragged down by the subsequent recession.And that could be seen at the RSA Conference, one of the few tech events that continued to thrive while companies tightened marketing and travel budgets, causing many other shows to scale down in size or fold altogether. As such, the media and analyst communities were taking greater interest in security technologies. So conference organizers were looking to meet the increasing needs of a growing audience of journalists and analysts.
"We had a really successful conference in 2003," says Matt Kucharski, SVP at Padilla Speer Beardsley (PSB). "But unless we did something to capture the media's attention, there was concern that interest could start to wane after attending the conference for a few years."
PSB and McGrath/Power PR, who jointly provided PR services for the last few conferences, saw two opportunities to attract journalists and analysts in record numbers, and to keep them at the conference in San Francisco.
First was to highlight the relationship with Microsoft, particularly with chairman Bill Gates delivering the keynote address. Second, they sought to highlight the numerous product and other announcements that companies planned to make at the conference, which would spotlight the show as a place where security companies made news. And perhaps most important was creating an environment where re- porters could write the stories they wanted to, meet with the companies they needed to, and provide access for exhibitors to meet with those reporters and analysts.
"We didn't want to rehash the themes and topics from the year before," says Jonathan Bloom, CEO of McGrath/Power. "We wanted to maximize coverage of Gates' speech and then give those reporters a reason to stay."
McGrath/Power and PSB focused on Gates' appearance to generate press coverage before the conference. Once the show started, the firms used content and speakers to draw reporters' and analysts' attention, and to elevate daily news into larger trends and themes.
"We hosted an analyst panel to help journalists see what the big ideas and themes will be at the conference," says Kucharski.
McGrath/Power and PSB had joined together recently to create a trade-show service called ShowGun, which Bloom says allows both agencies to take members of their staffs out of their daily routines, such as client management, to focus solely on meeting the PR needs of the RSA Conference. Those staffers worked directly with the media and analysts to get what they needed from the show. That ranged from helping vendors set up press conferences, to keeping other vendors from overwhelming journalists with unwanted press kits or unrelenting demands for media briefings.
"We didn't have to do anything wacky to get the media's attention," says Kucharski. "We have a good track record, and we've built on that positive experience with journalists in past years to get them to come back and help them do their job."
While general attendance remained steady from the previous two conventions - with more than 10,000 attendees and 250 vendors - the number of attending media and analysts at this year's show was 488, up from 257 last year and 191 in 2002.
"What [McGrath/ Power and PSB] did worked so well because they facilitated the right meetings between media and analysts, and who they wanted and needed to talk to," says Sandra Toms LaPedis, VP and GM of the RSA Conference.
"There was a real focus on getting the media and analysts to understand the big ideas at this conference" she adds, "which hopefully helped them see this as a premier industry event. And with so many speakers and so many issues, they really helped reporters focus on getting the information and interviews they needed to do their jobs."
McGrath/Power and PSB will use their ShowGun service for the next RSA Conference, making minor refinements that provide the media greater access to the issues and people shaping the security-technology market.
PR team: McGrath/Power PR (Santa Clara, CA) and Padilla Speer Beardsley (Minneapolis)
Campaign: 13th annual RSA Conference
Time frame: November 2003 to February 2004