Real Answers With Global Marketing Manager of RSA Conference, Jessica Porter
Seven months ago, our entire world went virtual. And as a cybersecurity conference averaging about 43,000 attendees each year, RSA Conference’s only option was to transition to an all-digital conference. To learn a bit more about this transformation, we (virtually) sat down with Jessica Porter, Global Marketing Manager of RSA Conference, to hear how Conference went and to get a little insight into how she sees this impacting RSA Conference moving forward.
You held RSAC 2020 APJ in mid-July, which was 100% virtual and a huge success. How did you pivot from planning a physical event to a virtual event in the middle of a pandemic?
We started with the attendee experience in mind, as we do with all of our conferences. We wanted to make sure that we could provide as much of the in-person benefits as possible … and then dove into configuring the virtual experience to deliver on this.
What was the biggest challenge of running a global virtual event?
The unknown! From a marketing standpoint, we usually have results from previous years to help assess our performance. Since this was a completely new event for us, we couldn’t rely on these same benchmarks. We used the same guiding principles we always do, made room for agility in our plans and monitored closely. We also did some research on virtual programs and trends, and learned that many experience a big spike in registrations closer to the event, so this did help to set our expectations a bit. And, as always, we optimized as we went, but we didn’t know how the registration pattern would ultimately play out.
Now that you’ve gone through this experience, what do you feel are the biggest opportunities for hosting a virtual event versus a physical event?
The biggest opportunity is to reach more people! The RSA Conference mission is to connect our audience to the most knowledgeable people and cutting-edge content that will empower them to stay ahead of cyberthreats and enhance their careers. When you remove travel barriers, it allows more people to attend and learn. Beyond that, I think the biggest opportunity is to continue to shape the virtual experience to deliver a stellar event for our entire ecosystem, from attendees to exhibitors, to members of the media and beyond. I also believe that the marketing communications are part of the virtual experience itself. I always try to put myself in the audience’s shoes to make sure we’re providing the information that will help them the most.
What have virtual events brought to the table that you haven’t seen from past in-person events?
The first thing that comes to mind is the similarity that the possibilities are endless with both types of events! We’ve held 29 RSA Conferences (2021 will be our 30th anniversary!), so we have a lot of experience improving our in-person events year over year. With virtual, we’re just getting started! I think one of the biggest challenges is to deliver a superb networking experience. To circle back to the question, the way that attendees experience virtual events is something that we have much to learn about.
What do you think the future holds for the conference and events industry based on your experience this year?
I wish I had a crystal ball! It’s too hard to say what the future holds, but one thing for certain is that it holds a lot of changes and RSAC is ready to take them on. We believe that virtual is here to stay in some capacity, which means we’ll be able to reach a more global audience. Our 2021 theme is Resilience. Cybersecurity, as an industry, will rise to meet challenges with solutions!
What surprised you about your marketing efforts this year? What tactics have proven successful in connecting with the audience in this new normal?
Our audience connected with us in similar ways as in the past. It was a nice surprise to see that the time zone wasn’t as much of an attendance barrier for other regions as we thought (this was our APJ event that took place during Singapore business hours). Even though our audience could watch on demand (and many did), we also saw a great live attendance rate—much higher than that of our webcasts. At the end of the day, we’re all humans and I think there’s a level of excitement, and perhaps FOMO, with the live event whether it’s in-person or virtual.