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Ah, it’s that time of year again…Black Hat Las Vegas is less than a month away! As you can imagine, this is one of the busiest times of year for the security industry, and in particular, PR and marketing. Most of us are in full swing, working long days and nights, executing on plans to ensure the companies we support can get the biggest visibility “bang for the buck” at the show. For many of us, Black Hat is really all about lead generation and garnering positive awareness, while also trying to keep up with the non-stop networking events that go late into the evenings.

This will be my 9th Black Hat this year and looking back on it, I’m really proud of all the companies we’ve either launched or represented at the show, even Black Hat itself (yes, they chose Merritt Group as the Agency of Record in 2012). From SPI Dynamics to Fortify Software, NetWitness, CrowdStrike, PhishMe and many more, we have learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to rising above the “noise” of a show that now attracts over 8,000 attendees. So, here are some ideas that may make your life easier as you prepare to head out to Vegas this year:

1.  Don’t Get Lost in the Noise. Black Hat is not a great time to drop your biggest news of the year. Reporters mainly want to focus on the “hottest” talks of the show, so unless you have some major vulnerability finding or new research, you’re better off waiting on making a big announcement until September/October, or push it out 3-4 weeks before the show.

2.  Target the Bookends. If you have some interesting spokespeople, consider offering them for 1-on-1 meetings with press and analysts on Monday, Tuesday or Friday of the show. Wednesday and Thursday are simply insane, and with all the briefings and other breaking news, it’s really tough for reporters to take meetings on those days.

3.  Stay Out of the Weeds. Ask your speakers to give you a simple, layman’s explanation of what they are talking about. Many Black Hat sessions are so technical that they aren’t always appropriate for mainstream press. Develop a pitch that discusses the business/user benefits, as well as the nuts and bolts stuff.


4. It’s Vegas, After All. Bring your speakers/spokespeople out to the manyparties and cocktail receptions at the show. Reporters may not have time for long meetings, but they might be persuaded to listen to a 5-minute pitch over a drink in Vegas. Just make sure you’re not too “lit up” with drinks when talking to press. After all, it’s hard to say what is on or off the record and you don’t want to make a bad impression!

5.  Numbers Talk. Virtually every session at Black Hat contains news. To rise above the fray, you’ll have to explain why your client or speaker’s talk or discovery is more critical/important than the others. Be prepared with descriptions (numbers are even better) of who might be affected, how many, and what the impact will be.

6.  Strategically Linger. If your spokesperson does have a talk at the show, be sure to stick around until the end of the session to see if any media come to the front of the room for quick interviews and comments. Often times, they may want to head back to the pressroom for a quick interview to get what they need for a story. Be ready with headshot photos, presentation slides and other graphics and visuals to help them get that story filed fast!

7.  Ride the Coattails. If your company doesn’t have a talk, have your spokespeople get familiar with the most interesting talks at the show and be prepared to comment, using concrete examples. Reporters at Black Hat are usually hungry for third parties to validate or criticize the findings of the speakers or to offer some perspective on the news.

8.  Be Opportunistic.  A lot of good introductions with media can happen outside the pressroom, so don’t be afraid to hang around there for a bit for some quick meet and greets. Checking out Twitter feeds during the show with the #blackhat hashtag will help you see where people are so you can find that reporter that you really want to meet.

9.  Leverage Hunger. Black Hat is famous for its lack of pressroom amenities. Offer reporters breakfast and lunch meetings or other snacks and drinks. It’s almost a guarantee that they won’t get any in the pressroom.

10.  Avoid the “Wall.” Finally, and this is really important and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but stay off the Wi-Fi networks! Be sure to shut off the Bluetooth on your phone and keep all your electronics close to you. This is a free hacking zone. You don’t want to end up on the “Wall of Sheep!”

Hopefully you’ll find these tips useful as you make your way through one of the biggest security events of the year. Looking forward to seeing you at the show! If you want to meet up or tweet up, you can also reach me at @mschafer.

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