Challenges of Cybersecurity Events Marketing

David Elichman is the vice president of global events at Information Security Media Group (ISMG). At ISMG, he leads a global team that manages, creates and curates events that attract thousands of cybersecurity professionals around the world. Prior to joining ISMG, Elichman was global head of marketing for Bloomberg and was head of marketing for capital markets and investment banking at SunGard Financial Systems. Elichman got his start with Deloitte as a marketing manager and graduated from Syracuse University with an undergraduate degree in Political Science.

Elichman, speaking about the current landscape of conferences and virtual events, remarks on the importance of bringing in quality speakers to discuss topics of interest to the target audience:

“When we’re in the middle of a pandemic and have a healthcare event, we’re able to tap into folks like Flavio Aggio, who is the CISO of the World Health Organization. That’s what drives the content. I’m not a big believer in gimmicks to try and drive your traffic. Especially in the virtual environment, whether it be wine tasting, whether it be delivery of different food, I don’t believe that is necessarily what is ultimately going to make for a successful event. I think when the audience is there to learn and be educated that’s what’s truly going to make for a successful event.”

In this episode of Cybersecurity Unplugged, Elichman discusses:

  • Using relevant content and compelling speakers to drive engagement;
  • The evolution of technology to keep pace with the rapid increase in virtual and hybrid events;
  • Calculating costs when managing the production of complex hybrid events;
  • The significance of building brand trust with your sponsors, audience and speakers.

CLICK HERE for a full transcript of the conversation.

Steve King 00:04
Welcome to cyber security unplugged the cyber theory podcast where we explore issues that matter in the world of cyber security. Good day everyone. I’m Steve King, the managing director and cyber theory. And today’s episode may be particularly interesting to our clients and marketing, as we explore the challenges of putting on large events in cybersecurity and mid c 19. State with a very, very unknown future. Joining me is my colleague here at ISMG. David augment, who is our masters events, Alchemist, and with a great global team manages to create and curate events that attract 1000s of cybersecurity professionals around the world, I have no idea how you do that. David has been the Vice President of global events for ISMG for the past five years and was Global Head of Marketing for Bloomberg for four was head of marketing for capital markets and investment banking there and rather at sunguard financial systems as well as Vice President of professional services there. And gotta start with Deloitte as a marketing manager, with an undergraduate degree in Political Science from New Syracuse I would and and those kinds of marketing chops, one might think David would be caught somewhere, toiling in the soup of a political campaign somewhere inside the beltway, but but now instead, we’re lucky enough to have David here at ISMG, putting on show after show and the b2b events market so. So welcome, Dave, I’m glad you could join me today.

David Elichman 01:41
Thank you, Steve. And thank you for that introduction. That was that was very caught. Sure,

Steve King 01:47
and well deserved. So let’s jump right into this. From my point of view, as a sort of outsider, the things that blow me away is just the sheer numbers. So maybe you can give us a sense of kind of what we did last year, what we’re, what we’ve done this year so far, and what we plan to do for the rest of the year, just in terms of overall events, the different types, categories, etc. Sure,

David Elichman 02:15
when you look at events, and how things in the landscape has changed. Over the past 18 months or so, we really did have to adjust the entire mindset of the team to move from what was live events that we had been running around the world, to a virtual environment. And we were able to do that relatively seamlessly. And, you know, as far as numbers go, just in 2020 alone, we ran 20 virtual events around the world, we had over 15,000 registrations, or attendees at the events themselves. And then we took that same approach coming into 2021, where we expanded the program to 30 events around the world, and increased the number of registrations and attendees as well. And I think one of the key things that you do have to look at is the why, what is driving these folks, how are we able to maintain a product that’s going to resonate with the audience in the marketplace, especially as people are moving into possible zoom fatigue, and what have you. So the primary thing we can do at ISMG is focusing on the content. We have, you know, with over 30 publications that we’re able to provide the cybersecurity community where our editors are putting together content on a daily basis, our audience, trust us, they trust, what we’re going to provide them, they trust the content, we’re going to be able to provide them. And that in turn allows them to turn around and want to be a part of our events. So the numbers that you see, are really driven from what ISMG has done over the last 15 years in building what I would consider the largest cybersecurity community in the world. You know, we can get into Steve, if you’d like just the different process of where we think things are going to go. Come 2022. But you you let me know, I’m happy to share whatever information I possibly can to the audience.

Steve King 04:17
Yeah, that would be useful. Certainly.

David Elichman 04:20
Sure. So we are dealing with the unknown. That being said, you know, the advice I would give anybody listening to this is to plan. Our focus is going to be in 2022, as many people have been saying is to move into that hybrid environment where you know, as long as we’re taking everybody’s health into account, as we do move forward, is to expand the program to include a live element, as well as virtual element where we’ll be able to broadcast to a larger audience going forward, and that our programs are going to again, we’re not going to come back we’re going to expand. We’re going to be offering events in more regions. Around the world through media, which is a little bit different than than what we had in the past, the Nordics in France and across the Middle East, as well as expanding our reach in Asia Pacific, as well as in North America and South America. So it really is truly going to be a global a global view. Now, how do you accomplish this? How do you do this with the unknown, it involves really having the right team in place, we have a global team that’s committed and dedicated to making sure that our clients are happy. But also more importantly, committed to making sure that we do have and drive the best speakers, it’s incredibly important to make sure that your content is your strength. And that is what we do when we have during an election period, our keynote speaker at our events, ie the likes of Christopher krupps, when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and have a healthcare event, we’re able to tap into folks like Flavio geo, who is the seaso of the World Health Organization. That’s what drives the content. I’m not a big believer in, I guess I would refer to it as gimmicks to try and drive your traffic, especially in the virtual environment, whether it be wine tasting, whether it be delivery of different food, I don’t believe that that is necessarily what ultimately is going to make for a successful event. I think when the audience is there to learn, and be educated and be counted on for that. That’s what’s truly going to make for a successful event.

Steve King 06:32
That makes sense, certainly talk to us about the technologies if you if he can do I know it lots changed in the last 20 months, right.

David Elichman 06:41
So a lot has changed in the last 20 months. And the way I look at the technology is when we first went into this pandemic, I would say candidly that the technology was not where it needed to be when we were talking about virtual platforms come forward. Now, maybe eight months into the pandemic, you saw a lot of money, especially from private equity being poured into newer technology. And there are countless amounts of platforms out there that have arisen during this period of time. I think it’s important. Again, if I’m talking to the overall community, to reassess your technology, look at your technology, and make sure it’s forward thinking and you know, built in a way that’s going to be able to be able to provide your audience, both the virtual experience as well as a live experience, that technology needs to involve having appropriate apps tied to it, it needs to be able to have the right ability to have the right input and output to be able to broadcast at a high quality, live content that’s going to be delivered to the end users that are on the virtual environment. It’s the world of these virtual platforms has exploded, and rightfully so many would say that this is the way things are going to be going in the future, make sure that you do have the right technology in place, we at ISMG are very comfortable with the technology that we are using our clients, our sponsors, are able to engage with our attendees that I mentioned earlier, able to deliver the content and the message through this platform in an appropriate way. And also to be able to provide data and information to the end users and the attendees the best you can through these virtual environments.

Steve King 08:25
Right. Back to your point about content. However, you know me well, I, I’m a big story guy. The fact that you you look for like the storylines in these events that keep turning up, you know, ransomware is all well and good to say, you know, well, this group that now became this group, that group became that group and that from a journalist point of view, that’s the way it’s generally reported. But it sure as hell is boring, right. So when you can tie content to current events, in the way that you describe, I would imagine that makes it much much, much more compelling and more interesting to your audience.

David Elichman 09:06
Yeah, that’s a great point, Steve. So when we’re talking about compelling content, resonate, content that’s going to resonate with with the audience. It’s not just covering the hot, you know, topics. Yes, we know, ransomware is a hot topic. We’re going to cover that, you know, well on our publications, and those types of articles and content are going to feed into the message that we’re going to deliver at our actual events themselves. But also important is how that content is delivered. You know, we used to say what was the old saying death by PowerPoint, that, in my opinion, is not what people necessarily want to see here. It’s not how they want to learn it or be educated. They want to be able to come to an event, hear the content, and be able to walk away and go back to the office and apply what it is they learned. And a lot of that is hearing from your peers. So Providing a fireside chat with se C. So from a large bank along with the conversation with the ISMG editorial team, and really digging deeper into, what’s the problem? What’s the solution? And how do I apply that to my daily grind? We all know that security, folks are extremely overworked. Right now, there’s a lot of high pressure. And when you tie that back to our events and the way that content is going to be delivered, you want those folks to be able to take that information, and maybe make their life and make their job a little bit easier. And by sitting through PowerPoint after PowerPoint is not necessarily sometimes it does work. And we do do that. I’m not saying that that’s not sometimes the appropriate way to move forward. But there are there are so many more engaging ways to be able to provide that content. And we as a team are focused very much so on making sure that we’re ahead of the curve, frankly, and not just doing what everybody else is doing.

Steve King 11:02
Yeah. And you mentioned as well, that your reference to our editorial team here seems to me to be an important factor, certainly and what you guys do, Tom fields and his team, work with you guys very closely as part of the execution of these events, right?

David Elichman 11:20
Tom is integral in what we do from a content perspective, we have a fantastic team within the events team led by Raquel Sanchez, who really has key relationships within the industry. And it’s not just Tom Tom, Tom is absolutely our leader when it comes to content. But we have the likes of Matt Schwartz and Anna Delaney, you know, many other editorial folks who are really tuned in to what’s happening in the market. When we run, and I didn’t even mention, we’re talking about some of the larger summits. But when we’re running 300 roundtables, and editors, like Tom are sitting through and guiding these discussions on a daily basis, we’re able to learn and retain more information than even possible to retain and be able to apply that to our stories, a be able to apply that to how we guide our clients, and ultimately bring it back to again, the larger events, how the content, the what content is going to resonate best with that audience. you’re tying it all together, Steve, I mean, everything. If we’re gonna say everything revolves around the content, we also have to listen to what’s going on in the market, with our community, what we’re hearing, and making sure that that content is what they desire.

Steve King 12:39
Sure, one of the things that always puzzles me is that I don’t know what the number is 3000 4000, maybe CSOs or top security practitioners, globally, recruitment must be an incredible challenge, not necessarily maybe for the summit, as much as for the roundtables where it’s kind of the same message. Every time, you know, hey, you know, you probably haven’t thought about, you know, time, a good way to tie patch management to resource availability to timeliness. And, you know, here’s another approach. So you can learn from your fellow CEOs, one of these roundtables kind of thing that must get, I don’t know, tedious after a while, I would think from a consumer point of view,

David Elichman 13:29
absolutely, there’s so much out there, some of it, you know, some of its great some of its noise. And a lot of these, especially that seesaw community that you just mentioned, they’re being taught to and tapped into all the time to be able to join different events. And, you know, that’s something that we are very conscious with. And that’s why when we do go to market, we make sure that we’re focusing in on those that we know where we believe that content is going to resonate with. And, you know, part of it is, you know, again, I feel like a little bit of a broken record. But it’s the truth, because it’s what makes things move forward is is our editorial side and the content. Recruitment can be a challenge, but if they trust you, if they trust your company, if they trust your brand, if they trust the other peers that they’re going to be affiliated with through these conversations, then that’s how recruitment becomes, I don’t want to say easy, it never becomes easy, but that’s where recruitment for these become successful. And that’s why, you know, we as an organization, and I can only speak for our organization right now, we don’t see that heavy zoom fatigue, we don’t see that attrition that others may be experiencing, unfortunately, and during these times, it all drives from the trust of your brand. And that’s when you know, I mean, you mentioned marketing and some of my history. You know the brand is an incredibly important piece of this. And you can’t keep on going to market and expect good results. If you don’t focus On, where you stand in the market, your brand, and how your, how you are positioning yourselves in the market and the trust that you need to gain with these folks. It’s incredibly important as you’re building out your programs,

Steve King 15:12
who are the folks that, you know, we contact to be sponsors for these things, and, you know, they kind of have two choices around them, and they can kind of do it try to do it themselves, they can go to maybe a lesser expensive program, Event Manager, or they can choose us and it’s hard for me to believe that, given the background, the track record the history, that anybody would look at this and say, Well, you know, guy, we can do this ourselves. That’s crazy, just like insane, crazy. Second part, the second option is, you know, hire somebody that’s got a smaller team, a smaller brand, you know, a smaller brand authority, the space, then you’re really playing with fire, right? I mean, you have no idea really what you’re gonna yet when you’re done, Pan, whatever that number is. So I’ve got a couple of questions. I want to kind of wrap this up with Dave, as you know, mine. We talked last summer about, you know, there’s a blockchain, crypto cryptocurrency coming out of France, who wanted to put on a big show in New York with a summit, I personally was shocked at the cost of this of an event like that, could you kind of walk through the basics kind of quickly that, like if somebody said, Oh, you know, FinTech is huge, we’ve got this great cryptocurrency solution, we want to do a big blast, and we want to get, you know, 150 attendees who are actually in the market. Sure. So

David Elichman 16:43
you know, from a cost perspective, running an event putting on event the recruitment, we covered, there’s a cost factor that goes into each piece of the puzzle, you have to have a team internally, you touched on quickly, the you know, the if you’re going to depend on a smaller company, where they may not have the team where they’re not going to have the resources, you have to make sure that you have the right resources in place, by resources cost money, you have to make sure that you have the right venue in place, you know, venues can be expensive, and you have to make sure that you’re also giving them the right experience at that venue, that all does add up. And then you know, from an attendee perspective, you have to look at what your cost is, per attendee, as you’re going into these events, calculate that to make sure then, you know, most of the people who are doing these events, let’s just be candid, are doing this to monetize. So you have to make sure that you’re coming in and offering your clients a fair price, to get the appropriate education, but also to be successful with your own business itself. So all of these factors are going to come into play, when it comes to, you know, say, what a sponsor is going to pay what an attendee is going to pay to gain this information, there are a lot of moving parts, and it is very, you know, very complicated I need to get into when you’re live in an event, on the production side of things, the marketing side of things, all of these have to come into play, and you have to consider each element of these, when you’re putting together your program. And this all, you know, I don’t think I want to necessarily tie it $1 amount to it in this conversation. But, you know, know that each one of these factors, um, has to be well thought out as you’re going into the planning process. And then, you know, just to tie it back into a little bit of where we are in the market right now, everybody, I think should recognize that costs are going to go up, they’re not going to go down, you know, we can get into costs rising just from a simple supply chain perspective. But I’m talking a little bit more even just this whole concept of hybrid that everybody’s talking about, there’s a whole extra element of production, that’s going to have to come into play that was not there prior to the pandemic. And again, you have to account for these as you’re going in and planning moving forward, those numbers are not going to be negligible. So just looking at those numbers very closely, is going to be critical moving forward.

Steve King 19:07
Yeah. I guess my final question, Dave, and as long as we’re kind of had the crystal ball premise of our show here with this newly discovered I think the last three days, right, bats sourced animals, the human variant of what define the origin of C 19. Throwing a lot of people into the hospital, a lot of people into, you know, near death situations, compared to where we were a year ago, is starting to look the same I’m How do you sit there and make a determination about what these events are going to look like in the future? You’re playing Texas Hold’em with live events or hybrid events or virtual events. And the last part of the question is, do you think that folks actually enjoy the virtual event? Overall, overall, no cocktails? No great steak dinners? No. and choosing, but do you think that you enjoy it overall more than the than our older world.

David Elichman 20:06
So let me start with the with the first question on the crystal ball and playing with fire here to a certain degree, obviously, I can’t tell what the future holds completely things are changing all the time, the way that I always look at it is have a plan A, have a plan B, a Plan C, we go into these events, knowing that things can change in a minute. And by having that virtual environment, in this case, ready, we can have assurance for our attendees and our clients, they’re still going to get a viable product is still going to get the same education, they’re still going to be able to our sponsors are still going to be able to communicate and engage with the audience. We know going into this, that we have Plan A and plan B, I did see through this entire time, in many cases, where that was not the case. And you know, people we were approached and you know, there was an event that was scheduled, then they were working on a strategy of hope and and hoping things were just going to get better. So they would postpone an event to a new date. And then things weren’t ready there, then they would postpone event to a new date, you have to like I said, Have that other plan where you’re never going to have be able to be in a position to cancel an event. But you also have to make sure that you get some market early in communicating what that event is going to look like, you never want to get down to the last minute, and then turn around to your clients and your audience and have to cancel something, you have to have that plan B, that statement I think goes back to what we were talking about before. from a marketing perspective, you can really damage your brand, if you continue to do that. And that’s your path. And that’s your strategy, you don’t want to be in a position that you’re going to damage your brand, you want to make sure that your sponsors your attendees, and your speakers, I didn’t talk much about the speakers, except for earlier in the conversation, they have to trust the market needs to trust that you’re going to be able to provide the right product, the right solution, regardless of the scenario. Now, as far as the virtual events go, do they enjoy it as much as the live events, it is a different experience, you know, but let’s not kid ourselves, we do know that it is a different experience. I do think to a certain degree, maybe you do enjoy it. And the reason why is because many people may not have had the opportunity to be able to get out of their office to be able to travel and to be able to have the ability to have the education and or if it’s the sponsors to be able to engage with these folks. So it does broaden what you can do as an attendee, and it does broaden how many people and who the sponsors can be in front of. So from that perspective, I do think that they do enjoy it, we are going to get back to live. So let’s not kid ourselves, being in front of somebody having that conversation, having dinner, being able to sit down and talk to somebody that has missed, but it’s not gone forever. And that’s why to bring it full circle, you get to this whole hybrid conversation, tying the two together, I really do genuinely believe it’s going to be the best of both worlds.

Steve King 23:13
I applaud your optimism and I am I am optimistic as well. So we have to, we don’t really have a choice, you know, we got to figure, we have to figure this thing out and figure it out fast. I hope we’re on that path. But I tell you, we’re blessed to have you day, I am conscious of the time here. I’m going to end our session, if you don’t mind and and invite you to come back in a few months just to kind of see what has changed since now. And then. And then talk a little bit more about some of the details here around content speakers, in fact, as we really didn’t get too much of that that’s super important. Absolutely. And we can we can do it tomorrow.

David Elichman 23:55
Excellent. Steve, it’s always a pleasure to catch up with you. It’s always a pleasure to talk. And I appreciate you giving me this platform to be able to talk about these important issues and look forward to catching up again in a few months.

Steve King 24:06
That’s great. Thank you again, thank you to our listeners for joining us and another one of cyber theories unplugged reviews of the complex and scary world of cybersecurity technology and our new digital reality. Until next time, I’m your host, Steve King signing up. Thank you for joining us for another episode of cyber security unplugged. You can connect with us on LinkedIn or Facebook at cyber theory, or send us an email at social at cyber theory.io. For more information about the podcast, visit cyber theory.io forward slash podcast until next week. Thanks again.

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