ISC West day 2: on trade shows and showmanship

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03/26/2010

There is a part of me that thinks the era of the big trade show is coming to an end. Logically, it seems that the possibilities of the virtual trade show, the ease of delivery of information in this day and age, the costs of travel, and many more factors are contributing to a reduction in perceived value of everyone getting together in one geographical location to talk shop. But (and I'm not sure I saw myself ever saying this) I'd be pretty sad to see them go. My cynical side has a hard time with this argument I'm about to make, but it's very hard to replace the personal interactions made possible by a trade show. At our little tweet-up last night at Treasure Island we had maybe 25 good friends in the industry hanging out, drinking cocktails, talking shop, and then losing money at blackjack. Was it vindication of the use of social media in B2B? Well, pretty obviously not. I could have just sent most of these folks an email inviting them to all hang out. I doubt anyone came just because they saw a Tweet. But I'll admit that I like talking with other people in the industry about how cool Vancouver is, or how awesome that age is where your kid can only crawl backward and gets stuck under her crib and yells because she can't figure out how to get out, or how Dora the Explorer is a far superior television program to Bob the Builder, or how good the skiing has been in Colorado this year, or whether they've picked up their instrument lately, or whether their kid got into the college they wanted this year. Just like the Security 5k did in spades (and I'll get to that in a second), the social interaction at the trade show puts a human face on the person behind the email, or the product, or the business, or the brand, and if you're so logical that the quality of the person selling that product doesn't affect your perception of that product, good for you (I guess). We can talk all we want about sourcing the best product with the best price over the Internet and best of breed and all those logical ways of doing efficient business, but I can't count how many people I've talked to at the show who value loyalty over margin, support over features, and a good solid handshake to boot. Is there a part of me that wants to eviscerate that argument for being corny and old-fashioned and old-boy-network, etc.? Absolutely. But I guess there's a part of me that hopes we never get so impersonal and cynical that we stop valuing a person's character. Which brings me to the Security 5k. Yeah, I'm pretty proud of it. At the reception last night, we announced that 249 racers ran the race, with another 60+ registering to be "ghost runners," essentially just making a contribution to Mission 500, whose goal it is to support 500 children each year through the security industry donating to the World Vision charity. With sponsors, runner registrations, and the fundraising efforts of the runners, we're going to clear roughly $30,000, enough to sponsor about 60 children for the year, providing them with food, clothing, and educational necessities. Again, though, I'm a cynical guy. It's hard for me to appreciate the value of that sometimes. But then Mission 500's George Fletcher announced the highest fundraiser for the event, runner Jim Hoffpauir, who raised $2,200 through donations from family and friends in support of his running the 5k. When the guy got up there and told his story about his family adopting a child from Guatemala, and how this race was so important to him because he understood the needs of these kids first hand, and he was choking back tears of gratitude for the people who'd run and donated, I was genuinely moved. I'm kind of tearing up just typing this. Could everyone have just donated $30 from the warmth of their desks and via a secure transaction online? Of course. We could donate $30 to one of a thousand great causes every day. But we don't. Every day most of don't donate to any great cause, because we're worried about paying the mortgage or for fiddle lessons for the kids or fixing the stupid car that never seems to work well for more than six months. But 249 people got off their ass, on the second day of a trade show, in Las Vegas, at 7:30 a.m. and ran five kilometers together, all at the same time, and helped out 60 kids around the world. That happened because ISC West existed and we'd all decided to gather in the same geographic place at the same time. I think that's worth the crap-ass red-eye I'm going to take home tonight. That said, let's not get carried away with these things. I think one of the reasons that there's such good buzz at this show (note: I'm now transitioning to the part of the blog post where I return to being a cold and cynical bastard), and many people have commented on the great crowds and palpable energy here this week, is because people have decided to throw a lot of their eggs in this one trade show basket. With marketing budgets still very tight and travel budgets being slashed all over the place, I think a lot of companies have identified ISC West as the one show of the year they NEED to be at, and they're throwing all their buzz-building efforts at that wall and seeing what sticks. They'll then supplement those efforts with webinars and road shows and the like for the rest of the year and you'll see much more reserved and business-like presence at the likes of ESX and ASIS (I'm predicting - lots of people have commented on that show's potential fall from grace, having been disappointed with Atlanta and Anaheim the last two years, and no one really being all that psyched to go to Dallas - but I might be wrong if the economy really ramps up in the next three months). I've commented before about there seeming to be a more gloves-off atmosphere when it comes to marketing in the security industry these past 18 months or so, and we're seeing more of that here at ISC West, where marketers are bringing more theater and a willingness to mix it up to their message. At ASIS we saw the Bosch tent where product shoot-outs were everywhere, going head to head with their competition, and we see it here with the likes of Monitronics. Tell me your inner marketer doesn't love this poster, from the side of their booth: monitronics at ISC West 2010

 

I love the "tried to rebrand" part. I mean, they did rebrand, to the point they were lampooned on SNL for their efforts. But it's a trade show - who cares? Monitronics also created huge buzz (really, people were stacked four and five deep) by bringing in Neon Deion Sanders and Michael Strahan (they're ex-football players and celebrities, in case you're not up on such things). Even our video guy went and got Deion's autograph. But this poster, noticeably, got them much less traction: monitronics isc west 2010

 

Yes, I think the era of the booth babe is over! Well, close to it anyway. There are still some model types handing out literature, but they're mostly in (possibly short-skirted) suits, and it's generally pretty civilized. So, if you don't want to hire a football player, and the industry no longer wants to ogle breasts, what do you do? Well, new entrant Next Level did this: next-level, isc west 2010

 

Does it come off looking at wobbly in that picture as it did in real life? Hey, at least it wasn't blaring that Video Killed the Radio Star song that Videofied dreamed up. Love the song, love the idea, but I wouldn't want to have been the security guard at the bottom of the stairs that had to listen to that for three straight days. Someone could be forced to suicide by that. One of the nicer coordinated efforts was put on by Arecont, which announced yesterday it's part of the team of security companies put together to protect the World Equestrian Games, which ain't exactly the Olympics, but which I imagine does present a number of security challenges. By way of announcement, they brought together execs from EMC, systems integrator Orion, Verint, and Theia to talk about how they formed their security team, how the end user selected them, and how they'd partner to provide different pieces of the overall solution. They had a nice, slick video presentation for each company in a big HD monitor behind them and they each spoke well about their role. Here's a bad picture of what it looked like when they all posed for a photo: arecont, EMC, Verint, Orion, Theia at isc west 2010

 

Was it earth-shattering news? Not really. But it was well presented. And there was an effort being made that I appreciate. Especially when it comes to the perception of the general public, security needs to do a much better job of telling its story, and if the industry starts with better B2B stories, that's fine. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't do my annual duty at ISC West and highlight a company that has, incredibly, made its products available to Mac users. This year it's Samsung, which has adopted the Silverlight platform, which makes its software look awfully nice in the Safari browser. Kudos to Samsung for understanding that some of us just like things to look pretty: samsung at ISC West 2010 Stay tuned for more from the floor over the next few business days. I may not get to a day 3 summary, or the millions of other tidbits I have from the past two days, until I'm through with the red eye tonight and back in the office Monday. Be on the lookout, too, for new videos today (I believe the Anthem is going to go live today - sorry for repeated teases on that one).

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