RSA Exhibitor Guidelines That Make You Think…

By John Dickson

It’s that time of year.  Your inbox is probably filling up with “Are you going to RSA?” e-mails from vendors and buyers alike and getting ready for the grueling yet exhilarating week that is the RSA Security Conference at the sprawling Moscone Center

So are we…in fact, Denim Group will be exhibiting at RSA for the first time.  Now, I’ve been to a ton of RSA conferences, spoken at a bunch too, but we’ve never exhibited, so this is big news for us.  In fact, this is just a big show that is a whole new experience for us…. To maximize our investment and avoid any unforeseen pitfalls of large-scale conference exhibiting, we read the “Rules and Regulations for Exhibitors and Sponsors” several times through, including the fine print.  This 12-page document contains a bunch of logistical information every exhibitor should know before they arrive at the Moscone.  What was really fascinating were all the extremely detailed restrictions that cover virtually every scenario that one might encounter as a booth exhibitor at a large conference.

Then I started thinking, what really caused so many of these bizarre restrictions to be included in this document?  For example, what kind of madness preceded RSA 2014 that made the organizers include specific restrictions on smells and blimps?   Was the “mime nuisance” so bad in past shows that a restriction needed to be included by name in this years rules?  So, what follows are our ruminations of what might have happened to lead up to this year, and how these rules might have come to be.

So, We Can’t Bring Our Own Llama?  

RSA’s rule stipulates, “With the exception of working service dogs, animals are not allowed in the Moscone Convention Center without written approval of Show Management.”  OK, this makes sense.  We surely don’t want to step in animal poo at RSA.  We have enough trouble dodging the attendees walking aimlessly throughout the show floor and the aggressive exhibitors hawking their wares.  Dodging animal-created land mines would simply be too much to bear.  But I have to confess, I now fantasize about hiring a falconer complete with live bird to fly around and drop care packages on our competitors.  This will not be an option apparently…

So I Guess We All Have to Shower This Year?

One of my favorite restrictions is the “Noise and Odors” section.  So, how bad did someone have to stink one year to make this a mandatory rule for all RSA shows going forward?   RSA’s rule states, “Noisily operated displays and exhibits producing objectionable sound or odors are not allowed.”   The conference organizers are kind enough to volunteer themselves as the smell referees - (“Show Management may mitigate as a last resort, with their opinion being accepted by all parties as the resolution.”)  I can just picture an RSA organizer, like a fine wine taster, trying to capture the “bouquet” of booth #1245 to make the hard call. Of course, will some clever company get penalized if they set up a Cinnabon oven like they do in airports or malls, wafting wonderful smells up and down the trade show floor?  Doubtful because everyone knows that Cinnabons in the oven are the furthest thing from “objectionable.”

How Many Security Guys Does it Take To Unscrew A Lightbulb?

The answer is “none.” According to the section titled “Light Bulb Removal” you may “…request the removal of Moscone House Lighting that interferes with your booth display.”  Makes sense, but first you have to let the show management know, and then any costs are the responsibility of the exhibitor.   At that point some nice, burly fellow will remove the offending light bulb for you at Union rates!

I Swear! They Are “Models!”

Every year, several companies invite “booth talent” to lure unwitting show attendees into their booth.  You know the typical Booth Babe drill – beautiful women, short skirts, and the guys who fall for it.   However, in case you are wondering, RSA does define the limits of good taste in its booth regulations: “Show Management reserves the right to enter any portion of the booth premises and to eject from the Moscone Center any unbadged, improperly badged, unprofessionally or objectionably dressed, or other persons deemed objectionable.”  But let’s be honest, how does one define objectionably dressed?  Who’s the referee, and I want to know where is the waiting list to be that referee?  How about the army of the objectionably “underdressed dudes at RSA?”  Who lets them know that cut-off shorts and a t-shirt at the largest international security conference of the year just might not cut it?

But Are Dirigibles OK?

There is a section on “Balloons/Blimps” which states “Helium balloons are permitted at Moscone Center, however, Freeman and/or Show Management will charge a fee directly to the exhibitor for retrieval of stray balloons.”  OK, I get the balloons part, but “blimps?”  And how about dirigibles – are they OK?  Should we be worried that some nefarious exhibitor will bring a remote control Hindenburg and attempt to crash it into the SAP booth?  If pigeons are outlawed, then maybe dirigibles can do the job of dropping love packages on competitors.

But Clowns Scare me Too! 

OK, I get why exhibitors should not clog up the aisles to be bad neighbors.  But how bad did it get in the past that this rule came to be: “The use of demonstrators, gimmicks, mimes, magicians, robots, vehicles, etc. in the aisles is prohibited at all times.”  Wait a second here!  Are clowns allowed in the aisles?  Why pick on mimes and magicians?  Heck, mimes and magicians are so obnoxious that you could make a case for banning them outright from RSA.  And how about “demonstrators?”  Are the organizers worried that Occupy Oakland! is going to travel across the Bay Bridge and park themselves in the South Hall of the Moscone Center?

So, we’re all prepped and ready with no clowns, no llamas and no dirigibles to exhibit at our first booth at RSA, but it’s been an interesting road to get there, for sure.  Enjoy the show and come by booth #2332 in the South Hall and nominate your best addition for the 2015 “Rules and Regulations for Exhibitors and Sponsors!”

–John

john _at_ denimgroup.com

@johnbdickson

About dancornell

Dan Cornell has over fifteen years of experience architecting and developing web-based software systems. He leads Denim Group's security research team in investigating the application of secure coding and development techniques to improve web-based software development methodologies. Dan was the founding coordinator and chairman for the Java Users Group of San Antonio (JUGSA) and currently serves as the OWASP San Antonio chapter leader. Dan has speaks at such international conferences as RSA, ROOTs in Norway and OWASP AppSec EU.

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