RSAC 2023 Preview: Q+A With Michelle Adams-Dixon 

By Tim Hurley

Ahead of RSA Conference 2023, Tim Hurley, EVP and cybersecurity team leader at Matter, sat down with Michelle Adams-Dixon, VP of Global Marketing and Communications at RSAC, to get the scoop on cybersecurity’s biggest annual event. 

1. The theme of RSAC 2023 is a great one – “Stronger Together.” How are you seeing the cybersecurity community collaborate more effectively at the Conference and beyond?  

Each year RSAC purposefully creates a new theme for the Conference. As we go through the process of creating a theme for the following year’s event, we look to see what is trending in cybersecurity and create a topic or “anthem” theme that resonates throughout the entire Conference – the keynotes, breakouts, discussion on the show floor, etc. This year, when we went through the process, we aimed to build a manifesto for the industry, and community is what we came up with. Then as we evolved our thinking, we realized it was not just community but the strength and camaraderie, and how individuals come together to work best when they have a sense of community.  

“Stronger Together” really pulls at the heartstrings and it literally made the hair on our arms go up! So, we knew we hit the right theme. It can be applied in so many different areas – how individuals can advance their careers, solve joint problems together and innovate in ways that they could not do individually. We also know that the industry does not sleep. So Stronger Together is not only about protecting your businesses, your assets and your employees, but also your families and your mental health. What we have seen is the community coming together in supporting one another in ways we had not seen before. That, in essence, is why we felt Stronger Together was the right message for us in 2023. 

2. What is noticeably different or new at the event this year, and what are RSAC organizers particularly proud to show off this year?   

We added several new aspects to the Conference. One of the big things is the footprint in terms of the schedule. Last year, for the first time ever, we went from Monday-Friday to a Monday-Thursday schedule. This year, we are keeping that format but with some changes. Unlike in previous years, Monday will be a full day of content and programs, with the expo floor opening on Monday evening.  

At the close on Thursday afternoon, we will present the “Hugh Thompson Show” to recap the four days of RSAC with some exciting guests. We are really proud of this. Hugh is, of course, a Managing Partner at Crosspoint Capital Partners (our private equity owner), and for the past 13 years has served as Program Committee Chairman of RSA Conference. So, there is a lot of great synergy there.  

The RSAC Innovation Sandbox contest will take place on Monday as usual. That will be exciting and competitive. In fact, we had a 150 percent increase in submissions this year. On Tuesday, we will bring back RSAC Launch Pad for earlier-stage innovators, which is literally for entrepreneurs who have ideas on the back of napkins in the very formative stages. Three contestants will present in a “Shark Tank” style competition to three judges. They will get feedback, strategic guidance and possible mentorship from the judges. Launch Pad started in 2019 and was let go last year given our virtual format, so we are excited to bring this back! 

3. How would you assess the industry’s progress with its collective DE&I initiatives since last June’s RSAC?

There is a perpetual need to increase progress across the industry — not just for RSAC, but for cybersecurity in general. I feel we are making some strong progress. As many know, we made it a mandate a few years back, to have diverse voices on stage. Every panel has a mandate for at least one female participant, which has been very well-received. We have also put a lot of work into our partnerships to ensure greater participation by individuals with diverse backgrounds. For example, RSAC partners with Cyber Jitsu, Cyversity, Black Girls in Cyber, Share the Mic and many others. This helps increase cybersecurity awareness within these organizations and makes it easier for people to connect with our diverse speakers.  

There are a few other programs to highlight. We have an Inclusive Security Welcome Network Breakfast on Wednesday, followed by Inclusive Security track sessions. We also have a Women’s Networking reception on Tuesday, which is open to all attendees – male and female – and it usually is a big draw. Additionally, on Thursday we created a College Day. We open up passes to students studying cyber or engineering and we have our Security Scholar Program for students attending from some of the top universities across the country.  

Finally, a few years ago we introduced RSAC 365, a year-round content creation initiative to stay connected to our community, but also to help mentor and guide those individuals, who might not be ready for the big stage at RSAC, to hone their skills during the year.  

All these programs and initiatives are designed to show our support for DE&I. 

4. Based on current registrations, overall attendance, as well as participating media and analysts, RSAC appears to be stronger than in 2022. What do you attribute that to?   

Last year after moving the Conference to June, we had about 26,000 attendees. RSAC 2023 is already stronger across the board. We came into this year with a goal of attaining pre-COVID (2019) numbers of 43,000 attendees overall. I’m happy to share that we are currently trending above that number. We are seeing that individuals just want to get back together at live events. It’s time. The same is true with sporting events, concerts and conferences generally.  

That said, we will have strong health and safety protocols in place and will follow mandates issued by the city of San Francisco so that everyone can have a good time, be safe and learn in this environment.  

Regarding press and analysts, we are also trending toward hitting or surpassing 2019 numbers. We have more than 300 individuals registered so far this year. We also added a category for individual content creators, which has been a popular one. 

5. What is your one “can’t miss” keynote or session?  

The keynotes of course are the cornerstone of our program. There are some “tried and true” sessions, such as The SANS Institute’s “The Five Most Dangerous New Attack Techniques,” which has been presented many times previously that I’d highlight, as well as speeches from U.S. Deputy Attorney Lisa Monaco, science journalist Claire Malone and futurist Dr. Michio Kaku, to name a few. We have also invited four TED Talks speakers to present an abridged version of their TED Talks throughout the week. Those should be of great interest as well. 

6. What is your “secret tip” for PR or comms professionals looking to line up meetings with top reporters this year?   

We reviewed a bit of this during our Exhibitor’s Webcast recently. Here are some of the PR basics: Find the news hook. What is it you have to say that is trending in the news? And it needs to be more than an opinion. Be prepared to lead with data and research. It is so important to capture attention. Also, review the list of attending journalists and analysts and approach them well ahead of time. Finally for exhibitors, be sure to leverage and utilize our press rooms for 1:1 meetings which provide a quieter, more private spot than the booths.  

7. What are your recommendations for someone attending their very first RSAC?  

We have a new “first timer” program this year. On Sunday night from 5-7 pm, we are hosting a reception for those individuals who have never attended RSAC. We are combining that event with our Loyalty Plus program (those who have attended five or more RSAC events). This allows us to connect “newbies” with “RSAC veterans” to answer any questions. If you are new to RSAC, go to our website to review all our information and content, and to reserve a seat for any sessions that interest you.  

We have also created a new and improved mobile “experience” that will be helpful. This is not an app, but a way to navigate RSAC effectively and in a user-friendly way. Finally, are the common-sense tips: Wear comfortable shoes, pack a granola bar or other snack, and be sure to bring a water bottle. 

8. RSAC can’t be all work. What is your recommendation for a little R&R during RSAC this year?

That’s for sure. On our site, we provide a few pages of information in our Venue section. San Francisco is such a great walking city, so I always advise folks to get into town a day early if possible, to check it out. Another great spot for unwinding and getting some fresh air is the Yerba Buena Gardens right across from the Moscone Center. I highly recommend that. Finally, my favorite thing to do post-event is to book a spa appointment – nothing better!