January 12th, 2012
I’ll bet you one of my children that numerous exhibitors at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show are standing in their booths today asking “why?”
“Why am I here?”
“Why did we think this show would be a good vehicle to announce news?”
“Why are we not getting any attention?”
“Why should I do this again?
To the last query, I would answer: You shouldn’t.
While I think CES is a fun show to wander, I am not a fan of CES to communicate company news. In fact, I am not much of a fan of any large-scale trade show as a place to be heard at any level.
Yes, we have clients attending the show and, yes, we are communicating on their behalf before and during CES. But it wasn’t our first choice.
And it shouldn’t be yours.
Literally hundreds of companies thought issuing news and doing some level of promotional activities at CES would pay dividends. The majority of them wasted their time, energy and budget because they believe that they will be rise above the boisterous conversations at this industry event. Sure, it would be nice to capture the industry attention while everybody is in one place but that is a dream for the vast majority of companies that flock like lemmings to Las Vegas.
The days of the tradeshow are numbered in my opinion and I am not alone. Apple long ago pulled out of CES and Microsoft announced plans this year that the 2012 CES would be its last. Hey, I am not dogging CES alone. I’ve been attending trade shows for nearly 30 years and we have represented several events including a five-year run with the RSA Conference and this year’s forthcoming Open Networking Summit. Industry events have a definite place in the landscape. For certain (read: large) companies, they can be effective as communications’ vehicles. For the majority, however, not so much.
Back in the day, major shows like CES and Comdex were “must drop” events, meaning every company no matter what size or how important would drop news at the show. Period. Also back in the day, we did some pretty wild things to break through the growing clutter at shows including conducting an actual funeral for a product that competed with a client’s offering. As recently as last year, we did sky writing over an Apple industry conference. Both were effective but for different reasons.
The funeral was a hit because we broke the rules and created a stir on the show floor. ‘Nuff said on that. The sky writing was a huge success because it was in the physical world outside the show and the event was concentrated on a single venue. Venue “creep” ultimately helped doom Comdex and it makes it hard to break through the noise. Noise and size doom attention seeking small and mid-size companies.
When it comes to maximizing communications activities at shows, we counsel clients to view them strategically:
> Don’t use a show to communicate long-form information – you will only get brief attention spans from influencers and you run the risk of not being heard.
> Don’t make the show your focal point. Think of it as the period at the end of a sentence.
> Plan to get heard by influencers or other target audiences in advance of a show.
> Use that advance buzz to attract your audience during the event.
> Consider a two-pronged news approach in which the primary announcement drops 2-4 weeks in advance and a follow up “show announcement” reiterates the key points in a show wrapper
> Consider using social media as a means to connect with show attendees on site and build further buzz onsite – but don’t rely on at-show social as the primary vehicle for the same attention span challenges mentioned previously.
> Only undertake a creative attention-getting if it is actually creative and actually capable of gaining attention (most aren’t).
Of course, if you have a highly recognizable brand with a highly newsworthy announcement, a show like CES can be an effective part of your marketing mix. Few companies can claim that mantle and many of them are unfortunately left asking “why?” long after the event has concluded.