May 28th, 2012
(Editor’s Note: We have been reflecting on the recent CTIA Wireless show since we built a presence for a variety of clients at the event earlier this month. Today, we have a two part post on the conference providing two sets of perspective on the event itself and how to maximize industry events in today’s world of communications.)
I recently had the opportunity to attend the CTIA Wireless show in New Orleans. Events like CTIA Wireless and RSA Conference are like Mecca– you have to go at least once if you are truly serious about the industry. I have been to half a dozen RSA Conferences in my life (disclosure: McGrath/Power represented the RSA Conference for several years) and never attended a one where I didn’t come away fired up about the security market. I was hoping to come away from CTIA Wireless equally energized. But after spending three days at CTIA Wireless helping out in client’s booths, managing interviews and talking with more than 50 people as part of an informal survey I was conducting, I came away feeling, well, a little bummed and a lot tired. There was so much negativity that I really wondered why people were even there. After reflecting on what I had heard, and reading the coverage from the show, it became clear to me why I felt this way. I had the wrong expectations for the show, as did a majority of the people with whom I spoke. So to make sure you don’t set the wrong expectations about CTIA Wireless, or any show in the future, here’s my perspective (and the industry’s) on what CTIA is and isn’t and why this should matter to you.
CTIA Wireless is about big issues, not big booths. I said not big booths! Though I can tell you, there were plenty of exhibitors that clearly thought taking a booth approach that resembled COMDEX circa 1996 was the right way to go. But I digress. Tara Seals of Vision2Mobile hit the nail on the head when she wrote “there’s no doubt that CTIA remains an important, dare I say critical event when it comes to North American policy and carrier strategy…it was a successful event from the point of view of advancing the industry conversation around a few key themes: spectrum policy; small cells and heterogeneous networks (HetNets); the value of wireless to economic development; T-Mobile’s future plans; carriers’ relationship to subscribers in a post-smartphone world; and mobile payments.” As a highly regulated industry, it makes sense that there would be a large focus on government’s plans for the wireless industry and the issues impacting the major carriers from a policy and business perspective.
At CTIA Wireless, the real value was in the sessions that took place in the mornings and evenings, not the activity on the show floor. What you didn’t see at the show was a vibrant, business-driven show floor, at least from what I experienced and the conversations I had with people in attendance. Seals also noted “Some industry-watchers have opined that CTIA is simply ‘one trade show too many’ after the hugeness that CES and Mobile World Congress bring to the event schedule, and the foot traffic did seem a little light.” Let me weigh in here Tara. I would say extremely light, especially if you were there after 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday (show ended Thursday at 2:30 p.m.) There seemed to be more people approaching vendors on the show floor to pitch their own services and events than there were people looking for actual new solutions to evaluate or purchase. I had one conversation with a vendor who told me that he did not have a single good conversation with a prospect. Ouch. The resounding sentiment from everyone I spoke with on the show floor was that they really didn’t feel like much was getting accomplished, that there wasn’t much buzz on the floor, and that most companies were seemingly just going through the motions of “yet another tradeshow.”
So what does this all mean to your company? For starters, when planning your communications activities around a tradeshow, you have to take into account factors beyond the size of a show’s brand, the number of attendees and the names on a media and press list. You must align your communications objectives to what is actually achievable at an event. If it’s a show where the only meaningful result is gathering new content that can be used as part of future PR activities, then make that the goal and execute as creatively as possible. It’s also critical that you define metrics for success that go way far simple deliverables like the number of briefings you secure at a show. At McGrath/Power we believe that briefings at a show that have no chance of netting tangible results (coverage, future media or blogging opportunities, stronger 3rd party endorsement) are a waste of time for the company and not fair to the influencers.
To close on CTIA, if you read the industry coverage, you get a sense that the show served its purpose. If you talk with people that were walking the show floor, you get the sense that the show was more or less a fail. So it appears one group clearly had a set of expectations, and those were met, while the other group had the wrong expectations, so they could never be met.
For a great take on the winners and losers from the show, I recommend this analysis from the editorial team at FierceWireless.