CES 2007 Suggestions for Improvement
Doesn't leave a whole lot of time for fun.
But that doesn't mean we don't have any. You can't help but get excited when you see a product that pushes the boundaries, implements something in a completely new way, or plain invents a new genre. Word of products like that get around like hot cakes. Your friends call you, the press room is abuzz with talk, and, if you're lucky, you're one of the first to report on it. The newest projector or receiver excites some, but an R2-D2 shaped projector/DVD player/iPod dock… well that brings out the kid in all of us.
But there are dark forces at work, evil forces that do their best to suck the fun out of the event. Here's a couple of the most (and some of the less) obvious ones:
Event Coordinators: One would think that press would be welcomed at CES. One would think that when they set up the wireless network in the press room that it would have enough bandwidth to handle all the press they know have registered. One would also think they'd have enough chairs for said press to sit on for lunch. They'd also think that since the press are spending every possible moment on the show floor anyways, they'd keep the press room relatively clear of manufacturers' displays (and not give, say 2/3 of the floor space to Verizon). One would think that they'd have some sort of food available all day instead of only between 12 and 1 so that every member of the press wouldn't feel it necessary to come running to the press room or risk not eating that day. One would be wrong.
Marketing Clones: There is a source for all the marketing people out there, and if we find it and drive a gold stake through its heart, they'll all shrivel up and die. But until then, we'll just have to kill them one at a time. If there was a theme of this year's CES, it was "Lazy." I've never had more marketing people hand me a card with a website printed on it when I asked them for their press kit. Most of the time, the website isn't even their own - it's the CES press website which I already know about because I'm, uh, Press you idiot. The sad fact is that over half the time, the new products aren't even on the website they give you. I need that information so I know what your new products are about. And if you expect me to sit there and write down every single spec on all 40 of your "new" displays, you're seriously mistaken. I've got a whole show to cover, if I did that for every booth, I'd cover Samsung and Panasonic before I ran out of time. I don't think that's exactly what the Audioholics audience wants to read.
Pointers: There's a special breed of booth employee that is so disinterested, so bored with their pathetic little lives that they've lost the will to even move. The only reason they're at the show is because someone placed them on a dolly and rolled them in there. When you ask them about their new products you'll get something like, "Well, we got some new speakers over there… you see that black one sticking up behind the brown one? I think that one is new. And there may be a new DVD player that way… I think it is silver?" And when I say that I'm covering the show live, that we have over 1 million readers a month, and that if they'll get off their duffs long enough to show me the products I'll write them up and have them on the Internet within 48 hours they say, "Huh? Sorry, I was too busy being self absorbed and stupid. Could you repeat that in Idiot for me?" Fun times.
So, if you're wondering why your favorite manufacturer wasn't covered, consider shooting them an email and request that they employ booth people that don't have stools growing out of their butts.
Magicians/Announcers: I like magicians as much as the next guy. I've even been to the Magic Castle enough that I'm on a mailing list for free tickets whenever I want. But at CES, some manufacturers have decided that it was a good idea to give a magician a bullhorn in order to attract a crowd to their booth. Sometimes it works, but mostly it doesn't. As bad as that is, some of the presentations that are made "out on the floor" are so loud and obnoxious (or soft and boring) that it just drives people away. I've been to some that were so bad that the offer of free t-shirts couldn't keep the crowd through the entire presentation. Regardless, if you're going to have a presentation, you need to do it right. A Carrot-top impersonator with a bullhorn isn't right. It is oh so wrong.
Walls: Most avid Audioholics will know to whom I refer but for those that don't, read the site more! Some manufacturers HATE the press. Actually, that's not true; they hate most of the press. So they build up walls around their booths and refuse to let anyone in that isn't a buyer or an invited member of the press. Hey, I understand wanting to have good coverage, but to keep out all but your sycophantic press under the guise of "we're here for the buyers/installers, not for the press" is just plain hooey. Grow a pair and let us in. Or we'll just have to keep sneaking in and mocking you.
Off-Site Booths: It is a long standing tradition to have separate venues for the high-end audio manufacturers. And it sucks. We hate it. What, are they too good for the rest of the crowd? The fact is that for the most part the listening environments aren't any better, the venues are hard to reach, and honestly, it is just more trouble than it is worth. If you want to have a good demo, you need a good room. A hotel room is a bad room (especially when they won't let you move the furniture). Get a booth on the show floor, set up a room with treatments and everything, then demo your speakers every half hour or so. But that'll never happen. They don't want their high end buyers to know that they can get speakers that sound nearly as good (sometimes much better) for a fraction of the price. The want to keep that big money confined to a small space so that they get the dealers focused on only ultra high-end $100,000 and $75,000 speakers and electronics.
Long Demos: I'm press. Other attendee include buyers, manufacturers, and (I'm guessing) more than a few Joe Q. Public that got in through a friend. Of these, only Joe Q. would be interested in spending a couple of hours listening to your marketing spiel before getting to the 15 minute listening demo. You've got 5 minutes to impress me. If I'm impressed, invite me off-site for a longer demo. Don't trap me in a room with a bunch of sweaty, stinky, sleep deprived camera jockeys. I'm tired, I'm hungry, and if your demo doesn't put me to sleep, I might just go postal.
Allowing Pictures: Why exactly did you come to a trade show if you don't want coverage? Are you honestly telling me that the tens of thousands of dollars you spent on your booth is simply for the benefit of the people at CES? There's no way that' going to pay off for you in the long run. CES is the biggest trade show on earth (or so I'm told) and it only has around 150,000 attendees. Some subset of them actually walks by your booth. A smaller subset stops to look. An even smaller subset has any interest at all. So you're down to… what… 25,000 if you're lucky? Probably less? But believe it loyal Audioholics reader; I've been personally chased away from a booth because they didn't want pictures. But they said they'd give me stock ones if I wanted to report on them. I didn't and I didn't. Jerks.
But it isn't all bad. There are some real strengths out there that should be capitalized on and imitated by others:
Marketing People with Personalities (MPP): As I've mentioned, there is very little to be desired about interacting with the subhuman breed known as the Marketing Rep. But occasionally you'll run into one that has a) a brain, b) a personality, or c) both. This rare breed will realize on some level the amount of pain you have and will experience in order to cover the show. They'll sympathize… or even empathize with you and take pity. They'll hand you marketing material, they'll walk you to the latest and greatest (meaning NEW - most marketing people think new=stuff they know about. We covered you at CEDIA, we want what is new since then). This MPP will walk over to a wall of displays and say, "These are new for CES. Everything you need to know about them is in the marketing material I already gave you. However, it is important to remember...." and they'll bullet point a couple of the real exciting features. Then it is a few moments for pictures (they may even run interference for you so the pics go faster) and off to the next product. They won't waste your time with old products, long diatribes about how LCD's work (I know, I'm in the business, can we move on?), or demos of indeterminate length and validity. This person will know the product, can answer questions about it, or will know who to talk to in order to get the answers. They will let you get your answers and then shepherd you to the next new product.
Press kits on thumb drives: CDs are OK but thumb drives rule. Put your marketing material on a thumb drive and not only will you have a line out the door to pick them up but they'll actually read it out of guilt. 'Cause you know we're just going to erase it and use it for ourselves. But that's OK because we covered your product and that was the point wasn't it?
Placards with the Words "Coming in _____" and "MSRP: $______": Placards announcing the ship date tells us a) it is a new product, and b) when it will be shipped. This, along with the price (even if you list "approximately") is what every member of the press is interested in. Do this constantly, and you can fire half those "marketing people."
Booth Babes with a Clue: I like pretty girls as much as the next guy but I'm here to cover the products. Don't hire some bimbo to stand next to a product and spout a few specs. You know I'm going to ask questions. Occasionally (and this happened most notably at Auralex at my first CEDIA) they'll hire someone with a brain in their heads. Then you end up with a beautiful girl that will draw in the people that can actually answer questions. A home run in the CES world.
Sense of Humor: It's been a long conference, lighten up. I'm tired… you're tired… when I say, "So, will this new gadget boil water too?" give me a courtesy laugh. You'll feel better, I'll feel better, and it'll make the day go by faster.
Well Laid Out Booths: Some booths *cough, Sony, cough* are laid out like a roach motel: Press get in, but they can't get out. Few access points, fewer egresses, narrow halls, and more employees than you can shake a stick at. You can't move, can't get a picture without someone's elbow or face in it, and the whole experience is just miserable. Open spaces are essential around new products along with multiple units on display. Oh, and I understand the need for glass over a prototype, but if you're going to have a security guard standing there anyhow, have them lift the glass for the press. It's impossible to get a really good pic through Plexiglas.
Is this a definitive list? By no means. The light and dark side constantly battle for supremacy. They come up with new tactics and countermeasures all the time. No need to think they'll stop any time soon. Would it be nice if CES was housed under one roof (or at least within walking distance)? Would it be preferable if every demo was short, every rep happy to see you, and every smile genuine? Yes. Is it going to happen? No. But that's won't stop me from complaining any more that running into 500 straight mostly silicone "employees" that seem not to know anything about the company they work for much less the products they're touting is going to stop me from asking them: "So, what can you tell me about how your company solved the problem of the instability in the flux capacitor in order to maintain a stable warp field?" Someday, one of them might actually get the joke.