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What were they thinking?

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By Gordon Meyer
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As I’m writing this, it’s Christmas week 2011 and the countdown to the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show has begun.  While I’ve had my press registration approved since August, the real deluge of invitations from exhibitors generally begins right after Thanksgiving and this year is no exception.  I love getting queries from publicists who actually know what they’re doing because it can save me a lot of time when going to a trade show as massive as CES.  With thousands of exhibitors to choose from, I’ve found that it pays to map out my daily agenda well in advance so I can cover a lot of ground as efficiently as possible.

Some of the media receptions at CES are incredibly valuable for me because even though the actual booth size is miniscule compared to the main show floor, there will usually be a slew of companies that I want to see anyway concentrated in one easy to navigate area and with the PR people readily available with information and often product samples.  Last year I traded a piece of chocolate for a Bluetooth headphone.  No kidding!

Here’s how I map out who I’m going to see and when.  The first thing I do is to go through all the emailed invitations and log the exhibitors I am most interested in on an Excel spreadsheet that includes booth location and any special notes.  I can then sort everything by location so I can book meetings based on where I’m going to be during the show.  I then prioritize based on how much I think my readers would be interested as well as what tickles my fancy personally.  And yes, I admit to being human here.  My priorities are also influenced by how well I’m treated by these publicists, especially if they’re hosting an event I’d like to attend.

Monster Cable is a good example of a company that tends to take good care of the press, especially those who attend their pre-show press conference.  They usually have some interesting product announcements so it’s well worth it for me to check them out and on the way out they hand out tickets to their annual Dealer Appreciation event, which this year includes a private concert by Earth Wind & Fire.  (very cool!)

Motorola is at the opposite end of the spectrum.  When I learned they were hosting a media event, I contacted them so my name could be added to the guest list, but the in-house publicist took her time responding until I texted her cell.  She directed me to someone else at Motorola (email only, no phone #) who didn’t bother to respond.  Instead I got an email from an anonymous publicist at their agency inviting me for a booth tour, but totally ignoring my request to attend their event.  Long story a little shorter, I eventually got an email from one of Motorola’s in-house media relations people who informed me that their event was already at capacity, “but we’ll be happy to schedule a booth tour.” By this time, I felt so jerked around because of the number of hoops I had to go through to ultimately be turned away, visiting Motorola has become a much lower priority who I may or may not get around to see.  I’ll definitely be visiting many of their competitors though.

There are the publicists who send pitch letters, but fail to adequately describe the products their clients will be showing off at CES and/or don’t bother to include any location information.  In other words, if I’m at all interested in what they have to offer, I have to take extra steps to secure the information they should have included in the first place. 

Other companies plan press conferences mid-show at off-site locations like Trump Towers or the Wynn Hotel without providing any kind of shuttle service to and from the convention center.  This adds at least an extra hour of travel time (to and from) that we could otherwise be using to visit other exhibitors, not to mention the cost of cabs.  And they wonder why these events are sparsely attended.

Then there are agency publicists who give you their business cards with all their agency contact info, but no mention of which client they were representing.  I probably collect over 100 business cards during CES.   If the exhibitor’s name isn’t on the card (even if it’s hand-written) I will have forgotten why I even spoke with them and toss the card.

To any publicists who may be reading this, do us humble journalists, yourselves and your clients a big favor.  Make it a priority to do everything you can to make our jobs easier by providing us with all the pertinent product and logistical information.  Encourage your clients to participate in the “mini-trade show” press receptions.  Make it easy for us to attend your press events by scheduling them either at the convention venue itself or pre-show so we can minimize the amount of time we spend off the show floor.  Your efforts will pay off in spades.

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