Friday, January 6, 2012

The ABCs of the CES (Consumer Electronics Show): An Abbreviation on Steroids and Why PR Professionals Should Get Pumped

OK. So maybe after 45 years and countless interactions with marketing professionals the Consumer Electronics Show aka CES, a somewhat clunky if accurate title with the verbal weight of a 60s vacuum cleaner, could use a bit of retooling. Even the shortened letters CES which the event has come to be known by, stand for other lovely little gems like: the Center For Epidemiologic Studies, Cholesterol Embolization Syndrome, and the Compulsive Eating Scale, to rattle off a few.

But here’s one thing to chew on – compulsive eating aside. Whatever the annual event lacks in nomenclature flavour it has made up for in word-of-mouth buzz. The approaching annual winter gala from January 10-13, held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, has grown from a meager 17,500 attendees to become a temple of consumer electronic and digital gadgets, beckoning all to come ooh and ahh at the tech world’s latest and greatest. Ever wonder what the Blu-ray Disc, the 1975 Pong home version by Atari, and 3DTV have in common for instance? All groundbreaking technologies were introduced to the public at this must-attend gathering.

Increasingly, though, the event, which already attracted nearly 130,000 in 2011, (and is forecasting 150,000 this year) is casting an even wider audience net now. This is exactly why communication professionals – even ones who don’t feel their clients exactly fit the technological bill – should be lining up to attend in what ever way they can, be it in-person visually or virtually via Facetime, Skype, Twitter, and whatever else they’ve got.

The widening net is a natural response to the changing nature of the gadgets themselves. For much of the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, computer and video game talk dominated the CES. This was especially the case in 2005 when Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, as a keynote speaker, inadvertently caused an infamous PC staple – the “blue screen of death” when unveiling the new Windows Media Center. Today’s smart devices, razor-thin TVs and other must-have gizmos demonstrate a waning of this trend while highlighting another: the continued blurring of technological lines and smartening up of devices as new products literally talk to one another and whose functions become embedded with each other. Some like to call this the “digital loop.” Dell has been a CES no-show for four years already, and Apple backed out before that, choosing instead to launch its own New Year product extravaganza later in the month and Microsoft says it will be powering down its floor room both in 2013.

Fitting this change, this year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the Chairman of Daimler AG and Head of Mercedes-Benz. What does an automaker have to do with electronics and gadgets other than what’s under the hood, you ask? Everything – if consumers expect to be able to seamlessly link their smartphones, their hands free blue tooth receivers, their digital address books, their daily schedules, their music and whatever else is churned out next to onboard computer technology. Whether it’s cars or cameras, and anything that doesn’t start with a ‘c’ in between, any communication devices that help our clients get out their message is something that as public relations professionals we should be vigilant in investigating and learning more about.

There’s been much written about technological reluctance from companies, especially as it relates to the power and reach of social media. Attending and learning about the latest toys that integrate function and communication are a great way to get a start on the new year – as clients continue fleshing out their in-house and out-sourced 2012 marketing and promotional strategies.

But like any successful trade show – even ones that are as device dependent as the CES – the quality of the several-day event is equally rooted in the power of human connection. Like Jeff Levick, Chief Advertising Officer of Spotify, a UK-based streaming music service, said in a recent Ad Age article, “You could spend six months meeting all your clients and customers, or you can do it in six days." So for all the talk of world-changing and client-pleasing ad-ons, or accelerometer-less fitness-tracking digital watches, simply attending the Vegas show should be numero uno on your New Years resolutions list, particularly if you’ve been meaning to attend.

So maybe the Consumer Electronics Show is a dated event title. But there’s no denying that the mass meeting of tech and marketing minds alike will create a heck of a lot of Cool Entertaining Synergy. That’s what’s really behind the CES after all.

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