10.01.2019

Bringing Your “A” Game to CES

by Rich Gallagher

In discussing stage presence, legendary Las Vegas entertainer Roy Horn once said, “wear the cape; never let the cape wear you.” These same words ring true for brands facing down their first CES. Now in its 53rd year, the International Consumer Electronics Show encompasses nearly all of Las Vegas, welcoming 180,000 attendees and over 4,500 exhibitors every January. Thousands of tech brand marketers have kicked off many a new year with the annual big dance in the desert, but it can be an intimidating experience for the uninitiated. Read on to help your brand plan, produce, and execute a CES strategy that lets you wear the cape.

MUST HAVES

The most important letters in “news” are N-E-W. Attending CES can be a time consuming, expensive endeavor. So while it’s an agenda-setting show for tech press, it’s likely not worth attending if your brand doesn’t have anything new to offer. 

Of course, a new product reveal is ideal. CES was really created to showcase new consumer technologies for the entire year ahead. So if you’ve got a brand new product that’s been designed, tested, in production, and on the way to retail distribution — even if it won’t hit shelves until Q4 — you’re in great shape! But more than likely, you can only check a few of those boxes. If so, plan on exhibiting the most complete preview of your product you can. 

Good previews should include several working prototypes — you don’t want to miss out on valuable media opportunities because your only model can’t leave the booth. You should also have packaging designed, and professionally shot lifestyle photos of people actually using your device, for signage and your press kit. 

If you simply must market an already-available device at CES, tie in to a new trend. For example, at recent shows, we saw a lot of smart speakers, lighting and cameras remarketed with Alexa and Google Home compatibility, riding the trends of connected home and audio-enabled assistants.

THE WINDUP AND THE PITCH

A successful CES campaign lives or dies in the preparation done months ahead. If you’re waiting until leaves are on the ground to think through your brand’s media strategy at the show, you may be out of luck. We typically recommend our clients have their plans in place by the end of October.

Reporters also have to contend with the sheer size and scale of CES, so most of them will carefully plan their show weeks, or even months, in advance, using big brands’ tentpole press conferences as a Ouija Board to decide which halls they will visit on each show day. As such, your team needs to get the word out by early November, so the reporters most familiar with your space have a shot at seeing your booth. 

Trade magazines’ CES daily editions are usually put to bed by the end of November, leaving all but on-the-ground reporting from those big press conferences to the day of. Finally, official CES Innovation awards, and some large consumer tech publication awards, are adjudicated a week before the show opens, so you’ll want to enter for those in the Fall as well. 

THE OPENING ACT

No matter how well you prepare, it’s very easy to get lost among the sound and fury of massive booths on the show floor, especially in the Las Vegas Convention Center halls. Up-and-coming brands, and even established brands with a product that requires a more personal demo experience, should look into one of the scene-setter events conducted in the days before the show officially opens. 

Pepcom, CES Unveiled, and Showstoppers are all well-organized, established events that press make time for. Some will even get the bulk of their reporting for the week done through the scene-setters, and leave Vegas early in the week.

IF IT’S GONNA BE THAT KIND OF PARTY…

If you don’t meet any of the above criteria for new material, CES might not be the place for you. Far too many brands are enticed by the bright lights and big media coverage, only to find that their big investment simply didn’t pay off. But PR isn’t the only good thing to potentially come out of CES. The event could still provide a great opportunity for other key business objectives, whether it’s to get in front of retail buyers, network with potential investors, or meet with partners in your field. 

Your product may also demonstrate better off the floor — we’ve seen some great audio brands, alternate transportation tech, and even mobile security software use the backdrop of CES to creatively get their point across. Ultimately, you may not even need a booth to wear the cape. Book a hotel suite, host a dinner, or find another way to take advantage of having the who’s who of the tech community all in one place. And whatever cape you wear…make sure you’ve got comfortable shoes that match. It’s a long day on the show floor – trust us, your feet will thank us.