Saturday, September 6, 2008

CEDIA EXPO: The Sub-Cultures of the Tech Trade Show

I'm often asked what our industry trade shows are like. Most people assume that because we deal with all of these fun "tech toys" and travel to spots like Las Vegas (or Denver, in CEDIA'S case) that it's all about a little bit of work and a lot of fun, schmoozing, and partying it up. While, yes, these shows are typically a good time, the fun is offset by the mounds and mounds of exhausting work. So what is it really like to be involved in a consumer electronics trade show?

I can tell you from first hand what it's like for us as members of the media to walk a trade show. A typical day will consist of lots of meetings, lots of booth tours, lugging around pounds and pounds of press kits (thank goodness for the thumb drive!) and camera gear, and doing a little writing in the press room in between walks. But what about those on the other side of the fence? The manufacturers, sales reps, and dealers?

I spoke to some industry members to get their perspective on the trade show experience. In essence, it's probably more tiring for the manufacturers and distributors because they're standing on their feet, all day long in the same spot. They talk to person after person, from journalists to potential new dealers; and occasionally meeting with existing ones, which is a welcome chance to sit down for a change. While sales reps and distributors are often found outside of a booth, it's likely only because they're running from one client to another, dividing their time as best they can among all of their exhibiting accounts.

Lunch? What's lunch? Walk around any trade show floor, including CEDIA, and you'll see guys in suits and ties crouched on a corner of the floor chowing down on a slice of cold pizza. Some might designate one guy to run and grab some real grub, but lunch can never consist of anything longer than 10 minutes.

Everyone typically has early morning meetings, followed by late night schmooze dinners with top dealers. And be warned: if your dealer likes to party, you'd better like it too, because you'll be getting home at about 3 a.m. (it would be rude to take off any earlier, after all), only to get up the next day and do it all over again.

Dealers probably have it best. The show's all about education, and getting schmoozed. They'll walk the floor to learn about new products, make deals with vendors, maybe take some courses, and then enjoy a nice meal or event, courtesy of a manufacturer or distributor partner. One former dealer told me that, prior to any show, it was his job to arrange the team's "social calendar" by calling up vendors and finding out what was going on each night.

So yes, there are parties and events that take place in the evenings to complement the full days of exhausting work. You'd think that after a 10-hour day on your feet, the last thing anyone would want to do is go to some bar. But many follow the mantra, "work hard, play hard". Your intention might be to grab a nice glass of wine and a decent steak dinner. But what often happens is that you'll run into a big client, some colleagues, or just fellow industry members that you know. Then one drink turns into several, the group gets larger as the night creeps on, and before you know it, you're rolling into bed just as the sun's coming up, catching about 2 hours of sleep before getting up for a big meeting the next morning. The smart, sensible ones hole themselves up in their hotel rooms right after dinner, avoiding the risk of any night time shenanigans.

But there is a positive side (other than a fun night) to sacrificing your sleep: those evening events are often great bonding experiences to talk to your peers outside of the standard, business environment. And this industry in particular is fantastic for a high level of comraderie, despite fierce competition. Last night, for example, we enjoyed an evening out with individuals from three major flat-panel TV manufacturers. In what other industry can a bunch of guys get together and have a genuinely great time when, in reality, they should be looking at each other as "the enemy"?

Trade shows also bode well for the rumour mill. At CEDIA, everyone was talking about next year's event, which will be moving to Atlanta. Are you happy with that? Do you prefer Denver? What about Chicago? Another rumour we've heard: the possibility that CES, which is already on everyone's minds as we wrap up CEDIA, could be moving to Orlando in 2010. Could it be true? Finally, many were buzzing that attendance at this year's event is down anywhere from 15-30% in comparison to last year. It will be interesting to see the actual numbers once they're revealed.

And there you have it: the consumer electronics trade show experience in a nutshell.

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1 comment:

Lee_D said...

Great post, Christine!

I had a great time, and had a lot of productive meetings, but I'm glad to be going home.