An open letter to future CES PR people

Another year, another CES in the rear view mirror. This year’s was especially infuriating in a number of ways—none of them bad enough to get me to reconsider coming again, but enough to delay my writing more than usual.

So in the interest of future harmony, my recommendations to all PR people at future CES shows (which if I’m feeling saucy, I might put into my email signature next year).

For the love of God, bring USB sticks

Wifi at some hotels in Vegas is capped at 1 Mbit, and some of the “fast” ones are 10 Mbit. The most depressing possible answer to “do you have a press kit?” is “yes, it’s on our website.” This is especially the case if the big blue button to download it all at once includes a folder with a gigabyte of videos. That’s over two hours on wifi. If I tether to my phone, 25 minutes and $10 on Google Fi.

I’m on deadline and I have 200 booths in my bag. I’m only going to bother downloading yours if you’re very interesting. Don’t you want my attention if you’re just moderately interesting, so I can read your press kit to see if you make the cut?

You’re spending at least $25,000 to be at CES, sometimes much more. A USB stick costs fifty cents. Bring five hundred.

At least have a decent website for the purpose

If you must send me to your website, have a link on your home page that says “Press” or “Media,” and when I click on it, show me a link that says “CES press kit.” Include digital-only pictures and press releases, and put it all in a zip so I don’t have to go rabbit hunting on your site to see what I’ll need. Far faster for me to do that on my own drive. Make your TIFFs and videos a separate download. Yes, I know you spent a ton of money on your video, your aunt thinks it looks great, and maybe your boss gets a cameo. If video isn’t required to demo your product (almost no products meet this criterion), we don’t care.

(And what is up with people posting WebP images this year? I can’t do anything with those. JPEG or PNG.)

I don’t see why you love QR codes. My phone can understand those, but I don’t want your materials on my phone. I don’t know if my Mac can deal with them because I don’t wave random objects in front of my camera.

If you don’t have a decent website, be available 24/7

I just cut two companies from my story because the press reps didn’t get back to me in the four hours I was writing it. At 1 AM Eastern Sunday. Who’s more annoyed that I wrote a paragraph and had to delete it because I couldn’t find a price or release date? Me, or the company that paid thousands for that paragraph? The answer to this, of course, is to have a decent press section on your website. If all you have is “feel free to email us,” well, don’t sleep much during or soon after CES.

If you’re offering a review unit, do it in advance

I don’t want to get to your booth and hear, “We have review units, but we ran out.” Offer me one in advance by email, and then hold it for me. Review stories are in addition to my immediate news coverage; I get paid more to write them. A review unit will get me to stop by your booth if it’s likely to generate a story, especially if you’re innovating in a category of products I already know.

Don’t ask me to guarantee anything

No, I’m not going to promise to write about you. I’m especially not going to promise that if you give me a unit to review. Taking your review unit means, “I have an intent to review this, and a reasonable expectation my editor will buy the story.”

If I do write about you, it might be to mock you. This is not a reflection on you, it’s a reflection on your product or company. 90% of the time I don’t write about you, either I’ve decided you didn’t fit my audience (whatever my personal interest), or I did write about you and my editor cut it.

If you say one word that makes me think you’re intending a quid pro quo (usually, a valuable gadget for positive coverage), not only will I blackball the company you’re representing, but I’ll find out which PR firm you’re with and blackball all of your colleagues, because now I’m questioning the ethics of the people who hired you.

Don’t ask me to set a meeting unless it’s after-hours

When I arrive at CES, at best I know which days I’ll be at LVCC or the Sands. That’s likely to change on the fly. You have to be a fascinating story to get me to say I’ll be there at 3 PM. But if your executives are available at 8 PM, that’s off hours and you’re not cutting into my floor time. (You will be cutting into my writing time, so this isn’t exactly easy, but it’s easier.) Fancy Venetian suites are nice, but Starbucks is also fine.

Don’t ask me to notify you if I write about you

Google Alerts is your friend. I’ll sometimes do this during the rest of the year, but at CES I’m leaving here with a 5-inch stack of business cards and I’m only going to look yours up if I need you for something.

Make your booth viable for split-second decisions

Yes, booth materials are damned expensive. But if I walk past you and your booth is a table with a stack of flyers and a blank background, I have to fight through the crowd just to figure out who the hell you are. I never do. You want a large enough sign so I can tell from a distance of 10 feet whether to stop.

Make those displays count

Likewise, don’t tell me you’re the “first ever groundbreaking tech product” in the category. There are probably a dozen other people saying the same thing. Don’t use marketing-speak and hype. Don’t make outrageous claims, even if you deserve to. Provide enough specifics so I’m both interested in your product and have some reasonable trust in your company.

Best example of this: a pain relief booth in 2018 gave enough detail in their 10-feet materials that I stopped. When I asked my first question, “do you have peer-reviewed studies?”, the guy pulled out a three-inch binder of papers that said on the cover “#1 of 3.” He then asked, “do you also need the other two?” When I saw their booth again in 2019, I asked what was new.

If your booth isn’t on a grid, tell me how to find you

No one does this, and it would make so much difference. When I go to find your booth, I have a booth number, and I can look up and see that I’m on the 31300 aisle, or whatever. If I’m at booth 31324 and you’re at booth 31354, but there’s a multi-aisle booth between us, I have to hunt for you. Also sometimes the case if your booth is bisected from the main aisle by a diagonal path. You’ll have maps with the major booths in advance of the show. Tell me you’re “booth 31354, just past the BigCo booth in the direction away from the hall entrance.”

Have printed materials, and enough of them

Few people make this mistake, so when they do it’s galling. I can skim a flyer in 15 seconds, at which point you’re still clearing your throat. That gives me the salient points of what you’re pushing. If I’m interested, I’m going to want to take it with me (with a USB stick), because that piece of paper is another mnemonic. Have enough to last until Day 4 closing.

Bonus points: print on matte, not glossy paper. I might want to take pictures of your papers to scan them, and glossy paper will reflect the light and white out part of your page. Use a light background so I can scribble in the margins.

Small gifts are nice but won’t do you any good—usually

That giant bowl of Hershey’s Kisses isn’t interesting to me. It’s Vegas. I have all the desserts I want. At the moment you see me, I’ve walked 5 miles in a convention center where the coffee is $5. Give me a bottle of water or a fruit bar and I’m a happy camper. No, this won’t affect whether I write about you—but I will stop for 60 more seconds to chat, out of basic human decency, and that’s 60 more seconds you’ll have to get my attention. (Note: a cup of coffee takes at least five minutes to drink before I can walk without spilling it.)

Don’t hustle the aisles

My great-grandfather ran a haberdashery shop, and he used to stand on the sidewalk yelling at passersby, “You look awful. I can help with that.” Don’t do this. By the time I’ve registered you’re speaking to me, I’ve glanced at your booth and made the split-second yes/no decision. If it’s a no, you’re just going to force me to ignore you like a Salvation Army Santa Claus in August.

Don’t call me by my frickin’ name

Yes, I know, we’re all wearing nametags. You can say, “hey, Jeff!”, and I’ll glance in your direction. When I discover I don’t know you, I’ll be annoyed. I’ll be exceedingly annoyed if this is in combination with hustling the aisles.

Note: annoying me very much can demote your product from “reasonably interesting” to “hell no.” Happens at least once a year. This year a company who reliably gets my coverage was dropped because the PR rep blew me off before I knew their new stuff.

Know my publication and I’ll remember you, too

I don’t write for a marquee site—we’re extremely well-known in the Apple community, but not at CES, and we have a small but dedicated audience. If you’ve put in the legwork to know my writing or what the site generally covers, your preparation instantly puts you in the top 3% of people I’ve spoken to.

Listen to me

If I tell you I’m uninterested, it because my readers won’t care about you. Save your breath and go find a qualified prospect. When I say, “give me a minute to read your flyer,” don’t talk at me while I do that. I’m deciding if you’re interesting, I can’t listen and read at the same time, and I’ve decided I need more data more efficiently than your talking speed. Answer my subsequent questions and then let me get the hell out of your booth. I have more to see and you have more people to talk to. You don’t have to finish your patter, and my leaving early might mean that I’ve already decided to write about you unless you’re about to talk me out of it. (This has happened.)

Don’t tell me “the PR person has left the booth”

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of products I’ve seen in 12 years where I was willing to wait to talk to someone. Again, you’re spending five figures to be here. Have at least two people on hand, with one available during all show hours. (Exception: if you have only one person who can authorize a review unit or answer technical questions, that’s fine. Give me their card and preferably their cell number, and I’ll call them while walking to the next booth.)

For the love of God, bring USB sticks

Hell, bring a thousand. There are 4,500 journalists here. You might hit a home run.

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