One of the best parts about attending trade shows and conventions as press, is the personal access we are given to products and their manufacturers. Being able to spend a bit of one-on-one time with the people behind the scenes allows us to better understand the products, as well as the vision of the companies behind them.
Unfortunately, one-on-one time comes at a huge premium – not only to the companies trying to schedule the meetings, but also to the writers who are rushing from meeting to meeting, trying to cram as much face time into their schedules as is humanly possible.
One of the more popular formats for maximizing exposure between press and presenters are “showcase events” such as Digital Experience and Showstoppers, events where a group of companies are organized by a promoter or PR company, so that the press can see the products and hopefully get a moment or two to speak to the company representatives present.
I have attended a fair share of these events over the years, and one thing that they all have in common is that they are always packed; even though the people attending are a mere fraction of those on the floor at the LVCC or Sands, it is still completely crowded and hectic. Trying to get any quality time with a company rep that you’ve established a past relationship with, much less meeting one that you are trying to establish a new relationship with, is at best – hit or miss.
The alternative and something most of us do, is schedule multiple days of one-on-one meetings. These are usually held in hotel suites, on the convention center floor, or in other leased locales. Relying on CES bus transportation, cabs, and the monorail to get to these meetings on time can be tricky and expensive, especially since we are competing with hundreds of others also trying to get to their own destinations. On the flip side, these meetings are held by company representatives who are repeating the same spiel multiple times a day to single attendees at a time, and as a result, they are most likely repeatedly answering the same questions. In other words, for every benefit associated with meeting one-on-one, there are just as many negatives for both sides.
This year I attended CNTRSTG, an event that was founded by Mike Temporale, Steven Hughes, Erik Hicks, and Johan van Mierlo. The guys running the show all have blogging backgrounds, and they understand very well the downsides to such a huge event as CES…
CNTRSTG @ CES evolved from conversations with online community leaders and companies at CES 2008 on how to make it better for everyone involved. We want to provide a location that is central to the convention centers at the heart of CES, a shuttle that actually services bloggers and companies to and from CNTRSTG as well as a cool place to hang out and get some work done.
Last year at CES we felt the need to provide the community with a way to meet with companies without the hassles of running up and down the Las Vegas strip to meet with the same companies wasting a few hours in useless traveling. So we talked to a few community leaders and companies and they immediately fell in love with the idea of having one place to present and have one on one time with influencers.
The contrast between the CES meetings and the CNTRSTG events was marked. The CES floor was completely packed, the hotels hosting events were bustling, finding locations for meetings was a bit challenging, and words like noisy, hectic, confusing, and draining could all be used to describe the experience.
The CNTRSTG suite was like an oasis. They had comfortable chairs set up, food, beverages, WiFi access – everything we needed to be productive without having to leave…unless we just really wanted to. At CNTRSTG, a relatively small group of writers (no more than 100 or so at any given time) were gathered in one location so that representatives from companies including HP, Microsoft, American Airlines, HTC, AMD, Eye-Fi, and others could have casual and interactive discussions with us about their products. We could come and go as we wanted, which made it easy to attend various CES events and still get back for CNTRSTG sessions.
This is Billy Sanez from American Airlines talking about their new in-flight technologies, and getting feedback from us about what technology services we would like to have during our flights. Some of the things mentioned as important by this audience included more power options, in-flight WiFi, and better in-flight entertainment options – not just in First or Business Class, but also in Coach. Billy listened to feedback on other topics as well, including AA’s pricing structure – even for things non tech-related, such as the $25 fee for checked luggage. One of the audience offered suggestions that I really liked was that there should be add-on services available when purchasing tickets online, which could include the checked luggage fee, adding Wi-Fi access (when available), a boxed lunch, drinks – all of the things that you have to either carry cash for or present a debit card to access on location.
Sessions were kept to manageable lengths, and days were broken up to focus on specific themes, namely Mobile PCs (Thursday), Home Electronics (Friday), and Handhelds (Saturday). While in sessions, we had access to CNTRSTG’s own ultra-fast wireless network so that we could either post about what we were hearing or even finish up other articles — multi-tasking at its finest.
There were other rooms available where we could sit out sessions and write, or upload photos without competing with a multitude of press’ or other hotel guests’ bandwidth demands.
Writing the Cocoon Innovations post at CNTRSTG on my Vivienne Tam laptop
In between speakers, writers had a chance to talk with each other and catch up on CES news. This was a great opportunity to network and meet other bloggers I “knew” from Twitter and their web sites, but had never met in person. There were plenty of sponsored give-aways going on, and some of the cool prizes offered were round trip airfare, HP mini-notes, and a Sony Xperia…among other things. I didn’t win anything, though.
It almost seemed as if CNTRSTG could have been a stand-alone show; in a lot of ways it reminded me of a Mobius event, mainly because of the relaxed atmosphere, access to vendors, and the format – lots and lots of open discussions between writers and company reps. I think that if CNTRSTG continues on as they have begun, it might become many writers main destination during the week of CES, instead of a CES side event.
I am looking forward to seeing what CNTRSTG has planned for CES 2010, and while there will obviously be other CES events occurring that I wouldn’t even consider missing – like this year’s Palm Keynote, next year I suspect that I will be spending a lot more time in the CNTRSTG suite.