The CES Pitch

2009 is rapidly approaching, and as a 10 year veteran of CES I’ve seen it from many different angles. I’ve been there as a tiny underfunded startup using a hotel room to do all demos and I’ve taken center stage in a multi-million dollar booth. I’ve attended as press and I’ve pitched the press. From virtually every perspective, CES is an exhilarating and exhausting process. I love it. With the massive surge in blogger registrations at this year’s show, I’ve also noticed more than usual complaints about the pitching process, so as someone who sits on both sides of the fence, I thought I’d share some observations and suggestions.

“The List”

picture-11Have you seen the press & blogger list at CES? It’s pretty unbelievably large, with 3398 identified members of the media, and there’s no way to get off the list, even if you aren’t coming to the show anymore. So these 3398 people are all getting pitched by the 2700 exhibitors. This means we have a ton of noise, with virtually no signal.

“The Prune”

Any half-decent marketer’s first task with the list was culling it. Got a mobile gadget? Get rid of the home AV bloggers and media. Got a speaker? You can ignore the auto guys. Unfortunately it seems that most companies didn’t do such a great job pruning. For my personal blog, I was surprised to get contacted by PR reps with products that were way out of my typical coverage area. It may seem like a lot of work, but internally we managed to pare down the list by 90% in less than a day, and it was time very well spent.

“The Outreach”
If slicing up the media list is a science, then writing the outreach pitch is absolutely an art. My favorite pitches to receive are (1) short, (2) funny/entertaining, (3) direct & to the point, and (4) contain all the information I need to act on (especially including links!). Considering the hundreds of emails the typical CES media person is receiving, the more the pitch can stand out from the crowd yet still convey the necessary info, the better. The worst pitches I’ve received don’t include URLs for more information, try to be too coy or clever, try to make mountains out of molehills (if you sell CD storage cases, you simply don’t have EXCITING NEWS AT CES this year), or otherwise complicate the process.

“The Followup”

I don’t have as much of a clear rule here. There are times when the follow-up is useful, warranted, and welcome. Others it’s annoying and borderline harassing. My recommendation to all is no more than one follow-up email, and no phone calls unless the individual has made it clear they *want* phone calls. Don’t send 5 reminders, because nobody likes a pest. I do appreciate those who send a quick extra note with their contact info and a reminder of where at CES their booth/demo is, and leave it in my hands to make the decision.

JT and Scoble

“The Meet”

There’s no better way to screw it all up than meeting the blogger/journalist in person, and then asking them some question that utterly reveals you have no idea who they are. I don’t care how you handle it, make a cheat sheet, print something out in the morning, but if you’ve taken the time to ask me to see your demo, you can take the time to be *remotely* familiar with my blog. I don’t expect you to have ready today’s post, but you should know something about me or my style or my content. At the same time, I think bloggers who schedule appointments for demos/briefings should also take the time to read the materials/website for the company/products they plan to see – it’s a two-way street.

“The Close”

Following up after the show is your job, not that of the blogger. If you promised someone a review unit, it’s on your to-do list, not theirs. Also, you should make a point of reading their coverage of the show prior to the follow-up. If they didn’t write about you during the show, don’t be hurt or offended, and by no means should you close the door. Similarly, if you are a blogger and your brief mention of a company hit your “CES recap” post but doesn’t make their Press page, that shouldn’t be unexpected. For both sides to keep in mind: not every demo deserves a blog post from every blogger.

CES is a wacky time of the year for a couple of hundred thousand people. Many of us haven’t slept much since the Thanksgiving Break (or longer for our international visitors). I’d call it controlled chaos, but that implies one can control such a wild beast. That said, it somehow works. Those 96 hours are a magical time of year for me personally, and while I’m already tired of both receiving and giving pitches, I’m still getting revved up for the show. See you in Vegas!

5 Things I Learned from Nuclear Winter

Nuclear Winter. It’s the time period after a holocaust that can last for hundreds of years, making the surrounding landscape around ground zero uninhabitable due to radiation.

It is the death of life and the birth of a new holocaustic life. We’ve never actually had an actual nuclear winter on a global scale, though the threat is there as more and more nuclear weapons proliferate the globe. Many science fiction stories have been built around the concept of a nuclear holocaust and life after.

Although it’s a dark time, sometimes proverbial nuclear winters are necessary. They are the times when you throw away everything you know and begin from scratch. A chance at a new life. A rebirth. It’s a time to correct all that is wrong and hopefully get on the right path over the long haul. Economists call it “corrections”. Historians call it the “end of an era” or the “decline of an Empire” – depending on the context.

As someone who is not experienced in an actual nuclear winter, let me describe a few things that I’ve learned from proverbial “nuclear winter”

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Photo by nogoodreason

1. All Assumptions are False

In a nuclear winter, life is not as you expect. Landmarks are gone. People you know are no longer in your world. You can no longer go to the grocery store and instead have to live off the land.

If you’re in a business that is facing massive layoffs, you cannot assume that the way things always have been will still exist in the world post-layoffs. You cannot assume that, even if you retain your job, your “new” job will remain as it was. You will likely end up giving up responsibilities due to business strategy objective shifts and maybe doing some new work due to the need to backfill for laid off colleagues.

You cannot assume that, because we’ve lived in a world of thriving internet startups, that you the lay of that land will remain the same in an economic holocaust. You can’t. It’s just not a safe assumption. Ask Seesmic.

2. Live Off the Land

In a nuclear winter, as described earlier, you simply can’t go to your Whole Foods and buy your hipster organic food. The reality is is that even if you could go buy organic food, it’s likely tainted from the fallout in the water, ground and air. No, you live off the land. You find the bugs and plants that carry an innate immunity to radioactivity or that have evolved enough to live and thrive in a nuclear landscape. Because you have to survive, and that’s more important than getting your Venti Soy Chai at Starbucks (that don’t exist).

More and more companies that continue to emerge these days are bootstrapping. Companies like AwayFind, who launched the other day, are bootstrapping and not taking angel investing or venture capital to stay alive. They are not taking a devaluation just for the infusion of cash. They are succeeding the old-fashioned way – a method that might take a lot more runway, but that ensures that 100% of the value of the company is retained by the principals. If you can live off the land, do it. It might be awhile before you find yourself a Starbucks in the nuclear wasteland.

3. There is Always a Remnant

During any nuclear winter in any story, you’ll always find a remnant. It might just be a small village of survivors that are doing their best to build a community and survive. They may have built a wall of scrap metal around their community to keep raiders away, but they are surviving.

At critical times where the status quo is challenged, the companies that are the hardiest and most cost-efficient are the ones that survive. While companies like AIG require an infusion of cash (or, as I call it, a crutch) to stay afloat they continue to splurge on non-necessities. Companies like this are doomed to failure.

While the auto-industry, built around an inefficient union mentality that, at one end, limits innovation because it de-incentivizes that innovation, and at the other hand overpays under-qualified individuals to do jobs that are worth half of their paychecks, struggles to figure themselves out, they will eventually have to declare bankruptcy. During that bankruptcy, they will be forced to cut, by some estimates, 50% of their workforce while updating their approach to union labor to ensure survival. There will be a remnant, and that remnant will figure out what needs to happen to survive the wasteland.

4. That Bridge Used to be the 14th Street Bridge

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I’ve been playing Fallout 3 recently, which is set 200 years after a nuclear war between the United States and China. The setting is a region called “The Capital Wasteland” and is, in essence, the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region.

Throughout the game, you can find indications of what used to be. I recognized, in my wandering around the Capital Wasteland, a landmark that could only be the 14th Street Bridge. I would not have recognized it from anything other than geographical position. There were no distinguishing features and it was largely destroyed and falling into the isotope-filled Potomac River, but I knew it was the bridge.

Practices will change throughout life, but principles and patterns remain the same. It is the essence of the Chaos Theory which states that though the universe appears to be full of chaos and disorganization, it is entirely made up of fractals and patterns at an atomic and sub-atomic level. More simply, there are patterns and principles that remain true, though practice, execution and manifestation of those principles change.

In the communications, newspaper, and television industries, as well as many large businesses, people are wrestling with how to do business in a world that is dominated by the internet and then, only recently. They see chaos, where they should see patterns. The principles of public relations is to communicate effectively with the public. The practices of public relations, however, are shifting and the ones that adjust are the ones that will survive that nuclear winter.

5. Know Your Immune System

In a nuclear winter, there’s no one looking out for survivors except the survivors themselves. If there are doctors, they are few and far between. If there is a support community, you have to look hard and not trust anyone. It’s the nature of the new dog eat dog world that such a holocaust causes.

Companies right now are scrambling to figure out “what’s up”. They are looking at their profit margins, cash in hand and extending their runways as far as they can extend them. Investors are reassuring their portfolio companies that there should be a way to survive if they are smart and proactive, but the reality is that in a nuclear winter, no one really knows.

Even if a portfolio company manages to get that C-round and the $15M investment they need, it will be on a down valuation. In layman speak, that means it becomes, in essence, a high-interest loan where the company gets the cash they need but give up a larger stake in the company to make it happen.

The big banks are getting bailout money, but giving up controlling stakes in their companies in some cases. Rollups are likely with smaller companies needing an infusion of cash. People are being reassured that they will retain their jobs, and being laid off the week after. You can trust no one in a winter except yourself. I reiterate my recommendation from a few weeks ago, though. If you have a stable job, stay in it. If you are an entrepreneur, don’t seek shelter in a stable job. Survive, survive, survive…. then rebuild.

Facebook Spam Pitches

There’s a new form of social media spamming happening in the name of PR social media relevance. It is the art of the Facebook “tag”.

If you’re fortunate enough, you’ve been hit with this spam a dozen times in the last week. It is shadiness at it’s best and I will not hesitate to out PR individuals or firms, regardless of how much “clout” they have in the social space, if they do this to me again. It will not be automatic, although it might be. You’ve been warned.

The spam is a nifty little trick where you publish an event, group or picture of a product, service or event. Pretty typical Facebook activity, really.

Spamming PR people then use Facebook’s “tag” feature, something that is more in context for photos where you can tag someone that is in the photo and they receive a notification that they’ve been tagged. People like me are tagged in Facebook content where we have no context with the expectation that we will be notified of the content (event, whatever) and will click through and maybe cover their product.

So. Not. Cool.

Facebook, can you please put some granular privacy controls including “Friend groups” and “Group privacy” to allow us to control who can tag us, or rather who can NOT tag us?

Also, it would be fantastic if we could flag inappropriate conten t with cause. I would flag such spam content (which isn’t necessarily spammy, to be clear, just how it is delivered to us is) with the explanation that the content was delivered as a spam PR pitch.

PR firms, shape up. You are not relevant just because you connect with us on Facebook. Give us some credit.