The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has become one of the most anticipated and acclaimed events of the year, bringing technology enthusiasts from around the world to Las Vegas to see what’s new and hot in the tech space. However, it has also become one of the most crowded.
PR professionals and brands alike recognize the immense influence and exposure that CES brings — so it’s no surprise that the question we get most often from our technology clients is, “should I launch a new product at CES?”
We know this can be a difficult and financially-complex decision for any company to make, which is why it’s important to have a PR partner who knows the ins and outs of CES and can help you make the best decision for your brand. Here is a quick-question cheat sheet for analyzing if a CES launch is right for your product:
- Is your brand well-known? Have you had product press coverage in the past? While we know that CES is very crowded and a prominent launch platform for some of the biggest players in the tech game, there is plenty of room for small- to medium-size brands to successfully launch. If your brand is not as well known in the tech world as Sony and has not yet secured top-tier press coverage like IBM Watson, we suggest building press momentum and cultivating relationships with key reporters before CES. This ensures that key targets attending CES have heard of your brand before, which can help lock in more briefings during the show. From providing embargoed updates, scheduling pre-launch demos, seeding the launch with content placement that advocates the need of a product like yours and more, it’s important to build a foundation for your brand pre-conference.
- Have you launched other successful product(s) before? If you’re not a startup launching your very first product, then being successful at CES means you’ve got a pretty good track record of launching products. It’s important that your product launch history is stellar and you continue to generate positive product review coverage. It’s unlikely that you’ll secure coverage if reporters are skeptical to promote your new product because you’ve had trouble with past products — whether that be consistently missing GA dates, issuing product recalls, running out of funding and more. Media want to know that your brand and product line is reputable and sustainable for the long term.
- Is your product truly unique from other products on the market and does it solve a big consumer pain point? This is such a sensitive question that we ask, and we know it’s hard for clients to hear. But we have your best interest in mind. Before we encourage your brand to invest thousands of dollars to launch at CES, we’re going to take a very hard look at your product to determine if it will truly stand out from other products and is unique enough to garner press coverage at CES. The most CES-media worthy products are those that solve a current consumer need in a cost-effective way, position a smaller brand as the “next best thing” to rival a big, mainstay brand, or can be classified into the five areas predominantly covered at CES — smart, connected, autonomous, predictive and virtual / augmented.
- Will your product be ready for pre-CES demos by mid-October? A CES launch strategy has many moving parts, and we strongly recommend hosting product demos with key tech reporters before CES even begins. This helps you cut through the noise, gives you a better chance to have a place in tech media’s planned CES editorial calendars and ensures that you’ll meet the deadlines for submitting to CES awards and media recognitions. Ideally, your product is ready for in-person media demos by end of October, and if applicable, we have enough product units to ship to media at the end of November for them to finalize a thorough review under embargo. Giving media a pre-CES look also allows us to get initial reactions from media and helps the team refine launch messaging to address the biggest questions media has asked.
- What is the general availability (GA) date of your product? In a perfect world, your product would be simultaneously available to purchase as the wave of CES coverage hits . The media coverage generated from CES is a huge catalyst for driving website traffic, making it the perfect time to convert eager browsers into purchasers. For example, the coverage from one product we launched at CES tripled the number of site sessions over a two-day time span, in which 75% of visitors were new site visitors. If your product will not be available for purchase at launch, it’s important that you give media a realistic timeline. We know that when you’re building a product, deadlines often get moved, which is why we recommend putting a seasonal date to your expected GA, such as late summer or early winter, instead of a physical date. This ensures you don’t mislead media or buyers, and gives us a chance to keep the lines of communication with media open via frequent product updates. If your product will not be ready for consumers to purchase for more than 15 months after CES, it’s very hard to secure coverage for that product and we would typically recommend not launching at CES.
When it comes to CES options, you can’t start planning early enough, especially if your company is planning on launching a new product. A bulletproof plan is critical to cut through the clutter and stand out from the crowd. To help you prepare, we’ve compiled a month-by-month timeline, that includes some hard-won tips and tricks, to help you organize your CES presence and set you on the path of a successful product launch.
- Begin thinking about securing your on-site booth space, and determine which section would best fit your brand. If you attended CES last year, this is something you can do while at the conference
- Scan and log recent CES coverage to find relevant media contacts for your upcoming product launch
- Scan and log recent CES award winners and evaluate different categories for your client to submit for leading up to CES 2018
- Research and secure a booth designer; determine what assets you currently have and what assets you will need
- Begin to organize booth design to best capture consumer attention; soft flooring, such as padded carpet, is key for those that will be working the booth and on their feet all day!
- Determine if b-roll needs to be shot to accompany your on-site booth presence and tease product placement ahead of the show
- Compile a list of award recognition programs to pursue on behalf of your new product (including the CES Innovation Awards)
- Organize trade show and marketing materials
- Determine if you would like to pursue on-site branding and sponsorships
- Submit CESTV on-site coverage consideration form to help stand out from the crowd and promote your product during the show
- CES award/speaking submissions open; Submit for all relevant opportunities
- Work with your CES rep to understand any blog opportunities, news opportunities and press release platforms
- Obtain a copy of last year’s CES media list and determine which contacts are an appropriate fit for your company and product
- Book your travel and hotel accommodations
- Ensure your product is now ready for pre-CES demos; invest in hi-resolution product shots
- Build out an extensive and strategic media list of those that have attended CES (and CES Unveiled, if applicable to your client) previously, as well as top-tier reporter’s that may not attend but you want to ensure receives your product news
- Once you have that extensive list built, create a Twitter list of all reporter’s handles. This will make staying up to date on their interests while at CES much easier
- Determine the product’s official launch date (likely the day before CES or CES Unveiled) and begin drafting product messaging
- Reach out to the aforementioned list to determine who will be attending CES, and which would provide an opportunity to connect with attending media before the official CES press list is shared in December; Determine their interest in meeting onsite at CES (or offsite if you have booked a meeting room at a nearby hotel)
- Draft messaging one-pager, including a FAQ, for the media; determine if you’ll have working review units available
- Compile a media list for deskside pre-briefs in major cities (New York City, San Francisco) as well as a media list for phone pre-briefs for media based elsewhere
- Use finalized messaging to draft a soft pitch teasing the news in order to secure deskside/pre-brief interest; be sure not to reveal any confidential information until the reporters agree to honoring your embargo
- Establish a communication plan with your team. Will your entire team be available on the phone or email, or will your team designate a CES point of contact? Will you utilize other collaborative channels such as Slack to share updates quickly? Figure out what works best for you and your team and stick to the plan
- With the help of your team, establish a CES appointment calendar to help keep all scheduled briefings organized. This will ensure that your team knows when the CEO or spokesperson is available for press interviews, eliminating the pesky emails back and forth inquiring about availability every time a briefing is secured
- Official CES media list drops; cross reference with your current list to make sure no key contacts are missing – and that you’re not double-pitching any reporters
- Hold NYC/SF in-person pre-briefs; Hold phone pre-briefs
- Prepare any media takeaways such as loaded USB’s – these come in handy during the show
- Anticipate breaking news opportunities and get ahead of them! If you suspect competitors to announce a new product, think about how to leverage their news. Prepare rapid response commentary ahead of time, and receive spokesperson approval on the drafted talking points. While you’ll still need to tailor the commentary based on the specific announcement, having a baseline idea of what you would like to say will make the turnaround time a lot quicker
- Offer up the news under embargo to all remaining media so that they can start writing their stories before CES and to get the product on their radar for any CES roundups in the works
- Compile a CES briefing book that includes information on each secured media contact, date/time of interviews and meeting locations
FIRST WEEK OF JANUARY/CES
- Product announcement goes live; media embargo lifts
- Pitch the news to all contacts who have not already accepted under embargo, conduct follow ups to those who have, and reach out to anyone who had an in-person briefing – you’ll want to ensure the reporter received all the information they wanted and if not, that you’re there to help close the loop on any lingering questions they have
Onsite at CES: day-of
Although being on the floor at CES can be hectic, there are a few things you should always keep in mind:
- Take control and map out a game plan well in advance of the show, including transportation details and how long it will take to get to each meeting; include all relevant maps and information in your CES briefing book
- Know what media will be onsite, as well as how to pull them to your booth. It’s also important to know where all press booths are located (TechCrunch, CNET and others often have an onsite presence) as some reporters won’t commit to briefings and you’ll need to stop by their booths to make it happen!
- Know where the press room is, and ask to place some of your press kits on the front counter (although it may not always work, it’s worth a shot!)
- For press events like CES Unveiled and the first two days of CES, ensure that you have laid out a clear plan of communication with your team if the media stops by; discuss key talking points, interview best practices, etc. This also includes making sure you are camera-ready at all times, as there are always broadcast journalists, photographers and vloggers roaming the show floor looking for interesting people to interview
- Bring plenty of business cards, and make sure they are easily accessible; media also appreciate it when you write your client’s name at the top so they can easily identify what brand you represent
- Wear your comfiest pair of shoes. You will be walking and on your feet a lot during the show, so make sure to be prepared
- Stay hydrated and have several water bottles on-hand at all times; having chapstick is also key as the convention center tends to be very dry!
If you follow this approach, what kind of media coverage can you expect?
In terms of media coverage expectations, we’ve found that top-tier media tries to set the direction of coverage in advance of the conference based on 1.) keynote speakers (i.e. if IBM is speaking, then you can bet AI will be a focus) and 2.) big brand launches (i.e. if Ford has announced a presence, then you can ensure autonomous cars will be a focus). We’ve also noticed that what’s hot one year,will probably not be as hot the next year. “Industry darlings” tend to vary from year to year. For example, in 2015, 3D printing was wildly covered, but in 2016 it didn’t get as much interest from reporters; in 2016, virtual reality was on the agenda of every tech report, and in 2017, it was covered as more of an update of the previous year’s work. We expect coverage focus to shift from year to year, and will advise our clients accordingly to set expectations appropriately.
We certainly recommend that you attend the Unveiled portion of CES, as this pre-show event is where journalists flock first to set their briefing and editorial strategy for the week. This event is a reporter’s best opportunity to see what products are worthy of launch coverage and/or a more in-depth briefing throughout the week.
Additionally, we’ve found that more and more top-tier reporters are not accepting on-site briefings during CES. Instead they’ll accept booth information and if it fits into the editorial direction, they’ll put you in their “walk through rotation” (i.e. “We’ll be on the VR floor from 2-4pm on Day 1, I’ll put you on my editorial rotation but am not accepting or promising briefings”). Also, we expect more top-tier consumer tech pubs to adopt some form of CNET and TechCrunch’s media briefing strategy, in which you fill out online forms to request a briefing, either before the show or at their on-site CES booth. From there, editors make a short list of companies they’re approved to cover and brief throughout the week. As an example, see CNET’s policy is here.
Overall, if you’re launching a product at CES, we need to analyze the CES media landscape, review your booth strategy and understand pre-CES capabilities before setting coverage expectations. However, rest assured that our strategy will focus on landing splashy coverage among the biggest CES media influencers includingWIRED, TechCrunch, CNET, Mashable and more. To give you an idea of what we’re going for, check out some of the cool CES work we’ve done for SHIFT clients: Mohu, Mcor, and Blink.
If you have questions about whether or not your company should launch a new product, contact us to start a conversation.
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