Lessons Learned from CES 2015: Q&A with Ed Zitron

CES 2015 VEGAS

Yesterday we reviewed some tech blogs’ reviews of CES 2015 along with the Fortune survey finding that attendees really just wanted longer-lasting batteries.

But what about PR’s perspective on the event?

In case you missed it, Ed ZitronInc. columnist, PR firm founder, ADHD spokesperson — earned a bit of attention on the monster we call “media Twitter” before the event by discouraging PR from mass-emailing press lists. Around the same time, Alan Henry of Gawker’s Lifehacker offered us some tips for getting more strategic with event invites.

Now that CES is over for another year, it’s performance review time. We spoke to Zitron, who actually did attend the entire event, for his take.

Why did you go to CES, and what did you intend to take from it?ed zitron

I took my entire team and a Dominican monk called Gabriel Mosher to hoot and holler, gamble, and generally see reporters, in the same way that I might do so in my day-to-day business life. The difference? I knew that said reporters would all be in one place versus scattered across the country/globe.

I planned to catch up with reporters I knew who lived in NYC/England/elsewhere and drink with them, or talk to them, or both.We had two clients there that had joined and had not explicitly said “pitch our booth” until it was way, way too late (I would not have done it any later than the beginning of December).

What sort of media relations work did you do leading up to the event?

I tweeted a lot that I had rented a suite at Caesars and stocked a full bar tended by my friend Phil. (He makes a coffee product that I am in no way compensated for pitching, other than the fact that I consume a lot of it.)

What was your team’s strategy while there? Was market research involved?

There is no market research to be done at CES. It is a shambling mess of ideas, many bad, some okay, very few good.

For the most part we just walked around the show floor and made fun of the names. But we tried to meet reporters using a strategy called “not having anything to pitch at CES.” Occasionally we would ask the media one specific question: what’s better than this? (There is only one correct answer.)

I met with a few specific clients who live in different parts of the country to talk about things that we could talk about over the phone, the difference being that we happened to be in the same zipcode.

I am happy to say that our general strategy of drinking with reporters resulted in no media coverage from CES, but I’m pretty sure at least one reporter likes me better than they did before they met me.

So you didn’t pitch anyone directly either before or during the show?

No. Perhaps I should make this really blunt: if you go to a party at CES or attend CES, you should not pitch anything on the floor. If you do, it had better be really, really good.

How did you gauge the success of the trip?

By the number of reporters I met, which was at least 30 and probably more like 40.

What surprised you about CES in general?

The popularity of selfie sticks and drones as well as the fact that I was still getting pitches on the 10th when the show was closed and everybody had left.

How true are various columnists’ claims that CES is less relevant now than in the past?

CES remains relevant as long as electronics giants show up and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for garish booths…thus inspiring smaller companies to follow for fear of being obsolete.

How should PR approach CES generally? What about those tasked with promoting/pitching it ahead of time?

Do not form pitch the CES media list.

When I’ve succeeded at CES in the past, it’s because I’ve done so piece by piece, person by person, pitch by pitch, researching outlet after outlet and writer after writer.

Form pitches may get meetings, but it’s far better to carefully find someone who wants the meeting rather than to fling spaghetti at the wall and scream “I AM THE GREATEST CHEF!”

This next part should be in bold: reporters really like it if you are a normal human and don’t treat them like they’re just a single line on an excel spreadsheet.

Set goals for meetings with the client, by all means. But anyone who sets measure-for-measure sales-style quotas for “call outs” or “call-downs” should be put into one of those weird trailers they put cows in and left in the middle of a field in rural California with a compass and told “brand your way out of this one.”

What did your clients take from the event? Did they get coverage? How did they judge whether it was successful?

They gained from the fact that I now know a given reporter better, thereby raising the chances of said reporter liking me enough to talk to me about clients I do my best to pitch them.My clients were already going and didn’t tell me; they had booths.

There was no duplicity or anger here — simply an understanding that there’s a charge for a full pitching package that involves me actually being at said booth (I need time to prep; this is not unreasonable).

To my knowledge, one of them got one piece of coverage, but the other wanted coverage to fall once their indiegogo project was up, so their main concern was meeting partners anyway. I did sit at their booth for five minutes, during which time I managed to snag them a conversation with a huge (potential) partner.

Trolling aside, what do we think of Zitron’s take on the event?