ViewSonic senior PR specialistViewSonic, a maker of video displays and related products, was one of 2,500 exhibitors at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which features new product roll-outs; speeches from the industry juggernauts like Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, and Craig Barrett, Intel's CEO; and general fascination from the press and public alike. With increased demands on daily fixes of breaking news from the conference, it's never been tougher to be a media relations professional with a participating company. PRWeek.com talked to Trevor Bratton, senior PR specialist for ViewSonic, about the hyped technologies in 2005, the management of interviewees, and how a company manages to effectively handle a crowd of 110,000 people. Q. What goals did you have for the show? A. A lot of our newer products are beyond displays. We're known as a display company, but one of the more difficult things for us is to get the message out that we're more than that. That was probably the core message for the show. Q. Do you find the media and buyers become excited about a company branching out or do they prefer a company to stick to its core product? A. None of the products we're launching are that big of a branch-off. They're either supporting the displays or have some type of visual capacity to them. But it depends on who it is. If it's someone who traditionally knows us for the display stuff, then he or she is really excited because he or she knows what we bring to the table. They'll very easily get the transition. For the others [unfamiliar with our products], it's not a tough sell, but it's a sell that we nevertheless need to make. We just need to walk them through the process. Q. Do you have a list of journalists that you're trying to seek out? A. The strategy is two-fold. First, you work off the RSVP list. But the big issue there is that not everyone is going to be on that list. That's where our relationships come into play. We talk to people who we either know are going to be there or those who we want to reach. If they're not going to be there, we can still reach them without them going to show floor. We can still tell them what's going on. Q. Do you set up a lot of meetings with journalists? A. Going in, we had about 100 meetings [set up]. It was 50-50 between exact booked times and [knowing] that a reporter would come by. Q. How many people from ViewSonic were there? A. We had upwards of 80 people, including executives and behind-the-scenes support personnel. There were five of us on the PR side, [including] two people from [AOR] Text 100. Q. Do you ever tag-team with both sales and PR people engaging customers or media? A. That's absolutely how we work it. When someone comes in, he or she checks in the front and someone comes to get us if we're not out there. We get a feel for where the meeting needs to go, then walk them around from station to station and get the appropriate person from that area to talk to them. We guide the talk, but let the product managers do their thing. Q. What were you personally excited to see, and in what sector was there the most buzz? A. Surprisingly it was very much so an entertainment thing, almost more than when Comdex existed. I thought a lot of the Comdex players would come in, but it was still almost all about entertainment, whether it was recorded video or HD-DVD. Q. Given the emergence of blogs and, inherently, more mainstream coverage of gadgets, does that change the messaging? A. As people become more familiar [with gadgets], it gets easier. The important thing is still explaining what's going on. We have a product that allows you to wirelessly move video around your home. It obviously makes sense for [some]. The challenge comes in for the person who isn't necessarily technologically-inclined. People now get the concepts of MP3s. It's not that much of a leap to understand that [we're enabling] basically the video version of that. Q. Are so-called "customer evangelists" becoming more and more popular? Are they overhyped? A. Yes and no for both. They are important, but I don't know [that they will] make or break something. If everything else is in line, they can definitely help a product. But they can't carry a product on their own. And if everything isn't perfect with the product, they're going to tell everyone. The big problem [with reaching out to consumer bloggers] is that if you do one, you have to do them all. Doing them all is a huge investment. The biggest challenge is being able to reach every one of those. If you give to one and not the other, inherently that other person will be a little bit hurt. Q. Do you get a sense now that more blogs are no longer content with linking and commenting on something like CNet? A. Everyone wants to look at the stuff on his or her own. And that makes sense. Obviously CNet is one of the first people we'll talk to. [And bloggers] want to know that what CNet is saying is true. We do advertise on CNet and they are a key partner, but that by no means influences their review opinions. Q. Are there more efforts being made to reach outside the traditional demographics? A. Definitely. As I said, our big push is that we're more than a display company. We had big banners [that built on that]. We had a picture of a Vegas showgirl with the caption, "I'm more than a librarian, and ViewSonic is more than a display company." We had people - big body builder guys - walking around the show with a t-shirt "I'm more than a brain surgeon." That's where the more mainstream reach was done. Q. In the middle of CES, do you ever get a fear that there's so much noise out there that you won't be able to get above it? A. Yes and no. If you do your homework, you know what a person is interested in. If you have an appointment or someone stopping by, you should know why they're coming. It's our job to make sure we're giving them the right messages. That's where the relationships come in. Q. Right before the show begins, is there trepidation or a rush of energy, akin to an athlete about to take the field that takes hold? A. It's a good analogy. You do get in a zone. There are separate press events at almost every show we do, and those make us more focused. Once you do a couple of those, you're ready. Q. What would a non-tech PR professional find surprising about CES? A. How crazy it. Having 110,000 people within a city block is something you have to experience.