CES remains bastion of product launches despite recession

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) predicts an attendance of 110,000 at the four-day event in Las Vegas, a 21% decline from last year's figure of 140,000.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) predicts an attendance of 110,000 at the four-day event in Las Vegas, a 21% decline from last year's figure of 140,000. The CES, arguably the most popular electronics show in the country, also reports a decrease in exhibitors: More than 2,700 companies presented at 2009's expo, but only 2,500 will be represented this year.

Industry insiders are pointing to the economy as the impetus for the decline, and while PR pros still agree that trade shows are an effective way to target media and buyer attention, the way they advise clients on how to present has seen changes, with media cutbacks, smaller exhibits, and smarter product launches.

Rachel Honig, MD at G.S. Schwartz & Co., says the recession can work in vendors' favor, as buyers and media have less time to track new launches across the country, and instead look for a one-stop shop of source information.

“Media travel budgets have been cut, and trade shows are an efficient way for media to see a number of products at once,” she says. G.S. Schwartz & Co. handles PR for the American International Toy Fair, The New York Wine Expo, and the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show & Conference. “Every consumer electronics reporter is going to be talking about CES this week.”

It's also possible to leverage the buzz of a show – whether attending or not – for a launch. Google, for example, selected this week to unveil its “superphone,” Nexus One. Honig notes that the timing with CES was not a coincidence.

CES expects 29,000 new products to be launched at the 2010 expo. Tara Dunion, director of communications for the Consumer Electronics Associations, adds that while the number of exhibitors is down from 2009, the amount of new exhibitors is up 10%.

With a focus on giving buyers and media more bang for their buck, PR pros say they're counseling clients to utilize trade shows for important product launches.

Maggie O'Neill, a director at Peppercom, is attending CES with her client Whirlpool Appliances, which is launching several products, including a home energy manager.

“CES is still one of the best places for consumer electronics manufacturers to launch,” she says. “There's also a lot of inter-activity, giving attendees the chance to interact with the products. In previous years there may have been more flashy presentations on what the product is, and now it's more focused on what the product is and how it will affect consumers' day-to-day life.”

While tech and consumer tech, where an early adopter culture pervades, might seem a natural fit for a trade show, other industry trade shows have suffered steeper declines. The National Business Aviation Association, for example, reported that its 2009 show suffered a 16% decline in booths. At the niche Pet Fashion Week New York show, which caters to the luxury pet market, the number of exhibitors was cut down by more than half and organizers canceled plans for an additional 2009 show. Exhibitor space and sponsorships are how trade show hosts make their money. Building, retail, and the kitchen and bath industries have also taken a hit, notes Luke Lambert, president and MD at Gibbs & Soell.

Instead, companies are “making smarter choices in what type of products they launch at which shows, making decisions on whether to go regional or national,” he says.

The bottom line, though, is that a trade show still offers small and large companies alike a massive audience and a massive networking and deal-making opportunity.

“The truth is, spending is down and manufacturers have to use what budget they do have to efficiently market their product,” Honig says. “Trade shows fulfill that purpose, because they still attract media attention and buyers, which are the two main groups any marketer wants to reach when launching a new product.”

Updated January 8, 2009, 1:14pm

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