'I'll stop pulling my hair out now': CES rolls back media list policy following complaints

PR pros were not happy with CES' decision to make them use an online portal to reach attending journalists.

Image via CES' Twitter page
Image via CES' Twitter page

ARLINGTON, VA: Following complaints, CES is no longer forcing exhibitors and their designated PR pros to use an online portal to reach journalists. As in past years, the consumer electronics show will make its media list of all the journalists who applied for press access to CES available to attendees.

CES unveiled its new policy on December 1, requiring PR firms to use a portal to see and contact attending journalists, explained Jean Foster, SVP of marketing and communications for CES parent the Consumer Technology Association.

PR pros immediately noted the differences.

CES quickly rolled back its decision last week. Foster told PRWeek CTA decided to change the policy and was working to allow exhibitors and their PR people to download the full list if they wished.

"A couple of folks came back to us and said they needed to get access to the list," Foster said. "So we’re also going to make that available and we just have to make couple of software changes to make that happen. With the changes, exhibitors and their PR people can reach journalist in two ways: either through the portal or directly."

Taking away the media list would have presented problems for some PR pros.

Laura Macdonald, Hotwire’s head of consumer PR in North America, explained that the portal only allowed users to see a limited number of messages, adding that there were "not many reporters listed."

"The main issue was the inability to download the list and export it as a spreadsheet, which is a huge departure from previous years and with very little transparency from CTA that this change was coming," said one senior staffer at a leading tech PR firm who asked to remain anonymous.

Other comms pros took to Twitter to express frustration with the change and relief that it had been rolled back.

CES, a yearly Las Vegas-based fixture of the consumer tech industry, will run from January 8-11, 2019. Foster said it typically draws 4,500 exhibitors and 6,500 journalists.

The convention is the focus of intense media interest and massive PR efforts, something tech journalists often complain about. Foster declined to comment on whether or not the portal idea was a response to those complaints. However, she said CTA is in "constant contact with both groups [PR pros and journalists] and take on their feedback as we continually improve the process."

Regardless of the reasons, the anonymous senior staffer said not having the list would definitely have put a crimp in his CES PR plans.

"Being forced to work in their dashboard disrupts productivity and ignores industry best practices around media relations," he said. "It makes it more difficult to discern the list and decide with your teams which reporters to prioritize outreach to with tailored pitches, and through the portal you could only send one message with no opportunities for follow up. Generally two is acceptable."

Foster said CTA had hoped the portal would make it easier for exhibitors to target the media

"Say a journalist was covering the AI industry," she said. "Instead of taking every name and trying to sort through the list you could just [use the portal] to say I want these folks and then contact them directly."

But the anonymous staffer said it would have made it harder.

"To get around it you needed to use the portal to find journalists, who must have overlapping interest in industries that the exhibitor must have selected during registration to describe itself, and then find contact information elsewhere and reach out directly," he said. "CTA's new process complicated this in a misguided way to prevent, I imagine, spammers from blasting everyone with the same media invite."

Prior to the reversal, other comms people working this year’s CES were sanguine about the lack of the list.

"I’ve been doing CES for more than 10 years," said Jodi Brooks, managing partner and tech practice lead at Finn Partners. "If media pros relied on media lists, we’re not doing our jobs well. We should know the reporters at TechCrunch and Wired and the larger outlets covering tech." 

Brooks added that Finn Partners does use the list, but not extensively.

"The media list is an extra tool," she said. "But we don’t rely on it."

Macdonald said Hotwire’s CES work does not depend on the list.

"We were hoping to get it to cross-check," she said. "So the change was not having a major impact on us because we already have a good idea who is coming. We use it more to see if there is anybody else we haven’t considered, maybe someone coming from another country who we don’t already have a relationship with."

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