Can a Digital CES Overcome Virtual Conference Fatigue?

The 2021 Consumer Electronics Show, the world’s largest annual showcase of new technologies and innovations, will be unlike any other—a completely virtual event that allows us to stay at home and experience it in our pajamas instead of walking through smoke-filled hotels. What won’t change is the thousands of press releases distributed during the event and countless articles highlighting both the inventive and the absurd. Will your brand resonate?

Success at CES comes with doing most of the heavy lifting well before January. This couldn’t be truer in 2021. But while the new format will have implications for how brands should approach the show, a lot is still unknown, making it challenging to plan for.

Still, even with these uncertain circumstances, some approaches are universal. We’ve put together the following perspective on preparing for the event, based on many years of participating in CES and recent conversations with media on how they are planning for it.

How will the news cycle affect CES?

The world’s current precarious situation has large implications for how you should approach the show. Here are a few things key things to keep in mind.

  • COVID-19 reigns supreme: With media covering the health and economic effects of the pandemic every single day, even the biggest brands are having a hard time breaking through. Many people around the world are unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. Your CES message will need to take this into consideration to resonate.
  • Media moves keep coming: Because of the pandemic, newsrooms have shrunk, and reporters aren’t covering the same beats—let alone at the same publications— Be prepared to adapt your outreach strategies in the moment to target the most appropriate person. 
  • Virtual event fatigue is real: With many brands relying on virtual events and press conferences, reporters are fatigued and hungry for content that is presented in a truly compelling manner. Fine-tune your approach to engaging media virtually to increase your chance of getting covered.

Will you be able to break through the noise?

CES has always been a tough show to make a real impact and gain media attention at because there are so many companies fighting tooth and nail for attention. To make a dent in the news, your new products will need to not just separate you from the competition but be truly unique. While CES has always been a show that offers opportunity for new startups and wacky products, the technology giants tend to get the most attention—and coverage.

Should you wait until January to brief media?

Our No. 1 recommendation is to not wait until CES Week to brief media. This was one of the main points reporters stressed when we spoke to them—the earlier the better. With reporters—and your executives—more burnt out than ever before, no one will want to speak to you anywhere near the holidays. We all need a break!

What’s the best format to brief media—maybe an event?

One-on-one engagement is always more meaningful. When you really have worthwhile news, reporters have always preferred to spend quality time speaking directly with brands and their executives over attending a media event, receiving a release or going to your booth for tours. For 2021, this is even truer. Group briefings can be considered if all media know each other and you’ve tried this approach before. If not, stick to setting up 30 to 45 minutes with a reporter and walk through your announcement and new product.

How do you get your product in the hands of media?

Since you won’t be able to show off your products at your booth, instead plan to ship review units to media ahead of the show so they have them in hand for embargoed meetings with executives. Additionally, this gives media weeks to experience everything your product has to offer and ask you questions. You’ll also have more time to influence their coverage. If you have a complicated product (perhaps too big to ship), consider creative ways to package it up or even replicate it (think small model). This is your opportunity to shine—have some fun with it.

What can you do to drum up additional noise during CES?

If you’ve already briefed media in December, you’ve done the heavy lifting. Make sure to follow up in early January to share final assets and the announcement with a wider set of reporters with whom you didn’t have media briefings. During the show, look for opportunities to engage media, such as getting your product on the top CES awards lists. Outlets are also likely to want to hear from top companies about their perspective on the announcements made and the show in general—this a good way to get some thought leadership coverage for an executive.

Are there other audiences besides media to engage with?

Don’t forget analysts. This is an influential group that always plays an important role at CES. Consider briefing them before media to get their take on your products and give you feedback that will influence your media discussions. At a minimum, alert them to your new products and send them information under embargo in case reporters reach out asking their opinion to include in coverage.

With CES experiencing the same level of challenge and uncertainty as the rest of us, we can certainly expect some surprises along the way—but sticking with this advice will give brands a strong grounding in making an impact at this year’s event. If you’d like to talk further, we’re here for you.

For over a decade, Ashley has developed integrated campaigns for technology start-ups and Fortune 100 brands—from Coca-Cola to Dropbox. She’s a consumer technology junkie, who’s always testing the latest and greatest products. Having worked in a variety of industries including mobile, retail and connected home, she specializes in helping brands craft their unique story to stand out from the competition. Ashley is a wiz at launching new products both in the U.S. and internationally. Having secured coverage in every major business and technology outlet, she understands how to land that dream story.