Editors covering the electronics industry get a lot of their information by attending press conferences. Sometimes, countless press conferences, like at DAC or ESC. But press conferences are not a 20th century invention. They actually began when a caveman named Thog invented the wheel.
At the time, Thog figured that if he just rode around awhile, everyone would admire his invention, beg to buy one, and he'd become rich and famous.
This bit of naiveté was quickly squashed when the world's first public relations firm, Chest Thumpers, got wind of the invention and rounded up a bunch of cave painters for the wheel's official roll-out. Thog was delighted with the chance to crow about his wheel, the cave painters discovered buffets and the whole shebang was mercifully short because the overhead projector hadn't been invented.
Things haven't changed much since. Press conferences are still orchestrated events that give a proud company the chance to make speeches about its achievements, while letting PR firms prove their worth. They also give editors an opportunity to meet their buddies and wolf down expensive snacks under the guise of journalistic curiosity.
The press conference begins with a line of editors filing into a conference room where a slide is beaming, “Giga-Gasp Wonder-Widget of the Millennium” on a screen. The editors sniff the conference room air like bloodhounds on the trail. Two burning questions hover in their minds. Will there by shrimp? And if so, will there be enough?
More experienced editors usually find the food even if it's cleverly kept out of sight by the PR folks. After all, senior editors worth their salt can’t be bamboozled by a green velvet curtain. The veterans can be found nibbling on an egg roll even before the introductions begin, while the real pros sport Tupperware-lined baggy coats so they can smuggle out dinner for the family. Soon, all the milling about ends and the presentation begins.
The press conference is officially under way when the vice president in charge of podium wrestling and microphone thumping starts his job. Everyone in the room leaps several feet in the air as the VP manages to send ear-splitting feedback through the room. He then cluelessly asks, "Is this thing on?" Everyone nods vacantly and the senior vice president in charge of delaying the eats gets up and gives a mind-numbing history of the company, replete with side-splitting anecdotes about "...the time when Bob, our founder, put ammonia in the water cooler to discourage lollygagging."
Things really get cooking when a wizened editor arrives late and sits in front of the slide projector, casting a fuzzy, balding silhouette on the screen. An alert PR person gently guides the confused scribe out of harm's way.
Then the important vice president in charge of talking seriously and giving meaningful information starts his spiel. After several hundred slides that show learning curves, NREs and projections for the next decade, the veep promises that the Giga Gasp is "…a unique, completely integrated, best-in-class, next-generation solution featuring breakthrough functionality based on advanced, sophisticated technology that will dramatically increase performance and have a disruptive impact on the market."
A PR rep then ventures out to nudge the glassy-eyed editors into the question and answer period.
The Q/A portion of the press conference is a gentle minuet whereby editors try to ask questions that will impress everyone with their knowledge of the industry without really eliciting any information that could be used by rival editors. The session ends when the guy who sat in front of the slide projector gruffly asks, "Isn't this just a warmed-over version of the Giga-Giggle Solution that flopped a while back?"
The senior vice president for pleasantly redundant obfuscation leaps to the podium and fields the question, while a skilled PR person guides the offending editor to the buffet table and offers to burp his Tupperware. As the final answer dies off, the editors rush to the front of the room to ask the “real” questions and get the "real" scoop, all the while keeping a trained eye on the dwindling quantity of shrimp.
Soon after, the editors file out with press kits the size of the federal budget under their arms, while the PR folks and the vice president in charge of looking optimistic congratulate each other.
Despite our kidding, press conferences do give editors a chance to meet the people who create the stuff we write about, and they give companies the chance to find out what we're up to. And of course, the snacks are always welcome. They help us retain the portly physique that makes it easier to chase us down when someone's looking for an editorial commitment.
By Mike Donlin, Senior Editor, SOCcentral.com