The Reality of Auto Supplier PR at CES

The world’s largest B2B trade show, with a crowd including more than 7,400 media, all congregate in Las Vegas to see the latest tech trends. Automotive News describes this event as “the show where startups and suppliers come to convince the world – and the rest of the auto industry – that they are on the cutting edge.”

Sounds like a PR person’s dream, right? Well, for some exhibitors, this enormous event, known as CES, can become a PR nightmare.
Why? Because CES has grown significantly over the years in terms of space and numbers. It seems that CES may have out-grown Las Vegas, creating major headaches, a hotel room shortage and grid-locked roads. And competition has intensified so much that it is almost impossible for all but a handful of auto suppliers to truly stand out.

An analyst from PWC recently told an automotive PR group that automotive OEM visibility is down at CES and that, moving forward, automotive will much carry less weight news-wise at CES than in the past.

While some media outlets suggest that CES can benefit auto suppliers, other media and analysts claim that the massive show’s appeal is diminishing.

Alex Webb, Bloomberg technology writer, wrote prior to the 2017 show: “My e-mail inbox is crammed with more than 1,500 messages from public relations agencies plugging some arcane product or other … The reality is that very few companies present new blockbuster products at CES anymore. Why would they? The likelihood of standing out from the sea of 7,500 fellow exhibitors is slim …”

So what’s the PR opportunity for an auto supplier at CES?

With more than 7,400 journalists attending CES, a PR person would think that an auto supplier could garner tons of credible media exposure and millions of positive media impressions.

However, the fact is that there are several uncontrollable forces that pose real challenges for PR professionals at this event. No matter how revolutionary the technology, how creative your plan is or how hard you work your PR magic, CES has logistical barriers that need to be taken into consideration.

As PR people who have worked many shows and shared many successes with auto suppliers over the past 25 years, we are as optimistic as they come. But as PR people, we also have to be realistic. The CES reality is this:

1) Fierce competition. You’re competing against 4,000+ other exhibitors who are vying for journalists’ attention over primarily a 36-hour period. Keep in mind, these journalists have jam-packed schedules with back-to-back press conferences. They will probably be occupied with the consumer product giants or covering their specific beat, leaving little time for auto technology providers.

2) Fatigued reporters. After the first 1-1/2 official press days, the media center is closed, so there is no central gathering spot for working press to congregate, work or relax after the sanctioned news conferences are done – which makes the reporters’ already difficult job even more cumbersome.

The sheer size of the show, the crowds, the noise, the traffic congestion and the inability to get around exhibits and demos quickly … all take their toll on these human beings who are charged with covering these activities and writing their news stories.

3) Lack of interest. While CES may claim to attract more media than the Olympic Games, the truth is that the vast majority of the media and influencers attending CES are just not interested in automotive supplier technology.

Most of the reporters and influencers are there for consumer electronics stories such as mobile phones, TVs, wearables, sound systems, iPhone accessories and other gadgets. The relatively few (4-5%) automotive reporters at CES, who are forced by limited time to focus on what the automakers themselves are showcasing, will often not have time to see what the suppliers have displayed.

4) Cable news doesn’t care. The odds of a supplier gaining national TV coverage, from outlets such as CNN at CES, are extremely low. Time constraints limit the TV crews to capture just a handful of the many thousands of products on display that will appeal to their broad consumer audiences. And should lightning strike and you score CNN coverage, is anyone in your key target audience of 200 automotive executives really going to see that 1-minute segment?

CES offers automotive suppliers a real PR challenge. For media and exhibitors, it’s undoubtedly the most competitive and overwhelming trade show we’ve seen in 25+ years of doing B2B PR. Your management may be unpleasantly surprised if they do not set realistic media attendance expectations.

CES reminds us of something Yogi Berra once said about a popular Manhattan nightspot – “It’s so crowded nobody goes there anymore.”
In talking with PR and marketing colleagues after the show, it seems that several major auto suppliers who put on major PR pushes at CES were disappointed with their media coverage results – including one supplier which had nearly 200 media and analysts in attendance for their news conference … but failed to hit some unrealistic astronomical media coverage targets they had in mind.

Don’t get us wrong, an auto supplier can be successful with PR at CES, but only if the expectations are reasonable, given the realities of this massive and competitive show.

To maximize media relations success at CES, see “7 Steps for PR Success at CES” here


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