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CES 2018 panel

The Consumer Electronics Show is already a loaded PR coin. On one side, there’s the opportunity to amplify messaging to hundreds of thousands of attendees and an exponential audience tuning in to media coverage. On the other is the challenge of rising above the throng, which this year includes a 146-inch TV and laundry-folding bots. Stir in some torrential rainstorms, power outages and grumpy attendees, and we’ve got a good list of challenges and takeaways from this year’s spectacle:

  • Lead with what’s most important: In the case of this year’s CES, that would be safety. After the mass shootings in Las Vegas only three months ago, apprehension surrounding the event understandably ratcheted up and resulted in some high-profile no-shows, including Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai canceling his appearance reportedly due to death threats. Props to CES and event organizers for immediately increasing show security, including vehicle blockades and visible armed law enforcement, and for getting the message out about the changes well in advance. This year’s 170,000 attendees were no doubt comforted by the additional measures.
  • Ask: Is your crisis management waterproof?: Sure, it hadn’t rained in Las Vegas for almost four months. But when the skies opened up Jan. 9, the downpour first wreaked havoc on Google’s woefully leaky outdoor tent and turned off the lights in parts of the convention center for more than two hours, affecting exhibitors including LG, Panasonic and Samsung and forcing mass evacuations. CES waited until the power was completely restored to issue a statement, appropriately blaming Mother Nature and attempting to emphasize the positive. “We are grateful to NV Energy for their swift assistance, to our customers and their clients for their patience and to the staff for ensuring the safety and security of all attendees and exhibitors,” the statement read in part. Will this be enough to assuage the vendors? It’s a soggy reminder that crisis management, by nature, is usually needed when it’s least expected.
  • Reduce the risk at live events: There’s really no overstating the importance of keeping live events as risk-free as possible. Just ask LG, which was given the silent treatment in front of thousands in the middle of the company’s keynote presentation. The electronics giant’s flashy new voice-assisted home robot CLOi failed to engage three times with an increasingly flustered executive on stage, after which defeated marketing executive David Vanderwaal declared, “Even robots have bad days.” That might be, but it’s a hard line to toe when what was supposed to be your shining moment becomes the butt of a joke.
  • Use star power effectively: Sure, celebrities can be great head turners. But making sure your A-lister is in sync with your brand and messaging is way more important than basking in their glow. A couple of nice examples on the show floor this week: Shaquille O’Neal accompanying home security tech company the Ring may have seemed like a stretch, but turns out the Hall of Fame baller also happens to be a police detective deeply vested in the company. Facebook put Kerry Washington front and center during its presentation, which could’ve gotten, well, Scandal-ous. But thoughtful planning kept Washington on message not only about her new Facebook Watch series, but about the power of community—which is Zuckerberg’s ultimate PR north star.

Cathy Applefeld Olson is a contributing editor for Cynopsis Media.

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