CES 2016: The PR Challenges to Come

As a member of the Global Technology Practice at Burson-Marsteller, I have had the opportunity to represent clients at many events, including CES in Las Vegas. In January, I attended my sixth CES. However, there was something noticeably missing this year: There were only a few products to excite, an observation many journalists I spoke with also noted. In fact, some reporters were even coming up empty-handed when trying to uncover relevant, intriguing stories to share with audiences back home. So, what happened?

Some claim this sudden deficiency of the show’s usual, exciting innovation announcements may be the result of a slowdown in the industry’s growth. According to Accenture, the consumer technology industry’s growth has stalled in response to reduced continuous demand for new smartphones, tablets and laptops. Additionally, new technologies such as Internet of Things (IoT) haven’t created enough impact to reinforce industry expectations. Nonetheless, I believe the industry is finally starting to adjust the pace of innovation to meet to the slower demands of the market.

CES 2016 and innovation

In the past, the industry was noted for its “thirst for innovation.” When I attended my first CES in 2009, it seemed like companies were competing to see who could produce the largest TV, the brightest digital camera images, the most Internet interactions in their devices — simply because it was all so exciting. It didn’t matter whether audiences could afford these innovations.

However, some years later, behavior has shifted as fewer consumers are willing to pay the hefty price tag for these innovations. According to Statista, the market’s intention to purchase a new smartphone or laptop in 2016 was down six percent compared to 2015, down eight percent for televisions and down nine percent for tablets. Echoing this change in consumer behavior, companies at CES this year introduced few new LED screens, only a handful of additions to audio systems and devices, and less-than-notable additions to home appliances.

Our challenge is to create new stories

Now that the product innovation pace is slowing, the major challenge for the PR industry is to create new stories that will help companies continue to benefit their stakeholders. We need content and stories that support our clients’ business objectives. These stories are evolving, just as CES has. Once the world’s largest technology showcase, CES now has a networking arena, a content development platform and an entertainment stage to present breaking news. There were a few remarkable stories that generated good media coverage: Netflix becoming a worldwide entertainment provider, sharing its plans to keep on pace as the industry-leader in every market (except China); our client Ford wowing audiences with real-time demonstrations of the Smart Mobility Plan, which included features such as impressive radars that identify and map movement around a Ford Fusion; and even the overwhelming resurgence of turntables, as audio companies are bringing back classic vinyl records and pay tribute to romance music-lovers (my father included!).

Although industry expectations have changed from five years ago, the stories are still there. However, a company’s ability to identify these stories and make them relevant for the CES audience and their stakeholders will be the key to successful investments at CES in years to come.

This post was published by Rodrigo Castro, a Manager in the Global Technology Practice. The original post can be found on the global Burson-Marsteller blog.

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