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Outboarding Hurts All Of Us

I have been involved with the consumer electronics (CE) industry most of my life. Like many of you, I eat, sleep, and drink consumer technology. I can’t seem to get enough. One can argue (and they do), that there are more financially lucrative industries in this world.

However, no other industry on earth offers the excitement and ever-changing dynamics that the CE industry does. Every day we wake up to new products, new technology, and the promise of a more exciting future.

I have been fortunate to have a front row seat to witness how the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® and its amazing staff have redefined our world. CEA not only promotes the technology industry, it also provides invaluable market research, access to world-class experts in economics, marketing, education and, most notably, the association produces the largest and most exciting trade show on earth, the International CES.

In the last few years, CEA has broadened its umbrella, redefining CE beyond the traditional products to include everyone who focuses on innovation, including content providers, auto makers, appliance manufacturers and many more. CEA also represents our public policy interests, insuring the protection of innovation and keeping government from needless regulation.

However, these activities are not free. CEA spends tens of millions of dollars each year supporting and promoting our industry. Every single one of us has directly benefitted from the efforts and activities of CEA. How does CEA fund these initiatives? Not by charging exorbitant membership fees or hitting up members to support specific initiatives. Instead, CEA produces a valuable and incredible show – the International CES – where innovation and technology converge each year and do business. This is the beauty of how CEA benefits our industry – CEA actually offers a return on the investment while simultaneously supporting our entire industry.

But many try to rob this great industry of the resources it needs to better serve each of us. These people choose to go to Las Vegas each year during CES and pretend to be a part of the event. They set up in outer hotels, construct displays, show off their products, and provide transportation for important clients. They even pretend that they are participating with CES.

Make no mistake – these people are not a part of CES. They are engaging in a practice called “outboarding.”

Outboarding is harmful to us all. While this practice may seem innocuous to many, outboarders unjustly benefit from the energy and excitement derived by the tens of thousands of real participants in CES. The real participants invest a lot of money, bring large numbers of staff, and position their companies to make new introductions at CES. There is no doubt that CES is the most important show in our industry.

In addition to the actual damage, there is the issue of fundamental fairness. Why should outboarding companies get a free ride? They unjustly benefit from the show and all of the efforts of our industry. Somehow outboarders justify their actions with misguided excuses such as, “CES is too expensive,” or “We are just a small company,” or “We don’t need or use the CES services,” or “Our customers don’t need to meet with us there,” or “I am just setting up a meeting room. We aren’t really showing anything.” Yet these same companies have no problem benefitting from the power of CES and what is clearly something they did not pay for.

Rather than simply condemn outboarders, I wish to offer a constructive solution. I believe I can possibly appeal to not just the heart, but the business sense of outboarders.

While some will never give up their nefarious ways, I would like to make the case for those in our industry that genuinely wish to do the right thing, but need justification to be an authorized exhibitor. So I have compiled a top ten list of all of the benefits derived from being a true participant in CES:

1. Credibility. Your customers will immediately recognize your support and participation in our industry.

2. Discoverability. Get featured prominently and in the right area for your product or category where your customers will find you. Being an official exhibitor also means being listed in all show promotions, including the CES app, the CES show directory and on the website. You already have the customers you know. What about the new customers you can discover?

3. Use of the negotiated rates and associated benefits. CEA staff negotiates on a large scale for move-in/move-out services, and offers special support and access to conference areas and other benefits as part of the negotiated space.

4. Recognition. Exhibiting at CES qualifies your company to be eligible for awards and recognition that are exclusive for exhibitors.

5. Global reach. More than 35,000 attendees came to the 2014 CES from outside of United States.  English is not always their first language. Did you miss out on expanding your global business because you weren’t promoting your product or service to an international audience? CES offers translation services, networking opportunities and other benefits to connect you to potential partners around the world.

6. Media coverage. CES provides official exhibitors with a list of registered media. There are also a variety of publicity opportunities, including promotional videos, an online newsroom and press conference rooms that are available only to official CES exhibitors. These are great ways to reach the more than 5,000 media and analysts from around the world who attend CES.

7. Options.  Participating in CES is not exclusive to exhibit space.  CES offers different-sized space options for those who need a suite environment or an “invitation-only” atmosphere.

8. Marketing promotions. As an official exhibitor, you have access to year-round promotion through CES marketing resources including social media, Google hangouts, official publications and more.

9. Access and networking.  As an exhibitor you will have access to attendee lists and exclusive opportunities to reach VIP attendees via show tours and other programs. More, CEA offers a variety of CES resources to CEA members, including a members-only lounge, parking passes and space discounts. Make new business contacts at the CEA member networking reception and other onsite events designed to help increase your business.

10. CEA is here for you! The staff will work hard to find a solution that works for your company and its products.

CEA belongs to its members. The money earned from CES is reinvested into the CE industry to advance the initiatives that are vital to our industry. When making plans for the 2015 CES, consider the effects of outboarding. Show respect to those who are investing in our future and support the many great innovators investing in CES and our industry. Do not offer your presence or agree to meet with those not participating in CES.

The 2015 CES will be here before you know it and you will have many incredible exhibitors to visit. If you wish to know more, contact Alicia McGrail, [email protected], in CEA’s membership department. I am confident CEA’s membership team will find a cost-effective way for you to participate.

Daniel Pidgeon is chairman of Starpower, vice-chair of CEA’s Executive Board, and a member of CEA’s Board of Industry Leaders.