E3 Press event – press need not attend

Posted: 06.16.10

Against my better judgment I went to E3 two days early so I could attend the “press events” of the console companies. These events are often associated with some form (ahem) of entertainment. They are also oversubscribed, overcrowded, and usually uninformative. Why then are these megamillion dollar extravaganzas held? What’s the ROI for Microsoft, Nintendo, or Sony? Good question.

It’s a matter of impressions

PR people live for and get measured by the number of impressions they deliver for the dollar. An impression is measured by taking the readership of a magazine, website, radio show, etc, and dividing the costs of reaching the writers or speakers of those vehicles by the dollars spent to get them to listen to the company’s message,

At the Microsoft’s press event for the renaming of Natel to Kinect, I estimated there were about 1,600 people there. Microsoft had what was billed as a Cirque du Soleil show, hired buses to get people to the USC stadium from the convention center, dressed us up in strange smocks, gave out cute stuffed animals and probably had over 200 hundred staff trying to manage it all, and I heard rented the stadium for three weeks to get things set up.

My guess is it cost Microsoft something north of $4 million to hold the event - I may be under shooting on that estimate. which is about 2x what 30 seconds of a major foot ball event TV ad would cost. So the numbers are not bad in terms of cost/impression and all of the attendees came to the event with the intention and desire to see the ad – oops, I mean press announcement.

Of the “press” who stood in line for upwards to an hour and then sat in the stadium for another hour waiting for things to get going, there were (by my estimate) maybe 100 actual press, maybe 10 analysts (including yours truly), about 200 VIPs (resellers, partners) - who had to stand through the event at the front, and the rest were bloggers in the stands more than 1,400 by my estimate.

But it was not a pleasant experience. Getting there, if you didn’t ride on the buses provided, was horrendous in LA traffic, parking was challenging, and expensive. Then a long wait in a line outside (thankfully it never rains in LA) was a boring waste of time.

The line in front of me waiting to be let in – happy lot aren’t they? The line behind me was just as long.

Then there was the filing in to the seats like prisoners in a gulag; being herded around the inside of the building in a four- to six-wide column dressed in silly smocks and then being squeezed into a two-person wide doorway to the seats.

And then sitting for an hour through the long seating process and the stage people did who knows what. Time was wasted.

The waiting for the show – with the VIPs standing down on the floor and the “show” to the right – never did figure out what the heck it was supposed to represent.

Real press, with real deadlines, can’t afford such events. The blogger/fan boys loved every minute of it. The VIPs milling about on the show floor seemed to be OK with it – remember darling it’s not how you feel but how you look…

It is however, something between insulting to annoying to call these things press events. There was no press aspect to it – no news (the web leaks preceded the event from days to hours). It’s unlikely that many of the 1,400 or so in attendance had anything new to offer in terms of reporting on the event or insight to add. So, as an advertiser, with a choice of 1,400 web sites on which to advertise, which one or two, or even ten would you choose? It doesn’t matter – there’s 1,390 you didn’t pick.

The other question is, are there really 14 million gamers out there reading stuff on these blog pages? Do these bloggers really have that many eyeballs? Yes there’s 50 million Call Of Duty players out there but I doubt they spend much time reading blogs.

I spoke to an inside PR lady at one of the console makers and asked her about all this – she was very enthused with the reach of the bloggers and felt she and her company had tapped into the mother lode. This is a sensible, smart (and I hope well paid) woman and I’m inclined to trust her judgment – this is her job. I’m trying to get the concept, the payoff, but so far it eludes me but it may be moot – these events get it all, they get the mainline press (usually) and the bloggers, and the net results the entire world lights up for a day or two about the company’s new stuff. Mission accomplished, oh, and sorry about the wait.