Yesterday, the Jacobs Media team and I got another of those opportunities to “walk the walk.” (Or maybe better put, “dance the dance.”)
Readers of this blog know that I regularly encourage brands, radio stations, and people to not just “talk the talk.” Not that there's anything wrong with a healthy philosophical argument or even a knock-down-drag-out debate.
It all becomes more meaningful when you put your words into action. And that sums up our company's virtual tour of CES 2021 yesterday afternoon.
We put this event together rather late in the game – 5 weeks ago to be exact – largely because we didn't know the Consumer Technology Association would not be supporting tours this year. In their own conversion from the annual spectacle in Las Vegas to this year's virtual event, they did not have the bandwidth to even think about offering touring packages.
So, we had a decision to make. Sit 2021 out or do a virtual tour. In other words, play or pass.
We did our version of the “Pandemic Pivot,” a major trend from this year's CES 2021. More complicated than a waltz or the macarena, this dance is pressure-packed because of all the unknowns that come with doing something you've never done before.
In the virtual world of CES this year, we were able to spend considerable time attending keynotes, sessions, and exhibits on Monday and Tuesday. And this theme of resilience – morphing brands and business plans as a result of COVID consistently came up.
The only session at CES devoted to sports – “Trends Facing the Future of the Fan Experience” – featured key execs from the NHL (Gary Bettman), WWE (Stephanie McMahon), and the WNBA (Cathy Engelbert), hosted by former Olympian Angela Ruggiero. And each one told their stories of gutted seasons, health worries for their players, and empty arenas.
But it was resilience – another emerging theme from CES 2021 that told the tale. Each of these league bosses innovated their way out of the COVID disaster to salvage a year that might have been disastrous. But by doing the “Pandemic Pivot,” they discovered new ways of engaging with their fan bases.
Even LG, a company best known for their amazing OLED TVs and other bigger-than-life home entertainment product did their share of the “Pandemic Pivot,” leading this year's keynote with new gadgets and technologies to keep our homes cleaner and safer. (But they did show some amazing TVs!)
And then there's Buddy, the personal robot – a technology we bumped into at CES in 2016, made by the French company Blue Frog Robotics. Back then, Buddy was more of a children's companion, reading bedtime stories and other kid-friendly tasks.
But thanks to COVID, inventor and CEO, Rodolphe Hasselvander, pivoted Buddy to become the “family's robot,” capable of everything from home security monitoring to a recipe guide to making visual phone calls with the grandparents.
We also saw the “Pandemic Pivot” taking place in the auto industry. Thanks to COVID, the car became that “second space” to many consumers, and car makers doubled down on infotainment systems, personalized content for passengers (or as Mercedes calls them, “co-drivers”), and a greater ability to retrofit older cars with new technology, thanks to software updates.
And NAB's President and CEO, Gordon Smith, talked about the “pivot” his organization and radio made throughout 2020. The NAB's beautiful new building in Washington, D.C., was finished in April – just in time for the start of a pandemic that is still very much with us. Obviously, a lot of pivoting took place.
So our decision to stage a virtual version of our tour was full of many of the emotions company leaders feel when faced with a difficult call in an off-the-charts circumstance like COVID.
I had a conversation with Gary Shapiro, CTA's CEO, about putting together our own virtual tour, and he was positive about the idea, based on our past successes with in-person events. Gary has been especially bullish on the power of resilience, a trait that has served him and his organization well over the years. We bought into that.
And I also got encouraging words from Buzz Knight, who originally dragged me out to Vegas in 2007 for our first CES experience. From the beginning, he was helpful, providing input on how we could make our show better.
We collaborated every step of the way with former CTA economist, Shawn DuBravac (pictured left). In the past few years, we have struck up a great relationship with Shawn, perhaps the most astute observer of the tech world and what it means to a legacy industry like radio broadcasting.
Working hand in hand with Shawn, we put together an agenda of major brands – Amazon, Ford, LG, and Mercedes-Benz – as well as off-the-beaten path exhibits featuring solar cars, talking robots, and connected glasses, to add that feeling of serendipity you get from attending CES in person.
The good news was that we've produced many industry events in the past – more than a dozen Jacobs Summits, our Podcasters Meet Broadcasters sessions at Podcast Movement, and our DASH Conferences here in Detroit.
But a virtual conference?
We took the chance on an innovative, social + virtual platform you probably haven't heard of – Remo. Unlike Zoom or Teams, Remo is social, allowing us to create an atmosphere that encourages networking and socializing. Rather than just looking at screens, Remo provides an environment – “virtual tables” and even “sponsor booths,” allowing for Xperi and Triton Digital to interface with hundreds of broadcasters. (Thanks to both of them for taking a shot on us.)
Remo came highly recommended from Michelle Younkman of Christian Music Broadcasters. Paul presented at her group's “Momentum” virtual conference last year. And despite hosting hundreds of Zoom calls over these many months, Remo is a young platform that we had never used before.
So Paul, Seth Resler, Lisa Riker and our team danced the “Pandemic Pivot” together, and came away excited and energized by the process.
It was what I call a high wire/no net act. But that's what resilience is all about.
I thank everyone involved – our presenters, sponsors, families, and the hundreds of attendees who said “Why not?” and signed on for our “3 hour tour” (OK, it was closer to four hours because we had so much great content).
One of my favorite phrases is “eat your own dog food” – a challenge that thought leaders, content creators, and executives should put their words into action by experiencing their own product. We did that yesterday, and for dog food, it tasted pretty good.
I invite you to try some.
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