What have I learned today?
The first thing you learn on a press event is that you can’t talk about anything… yet. It’s always, “Not a word until Monday” or “You can talk about this after CEDIA” or “We’ll let you know.” So, for now, I can’t get into specifics but perhaps you all would be interested in knowing what happens during one of these junkets. Now I’ve only been on two but I’ve already started to pick up on some similarities:
1) The first night there is a dinner. Usually with lots of food and LOTS of wine. This is to loosen you up after your long (for some of us) trip and (most importantly) to insure that you are up late and a little hung over for the next morning. A tired and hung over press is a docile press. Little did they know that my liver is the strongest muscle in my body and that I normally operate on 3-4 hours of sleep.
2) The next day invariably starts with a presentation about the history and philosophy of said company. While I understand from their point of view this is information that they want us to know so that we understand them better, but for us it is analogous to the first 2.5 dates with a girl. We just wait it out until we can get to the good stuff.
3) Next are the tours. Tour of the grounds, tour of the plant, tour of some guy’s officeâ€¦ You see everything they want you to see about their facilities and abilities most of which is designed to support their above mentioned philosophies and values. It is important at this point to start to read between the lines. If they are saying that the engineering and marketing people are working closely together to bring you a product that not only sounds good but will also appeal to people on an aesthetic level but you see nearly no ability to do said market research, you should start to ask questions. If those answers are fuzzy about the external testing and sound mostly like they just get a bunch of people they know together and ask their “honest” opinion then perhaps all that talk about “working together” is a bit overstated. At first, they’ll not want you to take pictures but if you are persistent enough, they’ll let you.
This portion separates the reporters from the reviewers. Reviewers perk up and get excited to see that BA builds a lot of their own drivers in house while reporters look sleepy and start to talk among themselves about dinner and the weather. Reviewers have questions pertaining to processes and procedures while reporters want to know how much everything costs or whether or not something will be grounds for copyright infringement. Um, no, do you think they’d use a name that they KNEW would get the sued? But keep asking, maybe if you ask enough, they’ll agree with you.
4) Finally, you get to hear some speakers. At this point you’ve gone through an entire day of taking notes, listening to engineers speak, and taking pictures of facilities. You’re wiped. You’re more concerned with the comfort of the chairs than you are the sound of the speakers. The listening tests usually just let you listen to their speakers with some music and movies but there is inevitably a problem. Sometimes a room can’t be switched so that you can hear just the two floorstanding speakers in a 2.0 configuration (how exactly you set something up so that it only works in multi-channel is beyond me) or similar. If they do switch between two speakers (theirs and someone else’s), nothing is ever level matched and their speakers are invariably louder. But hey, this isn’t a critical listening session, right? So it doesn’t really matter.
5) In the end, they always ask you, “Well, what did you think?” What exactly are you supposed to say? The truth? Not likely. Even if you loved the speakers you can’t say it. It would make you look biased. So I always respond with a non-committal “Nice.” If they ask, I tell them that “nice” is code for, “I don’t have an opinion and won’t until you send me a pair for review.”
6) Finally, there is a break followed by another dinner with plenty of wine and food for you to enjoy. If you’ve had a bad experience in any way, hopefully you’ll drink away those brain cells.
Now, I’ve also learned a few things from hanging out with a bunch of press:
1) Martha Stuart only hires women to work for her that look like Martha Stuart – which is weird
2) There is always one guy/girl that is so annoying that you’d wish they’d staple their mouth shut
3) Somebody will ask the same question/make the same joke over and over throughout the entire trip
4) Many of these people have been in the business for a very long time and have no interest in doing anything other than letting you know that they have been in this business for a very long time
5) Apparently, I’m the only one that thinks taking pictures of the speakers you are listening to is a good idea (except for the guy that took a bunch of pictures with his phone). Everyone else is just going to use the press release pictures I suppose
6) Most journalists fall into one of two camps – either they don’t know anything and keep their mouths shut, or they know something and use every available Q&A opportunity to show off what (sometimes little) knowledge they have
7) The guy that doesn’t mind speaking his mind about the product seems to always find a way of including you in the conversation making you look like just as much of an ass as he is (thanks dude).
In short, if you’ve ever been to a convention or meeting of your “colleagues” and looked around and thought “what planet are these people from,” you know the feeling. Of course, they are all nice and friendly but they are not who you are there to see. Instead, you are all falling all over each other trying to pry some information out of the few employees you have exposure to (there are no end to the marketing people but they’re no help). Of course, every time you DO get a little tidbit of info it’s all, “Now that info is embargoed untilâ€¦” Thanks for that. Look for me to actually be able to report something substantive early next week.