Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Choosing your best CES spokesperson

Yesterday, a fellow who makes a living depicting big explosions experienced one of his own. On an international stage. Film director Michael Bay, hired by tech giant Samsung to talk about next-generation ultra HD televisions, got tangled in his TelePrompTer readout, lost his place, and abruptly left the Samsung booth at CES. See it here.

Michael Bay (photo by Romina Espinosa at http://www.rominaespinosa.com [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)
Bay -- whose works include Armageddon and the Transformers series -- is well-known for his work behind the camera, not in front of it, or before a live audience. So choosing him as your spokesperson at the world's largest consumer electronics orgy seems, on its surface, a gamble.

(The tie-in for Samsung was that Bay's next Transformers movie will be previewed on a Samsung UHD-TV.)

There's some alchemy involved in choosing a frontman for a trade show like CES. He or she should have some name recognition, but a comfort level with live public speaking is important, too. Any number of talented actors, including those who've appeared in Bay's films, might have handled the TelePrompter gaff with more grace and ad libbed his or her way to Samsung's key messages. LeVar Burton and Nick Cannon are among the actors taking part in CES this year.

To Bay's credit, he owned up to his flub on his blog. So his sudden departure isn't necessarily a celebrity tantrum.

CES is one of the few big trade shows that gets broad mainstream attention in news media. So it's curious that Samsung, which brought an aircraft carrier's worth of new products to show, didn't pack a standby spokesperson -- or comfortably rehearse the one they chose.

To be honest, few senior executives are comfortable before the cameras and media at these mega-events. Leadership programs don't always teach them to be public speakers. (Notable exceptions: Lee Iacocca, Michael Bloomberg, and some fellow named Trump). Ideally, you want someone with a blend of product smarts and personality. Using a corporate PR executive isn't the worst choice, either.

But getting Bay to internalize three key Samsung messages would have required an index card and less than 30 minutes of prep time. Or, at minimum, a Samsung smartphone with those talking points on its home screen. They might not have made him bulletproof before a balky prompter, but they would have kept Samsung and Bay from experiencing some embarassment.