This weekend I had the opportunity to attend my first film-industry trade show. I went to CineGear in Los Angeles. I walked in as a naive idiot, and walked out as a sunburnt idiot. But I did learn a few things while I was there, and so I offer these lessons to any other naive idiots looking forward to their first big trade show.
6) Pay attention to the Swag
What people hand out as a representation of their brand tells you a lot about them. Their goal is to put something in your hands that A) reminds you they exist, and B) creates a feeling you associate with their product or brand. They’re selling the culture and lifestyle as much as the actual product. So with that in mind, let’s compare the lifestyle being peddled by two titans of cinema as an example. Arri had one station, manned by one woman, at the entrance to their largest exhibit. This friendly woman gave me a dark blue faux-leather notebook, devoid of any logo, that simply read “What will you do neSXT?” (their flagship camera line is the Alexa SXT). RED, in contrast, had pop-up tents manned by a pile of attractive, high-energy 20-somethings who gave me a bright red t-shirt with their gigantic logo on the front and a dragon on the back. I think it’s pretty clear who their target audience is. Speaking of which:
5) Pay attention to who hangs out at each station
Is it old, grizzled union grips? Is it technically-inclined people? Gawkers? Youtuber-types? Indie filmmakers? That alone can give you a sense of who the product is aimed at – and by extension, a sense of the price range, feature set, etc. That may be more important to us at Deckhand since we have to find the products that match our clients, but it can also help you, the end user, find something you will have a broad support network for. If a lot of people in your social group are really excited about whatever Sony brought out this year, you can all swap lenses, experience, and impromptu tech support. There’s nothing worse than having issues with a product and realizing nobody can help you.
4) Listen to the kinds of questions more knowledgeable people are asking
I had the good fortune of making a friend early on and joining his expedition. And boy oh boy did that help me navigate the chaos. The biggest lesson I learned from watching his was to ask specific questions. The people running these booths are trying to put you in a specific basket in their mind – window shopper, pro, or clueless newbie. If you want to have a real conversation with these people and get past the talking points, you have to speak their language. Learn a few key buzzwords and mix them into conversation. CRI is a quantitative measure of the accuracy of a light’s color. Ask camera guys about their bit rate and write speed. Why did they choose the codec they did? Why not ProRes? Everybody does ProRes.
3) Heckle the people at the booths
In a friendly way, obviously. But everybody there will tell you that their camera is the best. Their light is the best. Make them prove it. I expected the conversations to go more like the new AT&T commercials – “yeah, their product is 10% better, but ours is 50% cheaper.” But no, everybody I talked to opened with “ours is the best, and [other company] is lying to you and overcharging for an inferior product.” I believe you have a moral obligation to make them earn that bold position. Think of it as a friendly verbal joust. They knew what they were signing up for.
2) Take advantage of the collective braintrust
One of the biggest features of these sorts of trade shows is that the people running the booths know a ton more than the Best Buy employee you’d normally have to deal with. Smaller companies in particular bring out the big guns to these shows; the inventor will be running the demos, the lead engineer will be answering questions. If you want to cut through the nonsense and have substantive conversations, these are your people. For bigger companies, your target should be brand ambassadors. These high-profile users are brought in to talk about their experiences with the gear. The salesmen are there to make a commission, but the ambassadors came because they are in love with the company and have an opportunity to tell you why. They’ll be a lot more open to talking about what works, what doesn’t, and how the product actually performs in the real world.
1) Parking is a scam
Yes, I’m really ending this post with parking. At Cinegear they charged $15 to park in their (admittedly convenient) lots, which covers shuttle service to and from the event as well. I don’t buy it. To me, it was worth every penny to park a few blocks away on a residential street. The extra 10 minutes of walking was a small price to pay for my wallet’s health and wellbeing. Well, 15 minutes once I was weighed down by all the free swag.