Monday, June 21, 2004

Comdex RIP

Comdex has been, for those in high-tech PR - and for those who just like an outrageously huge and ostentatious show - a kind of secular Mecca. It is startling to find out that it's now just a memory ...

Yeah, the god-king of conventions has secumbed to competition - younger, more flexible, more focused shows that earned their own keep while generating more revenue. CES is one that, this year, nearly rivaled Comdex at it's best. Which is to say that I wish I'd worn roller-skates as I made my way through the vast halls, button-holing reporters and doing what I could to advance the business interests of my client (who was paying me such an attractive day-rate to work the press room for them).

Without Comdex, I'm not sure what Bill Gates will do in November to get his annual Christmas message out to his masses of adoring fans - but with $58 billion to help him, I'm sure he'll think of something.

The demise of Comdex speaks to the mortality of all "icons" - if Comdex can become obsolete, what else that we count on is likely to fade, too?

Oddly, the high-tech world is nearly as vibrant as it was during the "bubble" years of Silicon Valley - vibrant, and I think a lot healthier, since it's built on ROI, not HYPE. Don't get me wrong - Silicon Valley hype was very, very good to me ... for several years, it kept a roof over my head (and kept me commuting to San Jose every Monday morning). But it was a house built on sand. What we have now is a mansion being built on the granite of solid business principles.

I suspect that's what helped to do in Comdex - too much sand, not enough granite. Too much hype, not enough solid business follow-through. Like the dinosaurs of old, it may have grown just too big to live - or as Yogi Berra said (of a restaurant), "Nobody goes there anymore - it's too crowded." In fact, Comdex was too crowded. You could get lost in one corner of one of the immense convention halls, and while you'd see a lot of fascinating booths, you'd still miss "the show." Perhaps there's a critical mass, beyond which trade shows cannot grow - not if they want to survive and prosper.

In that, they may be like PR-driven news stories with too much hype, too much of the 15-minutes of fame - stories that burn brightly, and fast, but quickly disappear.

Segway, anyone?