Exhibiting stress while shows shrink in the sun

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 07/87 item 01 - scanned

Take the first hot and sunny working day in the British summer and ask yourself: 'What is the worst torture I can cook up?' The answer you arrive at might be something like 'attend two computer shows in one day'.

Yes, you guessed it. I've just returned footsore and weary from trying to 'do' the PC User show and the Electronic Publishing and Print show in a single day. Thanks to the good offices of a rival publisher, the transportation between shows was the best bit. I navigated, while he showed off his brand new Mercedes.

Really, though, I can't help wondering whether trade journalists shouldn't be banned from shows. I mean, what happens? We are stuffed with information throughout the year, we attend every launch, exhibition and conference in sight and then, when we get to the show, we wonder why there are no surprises.

So, when the day arrives, we mooch around, looking desperately for something to make it worthwhile. And run the danger of wasting the time of people who should give all their attention to the real target of the show, the end user.

At least the PC User show had the right idea. Well, sort of. It invited the press to witness 'The Main Event' supposedly a verbal sparring match between such industry worthies as Alan Sugar, James Minotto and new boy, Michael Dell.

By the time the thing was opened by John Butcher, undersecretary of state for industry, the assembled hacks had been waiting over half an hour and were hot, not to mention tired and emotional. Looking around the packed room, I reckon that the half hour delay gobbled up something like five grand's worth of people's time.

Then the great man got up to mumble the usual platitudes. He said nice things about the show, the exhibitors, the visitors, the magazines, the journalists and the debate.

He told us how much information technology had penetrated businesses, schools and all the rest of it. What he failed to mention was that most of the proceeds ended up in the US or Japan.

The contrast between his remarks and reality left us realising what a complete mess Britain was making of establishing itself on the world PC scene. Still, we do extract money from our customers for our service and support activities and we do get a bit of margin, even on the US stuff, so as long as our customers are exporting, that must make it all right.

At the end of what was a fairly feeble speech, someone clapped very loudly and enthusiastically, and a few others felt obliged to join in. My friend, the rival publisher, unkindly wondered if the applause had been started by a 'Minister of State for Clapping'.

Still, the great man was right about one thing - the show did form part of what he called 'an infrastructure to inform users'. And users are the ones who don't get endless press releases and invites to product launches. Some of them, the lucky ones, get invited to dealer open days for non-pressured, hands-on attention. The rest have to rely on shows to try and get some sort of feel for the options they face.

As I said earlier, many of us at the PC User show stayed out of circulation for the best part of the morning at its debate. Sadly, or fortunately for me as it turned out, I decided I had better things to do after hearing the first question and answer.

According to friends who stayed for longer, the debate never really warmed up and the high point was when Alan Sugar gave the press a vigorous drubbing. From what I've been told, he blames us for any problems which beset him but, since I wasn't there I suppose I shouldn't say any more.

What to us is ho-hum and everyday, is new and fresh to the would-be buyers. They've never seen the machines that were announced a couple of months ago. The manufactures are just names on a bit of paper. A show brings everything to life for them.

If you listen to journalists, the PC User show was flat and boring. Nothing was happening. If you looked on some of the stands, you might be forced to agree. But my view is that the visitors are probably relieved by this. They like it when technology stands still long enough for them to get to grips with it. So, providing they could tolerate the heat, they probably had a good time at the PC User show.

It was interesting to see that IBM shunned the PC User show, preferring instead to make an appearance at the Electronic Publishing and Print show. This was aimed at 'anyone involved in the creation, production and distribution of printed materials'.

A huge range of products at widely differing prices were on display and, although the audience wasn't massive, it was very tightly focused on that vertical market.

I came away from the shows with two main thoughts. The first was: don't ever trust journalists' opinions of a show. They're almost certain to look at it from their own point of view, not the visitor's. The second was: with a shrinking number of exhibitors, and companies like IBM defecting to specialist shows, I wonder where the PC User show goes from here?