Microsoft’s Debut a Gigantic InfoYawn

MSICI’ll start by saying I personally got a lot out of InfoComm14. I was able to connect with my company leaders and peers to discuss the vision for the rest of 2014 and to share strategies and best practices. I was able to connect with many of my AV integrator clients at the booth for product knowledge transfer and socially to help build on our already strong relationships. I also took the CTS exam for the first time in 13 years and finally became a CTS certified professional. I can’t imagine getting any more done in my 6 days in Las Vegas.

That being said, I can’t imagine anyone who did a poorer job of capitalizing on InfoComm14 than Microsoft did. I can’t say that I’m 100% surprised. I wrote a blog before InfoComm saying as much. But even I thought they had the opportunity to stitch together some type of a relevant Microsoft in the AV Industry story.

Many took exception to my arguments and thought that Microsoft must have some master plan. Some wrote their own blogs about how Microsoft’s appearance at Infocomm marked a turning point in AV and Infocomm as we knew it. Even other who were skeptical looked to the Developer’s Conference for ideas on what their booth may look like. One person who emailed me and asked to remain anonymous gave their thoughts on a potential booth as well:

“I would expect that Microsoft will produce a very competently designed both, with Las Vegas philosophy running things – make it inviting from the outside, keep it exciting and entertaining once the attendees are inside, make the walls high so they can’t see out and get distracted by something other than what you want to sell them, and make it hard to leave. You yourself wrote an excellent post about what they ought to include. I’d go take a look at the Microsoft Dynamic Conference website – it’s a good precursor for this.”

A day or two later, Microsoft’s spokesperson confirmed that the giant had little planned for the show. People were still determined to think that Microsoft had some sort of magic trick up their sleeve.

There was no rabbit in the hat when all was said and done. I talked to many of Microsoft’s prior advocates while at the show and they were admittedly left at best left scratching their heads and at worst feeling embarrassed and somewhat misled. Many I talked too even placed blame for their disappointment partially on InfoComm. Now, I’m not entirely sure that’s fair, and I even told one person that I’m not sure InfoComm could have known exactly how bad this was going to be. It does seem though that Microsoft was given some special treatment by InfoComm throughout the process.

I can’t speak to anyone’s motivations so all I can do is make some points for consideration.

Microsoft’s lack of any strategy shows that the courtship to get them to InfoComm was most likely very one sided. You can’t blame Mr. Labuskes for wanting a huge win in his first couple years of leadership nor can you blame Mr. McGraw for wanting to sell more floor space, as that is his job. Microsoft’s initial investment in InfoComm floor space and sponsorship was conservatively $300,000 with an assumed 12.5% discount on the floor space.

Mr. McGraw has been on record as being continually concerned about the retention of exhibitors with 10×10 booths, and the addition of Microsoft equates to 104 10x10s on the floor.

InfoComm seems to have made some real floor plan changes to the 2014 floor plan to get Microsoft in. Given that the majority of the floor space for the next year is already sold at the previous year’s show, this could have made many exhibitors unhappy. They choose their floor space carefully, and special accommodations to put Microsoft on the floor could be seen as favoritism and dramatically change the value of the floor space they had already purchased.

On June 13, 2013 according to InfoComm’s floor plan, there was no sign of anything big on the floor. In November 2013, the Registration area was rotated and a large new exhibitor space had been carved out. Then on January 9th 2014, the day before Microsoft announced their presence at the upcoming show, there was a 100×100 booth laid out next to the registration area. This new booth was still smaller than the final 10,400 square feet Microsoft committed to take. I have included the pics of the floor plans below for reference.

Then despite all the changes made below, at the last minute, Microsoft chopped the size of its booth from 80×130 feet to 80×65. InfoComm moved its association booth space to fill the space left open by the change. This cut Microsoft’s participation from 10,400 square feet to 5200, half its original size.

Microsoft’s booth became smaller than AMX, Crestron, and LG Electronics, and only a little bigger than Sony, NEC, and Panasonic.

I’m told by an experienced trade show executive that “normally an exhibitor who does this, particularly at the last minute, is moved to another location in the show as generally no one is allowed to take a booth and hold it, only to chop its size at the last minute and then get to stay in a favored position.”

So why would InfoComm allow the change? Only they know for sure.

My guess however is that they are still trying to get Microsoft to commit to coming next year, and didn’t want to leave a bad taste in their mouth. I would also guess that since InfoComm has pressure to grow the show year over year, from an accounting perspective it is better to only have 5200 square feet on the books for Microsoft, in case the decide NOT to come again.

So all this lends to the question of whether or not InfoComm may have shot themselves in the foot somewhat by getting Microsoft to exhibit.

They now have 5200 square feet of space on record that they may have to fill with 10×10 exhibitors, a category they already worry about. They have shown that they will make material changes to the floor plan after other exhibitors have committed to space, a fact that can dramatically change the value an exhibitor gets from their booth. Finally, there was a lot of buzz generated about Microsoft at the show, and it was unwarranted. How many of the 37,000 plus InfoComm announced will not be back next year?

At the end of the day, Microsoft at InfoComm was a huge disappointment. If InfoComm does get them to come back next year, let’s hope they give us more than this year. Their booth looked like the last day of an Ikea furniture outlet sale.

North Hall June 2013

North Hall November 2013

North Hall January 2014