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Positive Feedback ISSUE 16
november/december 2004


Reality Check
by Dave and Carol Clark


My wife Carol and I have been involved in high-end audio for over fourteen years. We were co-founders of the Greater South Bay Audiophile Society (now the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society, run by Robert Levi), which at its height had well over one hundred members, and ran the organization for five years, from 1992 to 1997. We were the publishers, and two of the seven partners in the print publication audioMUSINGS, from 1997 to 2002, and now publish and constitute half of the editorial staff of the Positive Feedback Online webzine. (David Robinson and his wife Lila Ritsema are the other half.) During this time, we have attended many hi-fi shows as members of the press, including CES, Stereophile shows, and various regional shows, including VSAC and, just a few weeks age, the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. We have met just about everyone in the business.

Which means what? That when we walk into a room the Red Sea parts and time stands still? That manufacturers fight over who gets to talk to us first, offering us dinner or special listening time in their rooms, with liquor to soften us up? Or that they clear everyone out so that we get quality time alone? Do you imagine that it comes down to what they can do for us, so that we recognize that they exist? Ha! We wish. Never has any of this happened in all the years, all the shows, and all the rooms. If you think that press people (at least the press people we know) are treated differently than non-press attendees, you are sorely mistaken. Sure, there are exceptions, but we are not among them.

On the other hand, you'd think by now that we would be used to going into an exhibit room and having the exhibitors act as if we are either invisible or, after giving our badges a cursory glance, go back to staring at the pattern in the carpet. Of course, not everyone does this, and more often than not we are met by people who know that we are there to help promote them and the industry. As such, we are greeted with smiles and hellos. They know us, and they know how to deal with people at shows—not just the press, but everyone visiting their rooms. It still happens, though, and it bothers us no end.

I am not bringing this up because we desire or expect people to fawn all over us. If and when that happens (and I see no reason why it should—we view ourselves simply as members of the industry, and for that matter, the world), please put us out of our misery. The issue here is that this kind of behavior is not beneficial to an industry that needs as much support and respect as it can muster from its participants, regardless of their positions in the industry. It would be nice if we were recognized by exhibitors as people who are, well, alive, and there to help promote them and the industry.

Sour grapes? Not really. We're just tired of people who do not seem to have a clue about what they should be doing at shows, or how to help an industry that is presently rather static. I mean, what are these people thinking? Here are two members of the press entering their room to take photos and notes on their setup, and who then report on their products so that people who cannot attend the show can learn about them—all for free. Anyone in business ought to see the benefit of taking a few minutes to introduce themselves, talk about what they are exhibiting, and ask if we have any questions. It's all part of promoting their business. Instead, as I said earlier, some exhibitors either ignore us (Are we invisible? Or do they hate the press for some reason, assuming they even look at our badges?) or, after angling their heads so that it is obvious they are reading our badges, resume staring into space. Could it be that, after seeing the publication that we represent, they decide we are not important enough, and that their time is better spent doing something else? Or is it just us? We shower!

Allow me to point out that at this time, Positive Feedback Online is getting well over 120,000 unique readers per month, generating a monthly average of 1.9 million hits, and we have been seeing a monthly growth rate of about 13% since our inception. Along with that, we have one of the largest mastheads of any audio publication, print or internet. Some of our contributors are very well known, some are not, but we have more content per month than anyone else. And while I am not trying to toot our horn (okay, just a little), we are a decent-sized publication that, people tell me, is respected in the industry. So it can't be PFO, can it?!

Is it that Carol and I lack name recognition? I can't believe that we are the only press people being ignored! Or is it simply, "Gee, never heard of PFO." (Perhaps it is, "Oh no, not that publication!") Then again, could these people simply be unaware of what they should be doing to make their businesses successful? Okay, so you don't know Carol or me—introduce yourself! We attempt to do just this in every room in which we get the opportunity, but it would be nice if the gesture were mutual. The truth is, there are people who, even after we introduce ourselves, give us that deer-in-the-headlight stare! Dude, get a clue! We all need to keep this community going through mutual support and respect, and that is all I am asking for when we (or anyone else, for that matter) visit an exhibit room.

Case in point: At the Audio Fest, we entered a room of one dealers in Colorado because we wanted to see and hear some of the products they were exhibiting. We actually visited the room four times, and spent probably five to ten minutes each time either listening to what was playing or taking pictures of the system. Not once did either of the exhibitors say a word to us. Not once. Even so, we reported on their room and commented on how good it sounded (I may be sensitive, but I am not petty or vindictive). What were these people thinking? Each time we were there, we made an attempt to establish eye contact. They looked at us, but then moved on to something else, as if our presence made little, if any, difference in their day. Hey, maybe it didn't, so more power to them, but there is such a thing as being friendly and seeing the bigger picture—like the collective support of the audio community!

As I said, we do not expect to be fawned over, but it would have been nice had they said hello, introduced themselves, and perhaps asked if we had any questions or wanted to hear something in particular. Are these people that ignorant about how to meet the public, let alone promote their business? In talking to other show attendees, we learned that these exhibitors are really nice people, and that it was their first show, so perhaps they were unaware of how to work a show. But four times?! Come on. We are nice people, too, but it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that if you are exhibiting at a show, the first thing you need to do is make contact with everyone who enters your room, make them feel welcome, and get them interested in what you are doing. I mean, why are you there if not to promote yourself and/or support the audio community?

We do enter many rooms in which people either know us (we're really not too hard to miss after all these years), or know our names but not our faces. Our site has gained recognition, but perhaps individual contributors have not. I can live with that. Heck, even being offered white lies ("Love what you guys are all about, read you all the time") is way better than being ignored or made to feel like a couple of strangers who look threatening. Carol, it has to be the pink hair! To their credit, many people realize that working with other people is necessary for us all to persevere for the long haul. Perhaps at future shows we will find friendlier attitudes when we visit rooms. After all, we are there for you, so here are a few pointers:

  • Make an effort to greet everyone who enters your room.

  • Make a mental note of their name and refer them by that when speaking to them. Don't be too obvious or it won't appear as a genuine gesture.

  • Offer them some literature or information on what is in the room—the system, components, pricing, etc.

  • Ask if you can play anything special. Perhaps they have a CD they would like to hear.

  • Try to play the music at a reasonable level so that no one is offended by ridiculous levels of playback.

  • Be friendly. Offer a smile. Start a conversation.

  • Avoid leaving the room or carrying on conversations that might be considered exclusionary. If you need to talk business, go outside.

  • Make people feel welcome and wanted. Gee, try to remember that they were just there!

  • Have fun.

We are all in this together, and the industry can only grow if we all support each other.