Just Say No To Bad Swag

I recently received a letter from a well-known “automobile association”, thanking me for being a member for the past twenty years.  Just to be clear, the only reason I continue to be a member is this: about once a year, I need a jump-start, or I lock my keys in my car and need a locksmith, or I need a tow, or a friend needs a jump-start, locksmith or a tow. (Pro tip: you can utilize your membership benefits, even if its not your car, as long as you are a passenger in the vehicle.)  The membership pays for itself with the money that I save.

The letter also informed me that, in appreciation for my 20 years of loyalty, I should stop by the nearest office and pick up my free license plate frame, informing every driver that is behind me that I was a 20 year+ member of the association. Ummmm, no thank you.  What good does this license plate frame do for me? Is an attractive woman going to ask me out me on a date when they see it?  Will it get me out of a speeding ticket?   No, its just more marketing for the company. Consider this my first example of “bad swag”.

Swag“can mean a lot of things; in this blog post, it means promotional merchandise.

Second example: I received junk mail from an automobile insurance company (notice a trend here?) looking for me to switch my current automobile coverage to theirs.  The envelope included a bumper sticker that plainly stated “PLEASE DON’T HIT ME! I am not 100% sure about my coverage”.  To their credit, I was amused by the bumper sticker campaign, but did this company really expect me to put this ugly sticker on my bumper?

Many people in the AV industry think of trade shows when they hear the word “swag”. Most booths offer some form of it: pens, reusable grocery bags, magnets, t-shirts, candy, paperweights, key chains, flashlights, headlamps, miniature screwdrivers, and plenty of those little foam things that you are supposed to squeeze when you are stressed.  I remember one booth had flying monkey toys that you could launch across the room. 99%  of these promotional items have a company logo and/or marketing tagline printed on them.  Some items become “gifts” for the kids once the attendee gets home from the trip.

Aside from the pens and reusable grocery bags, most of the swag you get is garbage.  I keep a few of the foam-stress-relief-thingees around my desk, and squeeze them periodically to exercise my hands and fingers, helping to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  I don’t ever remember being stressed out, squeezing one for a minute, and then feeling less stressed.

What blows my mind is how much money is wasted on this bad swag!  Not to mention the hours spent by marketing departments and/or company owners to “design” this crap: the t-shirts in awful colors chosen to match the company’s logo, covered in industry-related marketing taglines, or sometimes even images of the products.  Who on earth would wear these outside of mowing the lawn, changing your oil, or sealing the driveway?  There is one group who is happy to get these shirts: homeless people.  I love it when I see a homeless person wearing a promotional t-shirt, because it means the shirt is being used, not just thrown away.  Probably not what the marketing team had in mind, but hey, at least the catchy tagline created by the marketing guru is actually being read by someone, right?

hobos
Original image courtesy of Rapgenius on Amazon Web Services

As much as I am a sucker for free stuff, I do my best to avoid accepting this bad swag; although sometimes, I can’t say no, because its mailed directly to me (“Enjoy your lapel pin…”.) As a waste-conscious citizen, I seriously don’t know if I should toss it, recycle it, donate it, or spend the money to ship it back to them, with a note saying, “WTF were you thinking?  You just wasted time and money on something no one will ever use!”

Occasionally, someone gets it right.  For example, one manufacturer’s rep I know quietly hands out $10 Starbucks gift cards to people who engage her at the trade show booth.  These gift cards have no tag lines, no logos (other than the Starbucks logo).  I have not seen her in years, only because I have not attended those same trade shows.  And yet I specifically remember her giving me that gift card, as well as the company she represents.

Other companies have sponsored outings like dinner cruises, baseball games, even paintball.  Those were very fun, very memorable times, and I was able to share the experience with coworkers and loved ones.  And just like the Starbucks card, I remember exactly what company sponsored those events, as well as the people representing them.

So please, marketing gurus, take note:  the next time you are about to “pull the trigger” on your latest sky-blue or lime-green t-shirt, the one with your latest tagline on the front and your logo on the sleeve, think to yourself:  Would I actually wear this?  Would anyone I know actually wear this?  What is this costing my company?  And would we be better off just handing out gift cards, or even the cash equivalent?  Now THAT would be memorable!

 

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I Propose An Infocomm Northwest

Leaving Las Vegas: Why InfoComm Should Also Visit Seattle or San Francisco, Where AV Innovation Is More Than Just Stagecraft

By Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

I was honored to be a special guest this past Friday on AVweek, a weekly podcast produced by AVnation.tv that discusses current events of the audiovisual industry.  After the podcast, the other contributors and I started talking about how the annual CEDIA expo may smell a little different this year, as this September, CEDIA expo-goers would now have the liberty of trying some of Denver’s new, umm, legislation…

I started to think about all of the cities where I have attended conferences geared towards audio and video.  I have traveled to Philadelphia, PA for EduCause; Amsterdam,NL for ISE; Anaheim,CA for InfoComm and NAMM; Indianapolis,IN and Denver,CO for CEDIA; New York,NY and San Francisco,CA for AES; and Orlando,FL for Infocomm.  And, of course, Las Vegas,NV for both CES in January (when the weather is kind of nice), and the Infocomm in June (when I sometimes wonder if I died in my sleep, and then woke up within the inner circles of Dante’s Inferno.)

Whenever I get back from these conferences, and I am inevitably reminded of the advances in technology taking place where I live on the Bay Area.  One might even argue that the bulk of American technological innovation comes from Silicon Valley, San Francisco, and Seattle, and that the rest of the country is simply trying to keep up with the West Coast (with extra emphasis on the word argue, as I sure many hipsters in Brooklyn or Austin would be terribly offended by my statement. If you are one of the offended, then I suggest you go buy yourself a RumChata, and you will feel better.)

So why is the Infocomm Show held in Las Vegas, anyway?  I think the main reason is logistics.  Las Vegas is more centrally located than most of the other cities I mentioned.  The Las Vegas Convention Center is certainly large enough for the Infocomm Show, and there are plenty of hotels and restaurants for meetings.  AV manufacturers and integrators based in Southern California can simply drive their gear to Las Vegas.  Others from around the country can easily find flights to Vegas.

There is also the wow-factor and live performance aspect of Las Vegas that can not be matched in other cities.  Between the Cirque du Soleil shows and purpose-built concert halls, there are plenty of places for manufacturers to host after-hours events; not to mention all of the bright lights and video screens: all help to remind AV folks exactly how big of a deal AV can actually be, when there is adequate budget.

Still, I can’t help but wonder, why not host an Infocomm Show in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, or Seattle? Isn’t the Infocomm Show supposed to be a gathering of the vibes for the AV industry? If we are embracing the so-called AV/IT convergence (where audiovisual meets information technology, hangs out, and has a few beers), why isn’t this annual AV trade show hosted someplace where Information Technology people hang out?

Again, I know in the end it’s probably about logistics, and if that is the basis for choosing the location for InfoComm, well then I will never win this argument.  Hotels and flights to the San Francisco Bay or Seattle would certainly be much tougher for AV folks, especially those on the East Coast. But flights to Orlando are not easy for anyone on the West Coast, either. Food and drinks are much more pricey in the Bay Area, and the convention centers are just not as big as Vegas.  But that is exactly why we need to put logistics second, for at least one year, and put technology first.

If Infocomm was only about logistics, and keeping costs down, we might as well host the entire trade show online.  Each booth could have a five or ten minute video showing their new products, with live Q&A available for engineers like me who ask way too many questions. Virtual meetings could take place using Google Hangouts, and participants could simply scan a QRcode or “click here” for more information from a given manufacturer.  The classes and seminars that are normally offerred at Infocomm could be accomplished using on-demand webinars and online testing.  But we all know the Big Show is much more than just business meetings, educational seminars, and seeing new products.

Infocomm is about synergy.  It’s about the random person you meet on the monorail who happens to know so-and-so and suddenly the two of you are discussing a current design challenge or potential project.  The energy and excitement of meeting new people and gaining new skills, while seeing old friends and past co-workers is what makes the Infocomm Show so awesome, and that is precisely why it needs to happen as a live event each year.  Infocomm gets us out of our shells and the shear fact that you are not back in your office or on a job site doing an installation, means you can focus more on learning (I know, I know, easier said, than done).

It’s that same synergy that has convinced me that there needs to be an Infocomm Northwest.  Every time I go to a trade show, I notice that many of the attendees are locals who, if the show was located in another state or country, simply could not attend.  The same is true for employees of the information technology and internet-based companies in Silicon Valley: many of them do not have the time to travel to Las Vegas (despite their unlimited vacation), BUT if that same Infocomm show was located in the Bay Area, they might be able to attend for a day or two, without impacting their work load, or their Burning Man camp planning.  As Kevin Costner learned in Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come”.

Let’s take a company like DropBox, for instance.  Many AV installation firms use Dropbox as a way to share files, yet DropBox probably has no idea that Infocomm even exists!  This example can be expanded to almost all IT, software, and internet based technology that is born in the Bay Area or Seattle.  They don’t know there are audiovisual consultants, because we are nothing in comparison to the larger information technology business model they are used to dealing with. We need to change that, and get on their radar, before the entire AV industry goe the way of the wireless microphones based in the VHF and UHF channels, now banned from use due to changes in the IT sectors.

So I say, “Hey Infocomm, let’s leave Las Vegas, maybe not for good, but for at least one year.”  Let’s host an Infocomm Northwest here in the Bay Area or in Seattle, where technology is being born, not chased.  Wouldn’t you rather travel to Northern California or Seattle in June?  Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below, via Twitter @pkaudiovisual or send me an email to pkav.info at gmail.com.

Yes, I use gmail; don’t you?

Wireless Speakers For DJs and Weddings

What if WiSA-compliant transmitters were built into DJ mixers and musical keyboards?

Originally written for the WiSA Association Blog by Paul Konikowski, CTS-D

The Wireless Speaker and Audio (WiSA™) Association and its Members are quickly becoming the new wireless standard for high-definition digital surround sound audio.  The technology is designed to be incorporated into transmitting devices such as HDTVs, Blu-ray disc players, gaming consoles, set-top boxes, AVRs, and of course, speakers. Members of the WiSA Association include Sharp, Klipsch, Martin Logan, Polk Audio, Pioneer, Paradigm, Definitive Technology, Meiloon, Nyne, Gibson, Dali, Onkyo, Gibson, Summit Semiconductor, Silicon Image, Amber Technologies, Hansong, GGEC.  Together, these manufacturers have agreed to use the same WiSA certification test specification and interoperability standard, which allows users to mix and match their favorite audio and video brands when they see the WiSA logo.  For more information, please visit www.wisaassociation.org

Thus far, the WiSA-enabled products and prototypes have targeted consumers and residential applications.  But just recently, Summit Semiconductor, a WiSA advisory board member company, started delivering RF modules for professional wireless audio applications.  This got me thinking about live events and concerts…weddings… DJs…. which lead me to wonder…  what if WiSA-compliant transmitters were built into DJ mixers and keyboards?

The standard WiSA-compliant transmitter sends 8 channels of uncompressed, 24-bit digital audio to 8 self-powered speakers.  Usually, that equals a 7.1 surround sound mix, or some smaller portion thereof.  But, there is nothing in the specification that says a compliant transmitter has to transmit surround sound audio.  It could also transmit mono audio to 8 speakers, or stereo audio (left and right), sending the left or right channel to four pairs of  speakers.   As long as the receivers (normally in the powered speakers) fall within the minimum transmission range (30 feet) of the WiSA Compliance Test Specification (CTS), then the system is guaranteed to work.  Longer distances are possible, if the signal was boosted, but the specification is certified to a minimum of 30 feet.

Let’s look at our typical DJ setup at a wedding or club.  The DJ plugs all of his or her music sources (CD players, laptop, iPhone, or if you are really lucky: actual record turntables) into their DJ mixer, where they mix the various music sources and adjust the equalization settings, filtering out or boosting different frequency bands to give a live performance aspect (“performance” definitely a stretch of the word for some DJs who usually just push play on their laptop, but I digress). So anyway, this DJ mixer mixes all of the sources into a main mono or stereo mix for the dance floor.  There are also auxiliary outputs on the DJ mixer for headphones and recording; oftentimes if the DJ is famous, their set is made into a CD or MP3 track and released on the internet.

Most DJ mixers also have at least one wired microphone input so various people can make announcements, tell the crowd to put their hands up, and generally makes their voices heard over the music.  Oftentimes, wireless microphones are used, especially at weddings, where lots of speeches are made. Other times, a keyboardist may be hired to play for the cocktail hour, and a microphone may be needed for announcements.  Although the music may be very different, the audio signal flow diagram for both scenarios (DJ or Keyboardist) is very similar, and can be simplified into something like this:

Old DJ mixer

Now, if the sound system depicted in the above diagram was instead a WiSA enabled system, the audio signal path is essentially the same, except the amps and speaker wires are replaced with powered speakers and a digital wireless link:

New DJ mixer and Wireless Speakers

This wireless link to the speakers gives great flexibility to the event planner.  In the past, if the client wanted to have the speakers setup around the pool, the DJ also needed to be out by the pool.  But now, the DJ can be on the balcony, or even the rooftop.  You can have one or two speakers for the DJ and the rest you can place wherever you like.

For the keyboardist playing during a cocktail hour between a wedding and the dinner reception, you could setup two wireless speakers in the lobby, one speaker on the patio, one speaker in the foyer, and another wireless speaker in the bridal party suite, so they don’t miss anything.

Boat parties would be incredibly easier with wireless speakers, as would flash mobs, fundraisers, and fashion shows, where inevitably, someone always ask you to move your speakers at the very last minute. Well with WiSA, you can easily move your speakers and reconfigure the system instantly, adjusting volume levels and delays to each speaker on the fly.

In summary, the WiSA Association definitely sees a market for wireless speakers at weddings and other parties, transmitting uncompressed, interference free HD audio that is easy to set up and easy to use.  Although speaker wires may seem simple on paper, its much more difficult at a formal event, where you often have to tape the wires to avoid trip hazards.  Most event spaces have power outlets on every wall.  Just make sure you bring a few nice extension cords, some gaff tape, and those “triple taps”, that turn one AC outlet into three.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me, Paul Konikowski at pkoniko@wisaassociation.org

You should also download the whitepaper from the wisaassociation.org website:

http://wisaassociation.org/Compliance/White-Paper-Request.aspx