Pepcom to CNET: If you organize any get-togethers after our events, we'll ban you

Pepcom to CNET: If you organize any get-togethers after our events, we'll ban you

Summary: Jon Pepper, Chris O'Malley (proprietors) and the rest of the crew at Pepcom can take their stinkin' events like Digital Experience and, well {fill in the blank}.


Jon Pepper, Chris O'Malley (proprietors) and the rest of the crew at Pepcom can take their stinkin' events like Digital Experience and, well {fill in the blank}. Not only do Pepcom events deserve to be boycotted by journalists, writers, and bloggers, I'm suggesting that exhibitors such as Nokia, Lenovo, Belkin, Palm, Skype, Kodak, HP, Nikon, Casio, Brookstone, Plantronics, Sandisk, Sharp, GE, Toshiba, Kingston and the many others who pay good money to exhibit at Pepcom's events think hard about the sort of behavior they're endorsing. Pepcom has unjustifiably come down on me and my company (CNET Networks) like a ton of bricks for doing something as simple as hosting a post-event gathering after one of their events. It'll be a cold day in hell before I ever come to its events to cover the vendors and technologies exhibiting at them again.

I know, these are pretty strong words. But consequences like these are certainly suitable for the hypocrites at Pepcom who have threatened to blacklist CNET and ZDNet editors from Pepcom-produced events if we organize an after-hours party or BlogHaus in the same city on the same day as one of those events.

This "policy" comes from the same company that makes money by parasitically latching-on to big events like CES and CTIA. They do this by scheduling their own technology exhibitions in the same cities during the same day or week as the bigger events. These invite-only (for the press) exhibitions feature vendors who, according to sources, pay up to $5,000 per table to exhibit (Update: Sources are telling me the $5K number is incorrect and that it's $8K. Either way, I wasn't charging anything.). Earlier this year, one CES official openly complained to me about how Pepcom was hijacking his event and taking away his exhibitors.

Apparently however, while Pepcom has no compunctions about hijacking other events for commercial gain, it is now prepared to use the invite-only status of its events as leverage to keep companies like CNET Networks (the parent to ZDNet) from organizing a free after hours event that's not only non-competitive to Pepcom's events, but that I designed to complement their events (in other words, to make them better).

Case in point? Several times a year, Pepcom runs events in NYC at the Metropolitan Pavilion. And, after every one of these events, the journalists in attendance usually get together for a few beers to talk about what they saw and what's going on in the industry. In fact, after one of Pepcom's events last year, Pepcom officials joined us at an Irish Pub in Manhattan. It was a great time. But one thing was missing from these watering holes that we'd gather at after Pepcom's events: a WiFi signal. Here we were, a bunch of journalists and bloggers who had just finished conducting as many as a dozen interviews, each with no way to start writing those stories up and publishing them online.

With that and the BlogHaus that Podtech ran at CES as my inspirations, I came up with a solution. This year, instead of going to a nearby bar, I would try to get CNET to organize a BlogHaus where writers could not only go and get a WiFi signal to publish the stories and blogs that they picked up at Pepcom's event, but we'd also offer free beer, wine and food. Originally, the idea was to invite the exhibitors and the Pepcom staff too. Not only would this get Pepcom's exhibitors more coverage (if writers could continue their conversations with the exhibitors), it would give writers a chance to ask more questions if, in the course of publishing their write-ups, they realized more information was needed. After one of my bosses signed off on the idea, I called the folks at Pepcom with what I thought was exciting news.

Immediately however, Pepcom's Chris O'Malley rained on the parade telling me that I could not invite any of the exhibitors. His explanation was that the exhibitors have complained to him in the past about being invited to after-hours events by journalists. This of course is an absolute joke. Vendors jump through all sorts of hoops just to get journalists to come to their events. Several vendors I told this story to either laughed out loud or were dead silent in disbelief, invariably saying they'd be there in a heartbeat if they were invited to free event to hang out with journalists (after all, they're paying $5,000 per table to hang out with journalists at Pepcom's events).

But, it's Pepcom's event. They're free to make the rules which is what O'Malley did. He told me I could not invite any vendors. But he said he would allow it if I wanted to invite other journalists, which is what I ended up doing. Here is the blog post from that Bloghaus as it was just getting started at the W Hotel in Union Square, NYC, just around the corner from the Metropolitan Pavilion where Pepcom's Digital Experience event had just wrapped up.

Things went pretty well. We had about 35 people show up. The conversations were cozy and fun. Some of us (including me) hammered away on our keyboards to publish video and blogs.

For just a 3-hour event (it ran from 6-9pm on one night), Digital Experience represented a significant investment for us. Not only did I fly down from Boston for the event. I flew in our multimedia producer Matt Conner from Boston and George Ou from California as well (and all of us stayed overnight in Manhattan which is not a cheap place to stay). Together, we generated a significant amount of text, still images, and video from the event (some of which was published during the Bloghaus). In addition, I just filed the expense report for that BlogHaus: a little less than $3,000 that I charged to my Visa card. It was all goodness for the folks at Pepcom.

So imagine my surprise when, last week, I got the thank you from Pepcom's Chris O'Malley. He told me that the journalists that I invited over for free beer, wine, food, and WiFi took offense to the invitation (like I dragged them kicking an screaming to the W Hotel). His exact words were:

We did hear back from at least a couple media outlets that noted (or were invited themselves) and apparently took offense at the invitation -- and let us know it.

After several back and forth e-mails, O'Malley made it abundantly clear to me what the consequences would be if I held another event of any kind before or after theirs (regardless of who I invited or how I went about inviting them):

.....I'm not threatening at all.....those that feel they can abide [our rules] can attend as they wish; those that feel they cannot abide them cannot attend....

.....If we become aware that an individual or group is hosting an event immediately preceding or following ours, we will not permit that individual or those individuals to attend our event.....

.....If it's a group of CNET-only staffers getting together for a group blog or beers or whatever, that's none of our concern. If others are invited (regardless of how or when), it becomes our concern, and we'll have to act on that.

What I don't understand is how, when "others" invited me to an Irish Pub around the corner and O'Malley was sitting right there drinking the same beer as we were, he wasn't complaining at that time. Oh well. At this point, it doesn't matter.

Here are some parting words for the folks at Pepcom: I was doing something nice for you and your community and this is the thanks I get. So, let's let bygones be bygones. I'm publishing this on my own. Keep my colleagues at ZDNet and CNET out of this. This is all my doing. They have nothing to do with it. They're hard working individuals that come to your events to cover your customers (though I think they and others should join me in boycotting your events). To make this really simple, you won't have to blacklist me from your events. I won't be coming anyway. It's not worth my time or CNET's resources if you're going to ban me for organizing a non-threatening version of what you currently and very threateningly do to other event organizers.

Topics: CES, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Nokia, Toshiba, Wi-Fi

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  • Realisation Sets In

    The feedback that I expect they received was something along the lines of how good the aftershow was.

    Suddenly realisation sets in and they wonder how long it will be before vendors stop paying for stands at their events and just start 'dropping in' to CNET's instead.
    • It wasn't an aftershow

      Just to be clear, we had a small function room in the W. There was no show. We had some couches, chairs, tables, beer, wine, some finger food. It was pretty intimate. Some of us were using the WiFi network to publish, others were sitting around talking. At most, we had 35 people there. So, this is no "aftershow." When I first conceived of the event, I really envisioned being able to (a) do some blog publishing there and (b) getting a few more stories out of Pepcom exhibitors that I didn't have a chance to get to. I thought others could benefit to and it was really a good idea for CNET to play host to a bloghaus like this since blogging is a very community-oriented thing.
      • Yup, zero vendors there

        Yup, zero vendors there period.
      • To Clarify

        My use of the term aftershow was probably an error, I was simply struggling for a nice description for your "event".

        I realise that there were no vendors there or indeed invited, however my point is that O'Malley seems to be suffering from acute paranoia concerning the value that his offering provides to the vendors.

        As such he feels acutely threatened by a gathering of tech journalists in a similar/place time to his events. His concern is that vendors will soon start thinking 'whats the point of attending the pepcom events. We could just "drop in" on the CNET guys.'

        For the record I absolutely agree with you on this point, it is definately a value add that generates more talk about the event and is an additional benefit to the attendees.
  • Something's not right

    Either O'Malley is a paranoid asshat like nmh above conjectures, or Mr. Berlind is leaving out part of the story.

    I find it hard to believe it, as it stands -- how could a company devoted to getting people together be opposed to the synergy offered by more related get-togethers?
    • Nothing left out

      I'm telling it like it happened.
      • Correction!

        You're telling as it happened from YOUR point of view! Others might differ.

        Of course - perception is all we have.... :-)
        • The text from the e-mail stands alone

          The text, reprinted in my blog, from his e-mails, couldn't make it much clearer. What part of that actually sits well with you.

          "If we become aware that an individual or group is hosting an event immediately preceding or following ours, we will not permit that individual or those individuals to attend our event.....If it's a group of CNET-only staffers getting together for a group blog or beers or whatever, that's none of our concern. If others are invited ([b]regardless of how or when[/b]), it becomes our concern, and we'll have to act on that."

          Now, I've boldfaced the invitation part because that's key. There's really no "side" here. This is a company that puts on events for the press to attend, and it is unequivocally saying that it doesn't matter how people get invited (for example, if invitations are issued some other way than at the Pepcom events themselves) -- that if CNET editors end up inviting people to an event that's scheduled to take place before or after a Pepcom event, that they'll have to act. And just prior to that, "act" was very clearly defined as denied entrance.

          That's not my point of view. Those are the words of a Pepcom official. Under what point of view would this be appropriate?

          • Sorry - I wasn't clear

            I was not in any way questioning your integrity or honesty. I was merely pointing out that all any of us can recount is our own point of view because our own perception of reality is all that we have.

            [i]"Those are the words of a Pepcom official. Under what point of view would this be appropriate?"[/i]

            From your point of view they are acting either unreasonably or stupidly. From their point of view they are attempting to protect their income stream. If they lost these "exhibitions" how much would it cost them? $100K, $200K? They are worried about their shaky business model and the income it provides.

            IMO, they are acting in a stupid fashion. What they need to do is to give those exhibitors paying $5,000 per table a bit more than a few journalists - some form of added value so that even if journalists invite them out, they will still come back and count their $5,000 as money well spent.

            I don't know what that added value would be, but unless they find it then journalists giving "free" attention to PepCom exhibitors will remain a significant threat to their business model.
          • Added value

            Typical. After pressing "Submit" some thoughts clarify.

            The "added value" for PepCom would be to organise the evening do, lay on beer, food and WiFi and just let the Journos and Exhibitors mix in a pub. If thet organised the "evening do" then nobody else would bother doing so.

            The journos would be happy, Pepcom would be happy and the exhibitors would be happy. Why don't you bury the hatchet and suggest it to them? They've been stupid, but we all do that from time to time.
          • That's basically what I went to them with..

            the first time... with the difference being we pick up the tab. It was a no-brainer if you ask me.

            add value to your existing event at no cost to you.

            oh well.
    • It's called a pre-emptive strike

      It seems very simple to me. Follow the money.

      Let suppose that I am a "Big Company" and that I decide to exhibit at Pepcom's event so that I can meet journalists who are being wheeled in to see me. That's what I want - publicity. That's why BigCo is exhibiting there. It costs $5000.

      Around the corner is an event chock-full of journos who will let me come and talk to them. Nett cost to BigCo - couple of rounds of beer.

      Now, as marketing director of BigCo, which event would you attend?

      From Pepcom's POV, each defector is a $5K LOSS. Now scale that up to 15 or 20 "BigCo"s and you'll see why they are getting shirty.
      • Different events, context, non-competitive

        That may be the way they're thinking, but this industry's history shows how these sort of social "after-events" is actually good for the ecosystem of the main event because they're not about competing with the main event. Think about it. At digital experience, there's all this infrastucture (power, networking, table-space, signage, etc.) to support the idea of a bunch of technology exhibits where all the tech from each exhibitor is on display, working.

        At an after-hours event where I have some wi-fi connectivity some tables, beer, wine and food, the infrastructure simply isn't there to compete. Heck, we only had room for about 50 people (vs. the hundreds if not thousands that attend Pepcom's events). Would it get to some point where we say "Hey, we have the right composition to turn this into a regular 'exhibit-like' event"? I guess you could argue yes. But then again, look at how many of those events CNET runs: Zero. We had one event like that (PC Forum), but no longer.

        That's not our business.

        After all, in all these years of going to Pepcom's events, nothing has ever prevented us from gathering all the business cards we could and starting another competing event across town. But have we done that? Not even close.

      • Customers are property

        Punishing your paying customers for throwing a party after your show seems to be a rather dubious way to keep customers. Kind of like banning tailgate parties before sporting events (hurts concession sales).
        John L. Ries
  • Have to take the client somewhere...

    So is Show Stoppers still a good show to do then? Many venofrs can't afford a large booth at CES and the press-only shows are a nice way to still get in front of press. Pepcom has always seemed to do better than Show Stoppers in the past but if ZDnet, CNET and other media are moving over to Show Stoppers, I'd like to get my clients there.

    Sorry Pepcom has done this, they put us in a difficult situation.
  • Your from Boston dave!

    Did I read that right you went from Boston? I am from the Boston area (Ok Salem,MA I could fly on my broom!) Thats anohter story.

    I am supprised that this person who does not have the millions of dollars that these companies have must be laughing. They can just tell Mr O'malley to go jump in a lake you host the shows you don't tell what my company can do to get a interview with a writer. Talk about slaming the hand in the door that feeds you.

    One way around it is to have someone who goes to the show that you'll give them a free laptop or something and ask to hand out invites. Use a different person everytime. I've been going to all kind of computer shows since the early 1980's in Bosotn and New york, and never heard of such moronic behavor.

    Actually Dave I really never heard of Pepcom this was the first time I heard about it, and I read allot of computer magazines and get allot of computer email newsletters.

    So in a nutshell if I never heard of them you should not have much problem with them. so all I have to say is Pepcom? what's that?
  • Open invite to Berlind, CNET from ShowStoppers

    Pepcom has reportedly threatened to deny admission to any CNET staffer, including ZDNet executive editor David Berlind, if those CNET staffers organize and invite anyone other than CNET staff to a post-event bloghaus after any Pepcom event. David blogged the threat here:

    Event sponsors and journalists have a smarter alternative -- ShowStoppers.

    Earlier this week, I invited Berlind to organize a ?bloghaus? after ShowStoppers for the Digital Holidays. This is our fifth-annual showcase of consumer, business, lifestyle and digital tech for Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa and Black Friday. It is scheduled for 26 September, 6-9 p.m., at the new New York Times building in New York.

    In fact, I invited David to organize a bloghaus after any future ShowStoppers, including ShowStoppers @ CTIA, ShowStoppers @ CES, ShowStoppers @ CeBIT and any other press-only event we produce. And I also offered our help in organizing the bloghaus.

    Unfortunately, David respectfully declined and, at this point, says "I have decided to discontinue the bloghaus program for the forseeable future."

    We hope he reconsiders this decision ? and our offer is still on the table.

    We have produced ShowStoppers events for 15 years. These events help to generate coverage of the companies that sponsor the events ? and the products they introduce, sneak preview and demo.

    We have a proven history of working with show management and other organizations. As one example, we currently work with Hannover Fairs USA and Deutsche Messe to produce the official US press reception during CeBIT, the world?s largest IT and enterprise technology tradeshow. As two other examples, we served as the sales agent for the official press reception at CTIA Wireless, and we produced a press reception at the Ziff building in New York that included tours of the famed PC Magazine labs. As yet another example, we have hosted the annual product awards of PC World Magazine for six consecutive years.

    It is logical, compelling and obvious to us that a bloghaus after a ShowStoppers event is going to make it easier for editors and reporters to work through notes, press releases, product photos, podcasts, video and other information in order to quickly post more coverage of the event, the companies that sponsor that event, and the products introduced at that event. And it is flat-out, basic common sense to also encourage CNET, ZDNET, PC Magazine, eWeek and other reporters to invite ShowStoppers sponsors to bloghaus for in-depth, extended interviews after ShowStoppers ends for the evening.

    Bottom line, we get it.

    We look forward to seeing our friends from the press in New York. Here?s my email address, sl @ Here?s my phone number, 512-288-0950.

    Sponsors, you have a choice. Do you want to meet the press? Join us. Contact Dave Leon. He heads sales for us. Here?s his email address, dave @ Here?s his phone number, 845-638-3527.

    Steve Leon
    • Show them - team up with ShowStoppers

      Teach them a lesson. I'm a journalist who has attended CES and/or COMDEX, going back to 1988. I've watched c|net grow, and really appreciated when they had their double decker bus to shuttle us around in Vegas, during the height of the dot com era.

      I've attended many ShowStoppers and Pepcom events. There might not seem to be a huge difference in the events and vendors, but there is definitely a difference in the hosting companies.

      ShowStoppers is a class act and you should not let your bad experience with Pepcom dissuade you from taking a great idea and moving it forward.

      There are many thoughts that get lost because I couldn't type and upload a story or photo, that if there was a structured event after the show, with kiosks, WiFi, etc., it could make all the difference. Keep in mind that most of the press doesn't lug their laptop to such events, because we know we'll get loaded up with collaterals and supplies. So it's hard to even get stories written let alone uploaded. Internet-connected PCs would go a long way.

      Just my thoughts. Keep up the good fight.
  • Pepcom seems to be uniquely anal

    I[ve been covering CES and similar events for years. I review for CMP, JupiterMedia, WIRED, ComputerWorld, etc. I attended both Pepcom's event and Showstoppers for many shows. Once I made the mistake of revealing I wasn't a full-time writer, I was banned from Pepcom events, in spite of any number of assignment editors willing to vouch that I was covering the event for them.

    Ah well, Pepcom's loss. Showstoppers has most of the same exhibitors.
  • How buffoonish of Pepcom

    You're being too kind to Pepcom here, although I admit that they're certainly doing plenty on their own to make themselves look foolish.

    I'm glad that you touched on how the M.O. for their events is predicated entirely on piggybacking on larger shows. I'm actually surprised that CES or CTIA haven't attempted to take some sort of action against them. It's a different matter entirely when it comes to your bloghaus, of course, since you're not attempting to wring money out of the vendors who are already present for another show.

    A wise marketer might see your efforts actually adding value to the Pepcom events -- a fact that makes their stance seem even more inane.