In The Know? No.
“Yeah, that should work.”
“Yeah, and I went to a great high school in the Bronx.”
One of these statements is true, the other...not so much.
While walking the aisles at NAB, I heard the first statement. Someone had asked a technical question about some piece of equipment, and the company’s representative’s response was that whatever it was, it should work.
“Should” is a dangerous word. Another one is “may,” as in “that may work.”
“Will” is not so dangerous...and neither is “won’t.”
At NAB, a lot of people take the opportunity to ask complex technical questions of manufacturers. The problem is that sometimes they get the right answer, but the answer is based on “should” or “may,” and they find out that it doesn’t.
At NAB, I asked the person who was asking the technical question for their business card, telling him I wanted to follow-up with him in a few weeks.
A month after NAB, I called to see if what should work really did work. It didn’t. In fact, when this person called the company’s technical support line, he found out that it wouldn’t work at all.
Was he lied to at NAB? Was the rep misinformed? Did the rep not even know what he was talking about?
When asked what he thought had happened at NAB, the answer was quick and to the point: “The guy was an idiot.”
While I’m sure he wasn’t a complete idiot, he did fall into the trap of trying to be helpful but being helpful in the worst possible way.
The rep thought he knew what he was talking about. I don’t know if this was a product manager, engineer, salesperson or someone’s brother who got a free trip to Vegas in exchange for helping out at the booth, but it doesn’t matter to the person asking the questions.
To be fair, this wasn’t an isolated incident. I’ve researched products and technologies prior to NAB and then shown up at the booths with very specific technical questions. I’ve had a number of wrong answers and even some questions that couldn’t be answered (I guess it’s better not to fake your way through a series of technical questions with the press...well, some of the press anyway).
I’ve been told to come back later when the head mucky-muck was available so he could answer my questions. Here’s some advice: unless the head mucky-muck is also an engineer, don’t go back.
Then again, I do know (and now my new friend from NAB knows) that if I have a specific question, it should be asked of a specific person—the engineer or product manager (given the choice, go for the engineer).
You’ve spent some time coming up with the right questions. Maybe you should spend some time finding the right person to ask those questions to. But that’s not the real point. The point is that manufacturers need to make sure that the right people are available, that everyone in the booth knows who the right people are and if you don’t know what you’re talking about—don’t talk.
I want the folks who staff the booths at trade shows to be helpful. But you can be just as helpful by saying: “I don’t know. But I’ll get someone who does.”
Michael Silbergleid is the editor and associate publisher of Television Broadcast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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