Virtual CES and Pepcom 2021: Takeaways for Future Shows

Image Credit: GeekWire


As has become the 2021 norm, both Pepcom and CES were entirely different conferences year. Flashy booths and media stop-bys became virtual waiting rooms and video demos. Although the events were virtual, they were still a chance for companies to build relationships with media and showcase their consumer appeal.

Fittingly, Pepcom and CES used the very thing they celebrate — technology — to connect exhibitors with media. Booths appeared as boxes with company logos on a landing page, and brief descriptions of each exhibitor — along with a video link — helped attendees decide if they wanted to “stop by” and talk with someone from the company. Despite the updated experience, reporters, editors, producers, and hosts still flocked to the event. 

Some Highwire clients chose not to have a large presence at the shows, though the week did — somewhat unexpectedly — still prove to be a priority for media targets looking for news. Below are a few of Highwire’s standout campaigns:

Bespoken Spirits

While the company didn’t exhibit at CES, the team took a unique approach to connect with media attendees. The team highlighted Bespoken Spirits’ ability to tailor spirits in a matter of days vs. decades by leaning into the de-stressing effects of a good cocktail. Consumer and lifestyle reporters received a designed recipe card for a CES-themed cocktail and an offer to sample Bespoken whiskey. By including ingredients that most media already have at home (such as honey and syrup), the team also helped emphasize the company’s focus on sustainability.


This smart home company previewed a new matte black finish for its most recent smart lock, Level Touch, at Pepcom. The new finish, which turned several heads at the show, adds to momentum Level has seen in the past year driven by two product launches — Level Bolt and Level Touch. The team offered a firsthand look at the lock’s new finish through a video demo with the company to event attendees, which encouraged conversations with people the company had existing relationships with and expanded visibility with new faces.

Level’s 2021 Pepcom booth preview

Despite the virtual experience, these events were still a great opportunity for PR teams to build relationships with key media attendees and drive awareness for their clients. 

Based on the media feedback teams received, here are a few tips on how to best engage with attendees at future virtual events:

  1. Familiarity is everything: Strengthen pre-existing relationships by positioning the stop-bys as an informal chance to get the latest on the company. Be sure to reference the last conversation to jog the reporter’s memory.
  2. Give a reason to engage with the product: Get creative! Don’t simply offer a sample or review unit from your client, but give them a way to actively experience it (like we saw with Bespoken’s cocktail recipe).
  3. No news? No problem: If you don’t have news to announce, focus on introductions between relevant targets and your client by leaning into their beat. Check out their Muck Rack and Twitter pages, as well as recent coverage, to get a sense of what they’re covering. If they like what your client is showcasing, they still might include it in a Pepcom/CES roundup.

Should You Launch a Consumer Product in a Pandemic?

This pandemic has led to a sharp reset, forcing many of us to evaluate what we really need and want. This reset has spared no area of our lives, including the products we choose to invest in. 

If launching a consumer product was in your fall roadmap before the pandemic, we don’t necessarily think you need to scratch it off the list. In fact, we think you can still make it a success. 

Here’s how: 

  • Know your audience – And we mean really know them. What do they care about? How has that changed during the pandemic? Where do they hang out online? A deep understanding of your target audience, how our current environment has impacted their worldview and the areas that drive influence can make your launch efforts more effective. 


  • Take your risk temperature – There’s always a list of risks versus rewards when it comes to launching a product in “normal” times. Today, the potential downsides are significant: Will anyone care about your product now? Consumer spending is tight across the board, so even if they do care, will they buy? All that said, a potential — and significant — advantage of the current climate is that there are fewer launches in the market, potentially reducing the competition and lowering the demand for your customers’ attention. 


  • Be mindful of messaging – All external marketing materials — from website copy down to speaker talking points — need to acknowledge our current situation and how your new product will help your audience live better, more fulfilled lives. Keep in mind that the pre-pandemic messaging pillars still stand, including highlighting the unique advantages of your team and product. 


  • Find your crew – Create a surround sound effect with your launch. If you’ve identified your specific audience and where they hang out online, the next step is identifying the top 3-5 channels your audience really trusts. No matter the market, we trust earned media is likely a top channel ;). Concentrate efforts on these channels. The net does not need to be cast far and wide, but it’s critical to bring the top reporters, influencers and other voices that your audience trusts into the fold. 


  • Test the market – So, what if you now have rock-solid answers to the previous ideas and you’re still not sure how your product will be received? If you have flexibility around your launch date, consider testing the market. This effort can be as private as approaching your top advocates and getting their unfiltered feedback or even surveying the market. Another avenue could be a beta launch like mmhmm. Their launch video shows exactly what their product does and teases what’s to come, but it’s only available for beta sign-up. This preview tactic can yield incredibly valuable audience insights and better steer the big launch. 


  • Add to your playbook – for some companies, launching a product is an old hat — the team knows exactly the steps to take and channels to lean on. We’re not in normal times anymore, so now is the time to experiment with at least one new approach. It can be as incremental as adding a GIF to a suite of product photos or as significant as hosting a virtual reveal for select media and influencers. 

We’d love to hear from you! Are there any launches that have caught your eye during the pandemic? Let us know at

Integrated strategy, leveraged tactics: Engaging with a Consumer Audience During COVID-19

While COVID-19 has led to a boom in demand for Zoom, delivery services, and Peloton, plenty of brands are facing increased communication challenges, tightened budgets and a steep learning curve as they adapt to a digital-only landscape. 

While digital, social and search channels are seeing record traffic from stay-at-home audiences, few brands have the ad budgets to capitalize on them. Organic content teams are scrambling. PR teams are searching for angles. But the market is noisy and reporters are inundated with stories in the crowded media landscape. So how do you stand out? Integrate. Not just your tactics, but your strategy and mindset for the better.

Whether you’re reaching out to reporters or building targeted lead-gen campaigns, a fully integrated program of PR, owned content, social channels, and paid advertising should be fully integrated in your strategy. Here’s where to start. 

Identify Your End Game 

At this point in the coronavirus crisis, many companies have found themselves more concerned with customer retention than acquisition, given the number of consumers on a tighter budget than ever before. Before building out plans, figure out what you want your audience to do. Consider whether it is worthwhile to push them to buy or highlight the value in services and products that they already may have invested in instead. 

Provide real value to audiences in the most efficient way possible. This doesn’t always equal sales, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable.

Figure Out What You Want to Say 

Although we’re all facing new hurdles, our core challenges remain the same. In order to stand out in a crowded communications landscape, brand voices need to develop and maintain firm, impactful POVs and build trust with the media, consumers, influencers and other stakeholders. 

This is where sensitivity training comes into play. Empathy is key, and audience research is paramount. If a platform planned in isolation and deployed without due diligence and testing sounds offensive or insensitive, it will undo all your other investments. Now is the time for brand leaders to read the room. Look for increased confidence in their messaging and avoid promoting products and services in a tone-deaf manner. 

Digital platforms can help. Message testing surveys, segmented audiences and A/B testing can provide baseline engagement and quantified proof to reinforce creative decisions. As an agency, we can do the same with media, leveraging our insights from daily contact with the publications you need to reach, and data on the approaches which are gaining traction in a crowded, complex and changing market. 

… And How You Want to Say It

If you want to be understood, use the language your audience is already familiar with. There is no more direct route to finding that language than by researching the search terms that people are using to research your industry or solve their problems. 

Those have changed throughout the shelter-in-place orders, and differ between city, state and region. Now is a good time to explore new insights before infusing them across all your channels, including PR. People often research the terms they read. An integrated approach can pay unexpected dividends, while also unlocking efficiencies.

By uncovering the new ways people are searching, you’ll capture new audiences and generate fresh content ideas. What’s top of mind for them and what problems they face are all just a search query away. 

The most valuable thing a brand can do is listen and be a partner to its audience. This means understanding what people want and need, figuring out how best to deliver those experiences that will help them and doing so through the channels they are best placed to access. 

It’s far from easy, but developing an integrated mindset and aligned tactical execution is the key to reaching and engaging consumers. Not just during the age of COVID-19, but in the forever-changed world we will share when the coronavirus is a distant memory.

If you’d like to learn more about how Highwire can help your company better engage with your target audience, drop us a line at

Thinking of Using TikTok to Reach Gen Z? Read This First.

Whether you’re Gen Z, a Millennial or even Gen X, chances are you’ve heard of TikTok. It’s the latest social media app that’s taking over and everyone wants to be a part of it. 

TikTok offers users the ability to express themselves through quick clips set to popular music (available via the platform’s expansive library), the app has become a fashionable channel for lip-syncing, dance, comedy videos, and more.

Celebrities use the platform to promote their own brand and the platform has cultivated its own influencers through the TikTok community. So if influencers are using this to successfully promote their brand, should companies be doing the same?

Given TikTok’s popularity amongst Gen Z, we took it upon ourselves to do a deep dive into the platform and determine how companies can use this platform to elevate their brand awareness.

What is TikTok?

Let’s start off with the basics — what is TikTok? It’s a Chinese-based video app founded in 2016 that allows everyone to be a creator and encourages users to share their passion and personal creative expression through their videos. TikTok combines Vine and, a famous lip-syncing app that was acquired, in 2017 by ByteDance. 

In the short amount of time since being founded, TikTok has skyrocketed as a social media app. The app has been downloaded more than a billion times, there are 30 million-plus monthly active users in the U.S. and 37 billion U.S. video views a month. It’s reported that Americans are opening the app eight times a day, spending around 46 minutes a day in the app. 

How do brands currently use TikTok?

Despite the growth of TikTok’s user base and usage, it hasn’t yet reached the advertising heights of its competitors such as Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. According to its second-quarter financial report, Snapchat has 83 million daily active users in North America and 10 billion video views a day or 300 billion a month, beating TikTok significantly.

To stay competitive, TikTok offers five ad products including the hashtag challenge, a brand takeover, in-feed video, branded lenses and a “top-view” video. These require significant investment – a hashtag challenge will run you a minimum of $150,000 a day.

Brands have been utilizing these ad products by partnering with influencers or celebrities within the TikTok community to promote their products and increase their awareness, engagement and reach. 

Looking ahead, TikTok plans to build out its ad tech with “internet-based” targeting, which serves ads to audiences based on their behavioral characteristics – e.g. identifying people based on preferences and personalities learned from collecting data on their activity use within the app.

Is TikTok measurable?

While TikTok does have ad products, it’s not a fully open ad platform just yet making measuring ROI difficult. As it stands, it measures metrics similar to other social channels — think views, likes, comments, engagements, etc. With their hashtag challenge feature, they’re also able to measure from those that viewed the video and how many of those people created their own video using the hashtag.

Currently, there are doubts about how accurately the platform can measure videos and ensuring all followers are humans versus bots, a challenge most social media apps face. Until there is a better system put in place, brands using TikTok for advertising purposes will struggle with defining success based on metrics.

Should your company be using TikTok?

With 69 percent of users between the ages of 16 and 24, brands that have cultural relevance to this demographic will benefit the most. It’s an ideal platform for brands and companies that are looking for a creative way to increase their awareness and reach a younger audience. That being said, as it stands, this platform isn’t the best fit for the Cisco’s and Oracle’s of the world.

It’s Time to Prepare for Your Post-Summer Product Launch

By Jonah Pettrich on Unsplash

We’re in the midst of summer and all we’re focused on is the joy of exemplary weather, barbecues, time with friends and family, vacations, and prepping for back to school…but what about that product you want to launch in the Fall, feature in a holiday gift guide or debut at CES?

Preparing for a product launch post-summer takes strategic planning and careful execution — breaking through the noise of back to school chatter, the holidays and large tech events in the Fall is no easy task. Luckily, we can help. 

As we approach Fall and the holiday season, here are a few tips and tricks to ensure you break through the noise:

Plan, Plan, Plan: When we refer to planning, we’re not just talking about your brand strategy or your go to market plan, we’re talking about taking a look at your calendar. The Fall and Winter are lined up with a multitude of technology events that run the news cycle for weeks at a time. With everything from Apple’s product announcements in September to MWC in October to Microsoft Ignite in November and AWS re:Invent in December, the tech community has a jam-packed next couple of months. 

To ensure your product will break through the noise of all these events, make sure you’re not aiming for a launch date the same day as Apple’s infamous September keynote. Chances are most, if not all, the reporters you’re targeting for coverage will be occupied during any week of a big tech event. 

Plan ahead and launch during a week where there is a lull in events or major product announcements — aim for a Wednesday or Thursday giving your team a couple of days earlier in the week to tease the news.

Give Yourself Enough Time: Product launches are notorious for being pushed back whether it’s due to setbacks with the visual assets, product functionality or production of the product itself. With that being said, you should plan for at least a one month cushion to prepare for any delays.

Let’s say you’re aiming to launch your products around the holidays. You’ll want reviews to come out in time for peak holiday shopping and you’ll want to place it in gift guides — your product review program needs to begin in September. Editors can take up to two months testing out a product ensuring there are no kinks and it delivers an experience consumers will enjoy and that’s before they even write the review. Don’t underestimate your product review programs lead time and miss out.

Get Creative: Breaking through the noise is all about standing out, doing something that’s never been done before and making an impact. Sure, this is all easier said than done but it’s not impossible. There are numerous creative ways to get your product seen before the big launch – we can help with that.

Teasing the product and creating a sense of desire is crucial to a successful launch. Create a video teaser and share on social media platforms or create a giveaway with a limited number of products and build that sense of urgency among your audience. Utilize the trend of influencers — partner with a macro-influencer or micro-influencer to get your product’s story in front of a new and targeted audience that matches your key demographics.  

You could even host a pop-up event with sample products for attendees to test out to build that excitement; don’t forget to have them share on their social media (who doesn’t love free press?). If you’re planning to debut at CES, you’ll need to carefully plan your approach as it is one of the noisiest shows and therefore, difficult to attract attention. To break through that noise, we suggest hosting a happy hour a day before the event starts to give reporters an exclusive look at your product or attending a press exclusive event.

We realize it’s only August and you just want to enjoy what’s left of your summer, but the reality is there’s no time like the present and it’s time to start executing against your launch plan to have a successful post-summer launch.