Mobile World Congress: Worth it for a day?

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Back in January I was pretty irritated with the GSMA, the organisers of Mobile World Congress.

A little while ago, I applied for press credentials like every other blogger out there. And I was declined.

The pain on the ego.

Oh the pain!

The GSMA changed the qualifying status for press credentials this year. The GSMA’s PR firm, Liberty Communications, checked me out big time after I applied this year. They looked at my various profiles. They popped up on my LinkedIn ‘who’s looking at your profile’ list. They scrutinised me and eventually decided that journalism (or blogging) wasn’t my primary career. Here’s the precise text they used in their ‘thanks but no thanks’ email:

Due to the professional activity that your are currently practicing, at Nationwide Building Society we regret to inform you that we will not be able to accredit you as press or analyst for the event. 

I wrote back pointing out I was a contractor. I pointed out that — technically — I would have finished my contract (as I now have!) with Nationwide by the time MWC rolled around and therefore I’d be back to Mobile Industry Review as a primary activity. (Until the next contract.)

They were definitely not impressed, it seems, by the page on this site that points out that I offer consultancy services.

I’m not, in their eyes, a proper journalist.

I never was.

Their fundamental message was: “You can pay like everyone else.”

Heh. I applaud the capitalist attitude!

For a while, years ago, Mobile Industry Review was briefly a primary revenue generating activity for me. Not any more. I pay to make it happen — not just with my time. I actually fork out real cash, much to the mild frustration of wife.

For me, the value exchange with MWC was pretty clear. I paid for the flights and hotel and they gave me a press badge that meant I didn’t need to pay for entrance. It also made me feel a wee bit sophisticated. In years gone by I was able to take a whole team with me — free of charge in terms of entrance fees (but flipping expensive when it came to me having to pay for it all myself).

In return for not charging me for a ticket, I would also be given a badge that ‘certified’ me to film and interview folk on-site without the burly security people getting annoyed. And I’d also put up with the millions of press releases sent by those PRs who’d been given access to the GSMA’s press list. There were often some real nuggets.

It went further, though — at least in my view. I paid attention. I actually strolled the halls and when folk flagged me down, desperate for some kind of coverage, I’d listen patiently and often end up writing their company up. I felt obliged to do so. I would also comment on the event itself, the atmosphere and so on. I’d also make it my duty to visit the big players and mill about the various exhibition halls.

Revoking the press credentials of bit players like me — I’m no Engadget — is, on the face of it, a smart move. It forces us lot (and, there are a lot of people like me, with readers/followers) to pay for a ticket. That should help boost revenue, theoretically anyway.

I ended up with a free pass from one of the big exhibitors. That doesn’t entitle me to watch the various keynotes but really, there’s only so many times you can hear the same mobile operator folk say more or less the same thing (Zuckerberg et al, excepted).

I was momentarily panicked that with just an exhibitor badge, I wouldn’t be able to record a 361 Degrees Podcast episode on the show floor with Rafe Blandford. Thankfully the GSMA’s own Claire Cranton (Director of Media Relations) who helpfully confirmed that it wouldn’t be a problem as long as Rafe and I stuck to walking about the aisles. Nay bother then.

I heard of quite a few bloggers-cum-journalists who were rather cheesed off at being denied press credentials.

I had to shrug my shoulders when it came to my own situation though.

Yes my ego was bruised a little. It’s quite nice to wear a badge that says PRESS on it.

But I had to remember last year’s flying visit.

I did write, tweet and video from MWC last year as a member of the media.

But I was only there for a day.

That’s right: Last year I decided only to visit for one day.

I flew into Barcelona on a morning flight and then flew out in the evening. Here’s the post I wrote about the experience: How to do Mobile World Congress in one day for £156 (plus entry).

In previous years, I would go Saturday to Saturday. I just couldn’t afford to miss the whole week. I routinely spent the Friday recovering or writing up all the stuff I couldn’t get live during the show days. Or, I spent it editing video. Boy did I have a lot of video to edit. Those were the days. I think it was 2012 or 2013 when I actually hosted a panel debate for the GSMA at MWC. That was a lot of work!

Last year’s one-day visit prompted me to do the same again this year. I resolved to book my same-day flight as early as possible. In the back of my mind I thought, “If I need to, I’ll go for longer.” That’s always an option.

I looked again this week just to see how much it would cost for me to go for the whole week — now that I’ve finished working with Nationwide, I don’t have to be in Swindon every day, so I could actually be there every day. £1,500. Quite a lot. I’d probably have done it if I’d been assigned a press pass. I’m rather embarrassed to admit that this would probably have made it worth it for me! Which is quite silly, really.

Given my one-day visit strategy, I felt I couldn’t very well get irate at not qualifying for press credentials.

I am, however, fundamentally bothered (from an industry evaluation standpoint) by the fact that I don’t feel I’m missing much by just going for a day.

My underlying aim is to go and have a look at the devices. A bit of hands on with some handsets and other similar devices and a stroll up and down one or two halls and that’s me done. I’ve booked three interviews. Principally because I knew the PRs who pitched me and they got me at the right time and in the right mood.

So it’ll be a packed day for me. But just a day.

MWC is therefore no longer critical for me.

And that, I find very stimulating. Why not?

What am I missing by just going for the day?

What would I be missing by not going at all?

And that, dear reader, is the key point of my post.

I think we’re rapidly approaching BAU for mobile. How long until we’re post-mobile?

Are we already, as a planet, post mobile?

Have we ‘done’ mobile? Is it properly here now and part of the scenery?

What does mobile even mean, any more?

At what point will Mobile World Congress have to rebrand?

Questions, questions.

2015 will no doubt be another record breaking event. There are a lot more people being drawn into the world of mobile than previous years. If you work in ‘digital banking’ then you should probably be there. If you work in ‘digital imaging’, you should probably be there. Same if you work in ‘digital commerce’. Or frankly, digital-anything.

At what point do diminishing returns set in? At what point does a generic ‘mobile’ show become just too big and unwieldy?

Probably never. Well, not for a long time. Just look at CES! That’s going great guns.

But is it worth going to MWC for the whole week nowadays? Yes if you’re coming from America or the Far East.

But should more of us Europeans just be popping over for a day in future? What do you think?

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8 Responses to Mobile World Congress: Worth it for a day?

  1. Jonathan Morris February 25, 2015 at 11:40 pm #

    Did you get the added insult of being sent an email with your details confirmed yesterday, followed by one saying it was a mistake and the content of the email was null and void and NOT to attempt to turn up as you’d not be allowed in?

    Anyone would think they’re enjoying the power of telling journalists they can’t come. Like you, I was going to pay my own way this year – the first time ever and I’ve been to MWC loads of times.

    I too got offered a free pass to go as non-press from someone else (well, multiple people actually), but decided not to go all that way to miss out on the events (tiresome as some of them can be, and the scrum afterwards to see the products), access to the media room etc.

    But maybe having fewer press will make these events more manageable? Yet I wonder if the manufacturers that have likely paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to attend will be aware that so many people were told to sod off this year? They’re at MWC to get their message across to people like me and you, so if they can’t do that then why not have an event somewhere else?

    I’d like to think that having been in the business since 1992, editing a magazine, doing consultancy work that has helped shape phones that the likes of Samsung, Google and others have then put on sale, managing staff, and helping guide the ‘journalists of tomorrow’, as well as being asked to judge the GSMA Awards in the past (and many other awards), would have counted for something – but alas not. And I’m not just blowing my own trumpet (well, perhaps I am!) as there are many others who are just as experienced, probably more so, than me and won’t be going this year.

    Anyway, enjoy your one day visit and let us all know how it works out!

  2. Ewan February 25, 2015 at 11:49 pm #

    I do wonder what the impact will be from a press coverage standpoint. There will obviously be a decline if you restrict the media badges. But how much of a decline? I’m still writing about it. (Not in as much volume, though) And can you translate that into lost revenue from the big customers? Probably difficult.

    The interesting point for me is that I’ve often gone along to the dedicated events put on by the exhibitors themselves and found them far more targeted and relevant than the main MWC.

    Are any of the big exhibitors likely to exit the show?

    And what about Apple? 😉 They’ve never bothered with a presence and it hasn’t done them much harm!

  3. Jonathan Morris February 26, 2015 at 12:02 am #

    I’ll still be writing about stuff from MWC too, so perhaps the GSMA thinks it’s a sound strategy and will be proven correct in the long run. Maybe I’m just bitter at being told I’m not cool enough anymore…

  4. Ewan February 26, 2015 at 12:23 am #

    I think there’s a real risk that the move will have depressed the excitement that would ordinarily have found its way into the output of those who aren’t going any more. Or who are going with an exhibitor pass now.

  5. Jonathan Morris February 26, 2015 at 12:31 am #

    I certainly won’t be putting out 10-15 stories per day, and will have absolutely no video to edit at all.

    I’ll watch the events in the comfort of my own home (that’s the nice bit) and probably Tweet a lot more, and then write up summaries later. It won’t be the same by any stretch of the imagination.

  6. njar February 26, 2015 at 8:37 am #

    Well I for one will hope that my week long trip from the west coast of the US is made all the brighter by bumping into you, press pass or not. (I can’t believe I remembered my Disqus creds. I also need to change my horrible photo).

  7. jamescoops February 27, 2015 at 10:24 am #

    Totally disagree with the “post-mobile” thesis Ewan. If anything mobile is eating digital not the other way around. I still think mobile is also clearly a specific platform – just as we still a ‘TV’ and a ‘Radio’ industry we’ll still have a ‘mobile’ industry for some time to come.

    Mobile World Congress is also spawning new areas like App Planet which is really one of best places to see what’s going on in the mobile advertising and app ecosystem and check out all the new trends, buzzwords and players!

    So yeah definitely still worth it!

  8. Ewan February 27, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

    Ahhh, I think I should have clarified that rather sweeping statement. I do like the sweeping statements 😉

    I meant in the context of mobile not being ‘new’ — we’re no longer having to convince people to look at the medium and in most cases (almost all, surely?) there’s little need to defend budget spend on the medium either.

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