Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Watches and Wondering...

So, another watch show in the books, and MY FIRST EVER Watches and Wonders / SIHH show under my belt and I think I can honestly say, so what?

I think it's important to go back a few steps to get a better handle on just exactly what Watches and Wonders started life as, what it has attempted to move to, and why it's clear that this year's iteration was really not quite ready for primetime.

Watches and Wonders morphed out of the SIHH. The SIHH was a thinly veiled pr piece for Richemont and a few select "chums" such as AP and one or two other "elite" brands. It was a closed shop as to who would receive an invitation to attend as press and it was run with a precise schedule that demanded not only your attendance, but unflagging participation in every event, presser, etc. Failure to fully comply would mean expulsion (or worse).

And then along came COVID-19, and with it - opportunity!  BaselWorld for all of its egalitarian appeal has been mismanaged for some time. Brands were frustrated, retailers hated going, and many of my colleagues in the Fourth and Fifth Estates would attend somewhat erratically.  And there was the small opening that the folks in Geneva had been waiting for! One by one, the dominoes began to topple.  Rolex, Patek, LVMH, and the rest of the big dogs took it on the heel and toe and headed south.

And then, the big virtual event that we had all been waiting for...

Fell flat.

Communication from the organizers amounted to a fairly anemic press release each morning. A "watch media personality" hosted a so-called "morning show". Not unlike a lot of Zoom meetings we have to show up for in our normal workday, it was more of an inconvenience than a pleasure to sit through presentations that ranged from very polished to something that a junior high school AV Club might have knocked together during 5th period study hall.

Press releases from the brands were sporadic and in some instances non-existent. Press coverage primarily focused on Rolex, Tudor, a wee bit on some Richemont brands (admittedly not too much) and finally Patek on the final day.

My friend who has seen more watch shows than most of us has a saying that I have applied in my working life -

"You can't email a handshake".

Now granted, in this day and age we have a pandemic that is prohibiting travel and close contact. So maybe remove handshake and replace it with elbow-bump, but the point is simple - a show needs gravitas and excitement.  And frankly? It needs better organization. Simply put, for the amount of money brands spent to participate in this year's event, they would be forgiven for feeling a bit shortchanged on this one.  Now the sales argument could have been this - "Participate in our virtual show this year, and we promise to include you next year when we are back "in person".

Another intriguing feature was the emergence of privateers in a so-called open show. "News" (excuse me while I die laughing) outlets doubling as PR / Marketing agencies cutting deals with brands to create content for them and in some instances releasing it on their own platforms in advance of a release coming from the brand's own PR staff to the rest of the press corps. Call me old-fashioned, but just as there is a reason why foxes aren't typically employed by Tyson or Perdue to manage the chicken coops, it's maybe not the best idea to sell out on the idea of a fair and open press/communications strategy out of convenience, expedience or simple laziness. Now the typical refrain I hear on social media is - "Hey, I'm trying to make a living."  

And that's as may be, but to quote that other great commentator on the watch business, Robert Townsend in Hollywood Shuffle -

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