Wednesday, Dec. 24, 1997 | 10:06 a.m.
The nation's largest computer company won't attend the nation's largest computer show when it rolls into Las Vegas next year.
The reason: Comdex has gotten too big.
That, at least, is the publicly-disseminated reason why IBM won't attend Comdex for the first time in the show's 20-year history.
Comdex, the city's largest convention each year, is staged at the Las Vegas Hilton, the Sands Expo Center and the Las Vegas Convention Center. Organizers of this year's show haven't received audited figures on attendance, but they estimated last month that it was around 220,000. Next year's show is scheduled for Nov. 16-20.
"We don't think Comdex is the best way to reach our customers," said John Bukovinsky, a spokesman for the Armonk, N.Y.-based computer giant. "Comdex is a good way to talk to customers about products, but not the best way to talk about solutions."
In order to work directly with prospective customers about their personal computer needs, Bukovinsky said IBM needs "an environment that is not as hectic and crowded as Comdex has become.
"For that reason, we won't be at the Spring '98 or Fall '98 shows," Bukovinsky said. The Comdex Spring show is conducted in Chicago in April.
A spokeswoman for Softbank Comdex, the company that produces the computer shows worldwide, said that while IBM would be missed, the company's absence won't hurt the premier show of the computer industry.
"Companies have to make their own decisions with regard to their own marketing programs on their own basis," said Suzanne Lonergan, spokeswoman for the Needham, Mass.-based show producer. "We have no concern about the strength of the event itself."
Based on a statement issued by Jason Chudnofsky, president and chief executive officer of ZD Comdex & Forums, a Softbank Comdex division, IBM's decision may be rooted in a dispute over next year's booth placement, not crowded conditions on the trade-show floor.
"Statements have appeared in the media over the last several days attributed to IBM and its divisions regarding their decision not to exhibit in Comdex Fall 1998," Chudnofsky said in a prepared statement. "We are extremely surprised at these statements, especially in light of the promotional visibility IBM has given the impact and success of their participation in Comdex through a nationwide series of advertisements in major newspapers."
Chudnofsky then explained how IBM broke off talks with Comdex organizers after an unnamed competing exhibitor selected IBM's location on the trade-show floor. IBM chose a location, but wanted to change the booth configuration. The Comdex staff rejected the reconfiguration and suggested alternatives, but IBM's authorizing executive needed to review the plan.
"While the situation was being reviewed with this executive, a company with a later booth selection number selected the booth under discussion," said Chudnofsky. "Upon being notified that the booth had been selected by another organization, the IBM team left the booth selection process without any further discussion of alternatives."
IBM's 16,000-square-foot two-level booth was one of the most visible displays of the 1997 show with a location in the main convention center hall near a main entrance and a concession area.
"If IBM is genuinely concerned about the effectiveness of the Comdex event in meeting their objectives," said Chudnofsky, "we are concerned to engage in whatever conversations are required to understand their issues and to work directly with them to develop solutions.
"At the same time, since booth space at Comdex events is at such a premium, it is especially important that we apply policies and procedures which are designed to ensure fairness as well as recognized longevity of relationship to each of our customers in exactly the same way."
Industry leaders are watching to see if other major computer companies cite the same marketing difficulties as IBM and duck out of the show. A mass exodus could be troublesome to Softbank Comdex, which has an estimated $2.5 billion in debt from several convention acquisitions in the past two years. The company counts on revenues from the computer shows as its prime source of income.
Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., and Austin, Texas-based Dell Computer Corp., reportedly are considering their options. They did not return telephone calls earlier this week.
One company that already has stayed away from Comdex is Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Computer, which didn't attend the show this year.
Since Apple works with the Macintosh platform and not the PC system, its absence from the PC-heavy Comdex show was not surprising.
Rhonna Hamilton, a spokeswoman for the company, said the company is placing its emphasis on the Mac World Expo, where Macintosh products are displayed.
Shows the magnitude of Comdex and Mac World take about six months to prepare for and up to half of the company's staff, Hamilton said. In addition to preparing presentations, the staff has to arrange for hotel and travel accommodations as well as banners, signs and other promotional materials.