It Takes a Village – Creating the Microsoft Booth
Jan. 08, 2010
Michael Cole has helped prepare Microsoft’s booth at the Consumer Electronics Show for 15 years. On the eve of this year’s CES, Cole was feeling like the mayor of a small town.

LAS VEGAS – Jan. 8, 2010 – “Today is always one of the tougher days,” Michael Cole says to no one in particular.

As he speaks, Cole, experiential program manager for Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices Division, watches his crew busily prep for the opening of Microsoft’s massive, 16,000-square-foot booth at the 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show. At 9 a.m. on Wednesday, it is mere hours until Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer keynotes the event. Cole and his crew are hustling.

Michael Cole inspects one of the cutouts at Microsoft’s CES booth, which he has been planning since last March.
Michael Cole inspects one of the cutouts at Microsoft’s CES booth, which he has been planning since last March.
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Clustered with Cole are Adrian Le Mans, the London-based contractor who designed the booth, and Catherine Meljac, senior event marketing manager. (“If I’m left, she’s right,” Cole says of Meljac.) The trio sets off to inspect every detail of the company’s presence at the world’s largest consumer electronics trade show. “You’re always judged by the weakest point of your delivery,” Le Mans says. He’s all business.

On the first floor a hallway is lined with product showcase rooms. Cole pauses and considers a lone painting with a Windows 7 background.

“Do we need to put some more art on these walls?” he asks. “We have a lot of white.”

“Be careful,” Meljac says. “You don’t want the art to compete.”

“Well, let’s put something up to look at.”

Cole trots through the product experience rooms, designed to show products used in real life.

He declares the living room experience as his favorite. (“Is this Ikea?” he asks, touching a black sofa.) The room feels like a pleasant place to play Xbox for an afternoon – which is the point, Le Mans says. “These rooms are designed to relax people,” he explains. “You want to show guests how you would actually interact with the products.”

Next door, in an “office,” Meljac picks up a dark, frilly pillow. “Very French rococo,” she says. (Baroque, she explains.)

Cole is tall and lanky, wearing jeans and a blue-striped button-down shirt. Recently, he says, he went on a health kick and lost 30 pounds. Even here, when he’s working his biggest event of the year, he begins every morning with a 6 a.m. trip to the gym.

“When I started doing CES I was in my early 30s, so we could go out to dinner and stay out late and be back at 6 a.m. in the morning and be just fine,” he says. “Now that I’m 43, I can’t do it anymore. I hate to admit it, but the charms and all the things that make Las Vegas what it is are lost on me now.”

Media hub refreshed

Upstairs, giving a quick hello to those he passes, Cole strides purposefully into the media hub, an open space for journalists to work.

“The vibe here is different,” Le Mans says. “A trade show can be very difficult. This is a place to relax.”

Cole explains that this is the first time the Microsoft booth has had a central hub for journalists, which Meljac notes is very European thing to do. “In America, you would normally organize this around meeting rooms rather than have an open forum,” she says.

Cole is happy with the change. “People normally would just go to a meeting and leave,” he says. “Now, hopefully they’ll have a better, longer engagement with Microsoft. It’s all about them walking away with a better feeling about Microsoft than when they came in.”

The trio marches past couches and a buffet table and ducks into an empty meeting room, where Rick Osborne joins the group. Osborne is the first point of contact for all the Microsoft business groups showcasing their products in the booth. (“I’m everyone’s best friend and worst enemy,” he says.) More staff join for a quick get-together.

“At CES, it really does take a village,” Meljac says.

“I think it feels more like a small city,” Cole replies.

Michael Cole and Adrian Le Mans, a London-based contractor who designed the booth, inspect one of the product experience rooms.
Michael Cole and Adrian Le Mans, a London-based contractor who designed the booth, inspect one of the product experience rooms.
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Downstairs, the group tours the gaming area. Le Mans inspects a mouse designed to withstand the rigors of a modern video game session. “You know, gamers push hardware development more than just about anybody else,” he says. He adds that the very best gamers can earn serious money making a career out of playing video games. “I should encourage my son to play more Xbox,” Cole quips.

Just past the gaming area are rows of new laptops splashed in red, blue and black. They are all running Windows 7. “Nobody wants a beige box. That’s just not us anymore,” Cole says. “These are meant to highlight the breadth and depth of the Windows ecosystem, which Steve (Ballmer) will be highlighting in his keynote.”

This is the first time Microsoft has so closely tied its presence on the trade floor to the keynote speech, Cole explains. The result is an overarching message of “Microsoft” throughout the entire space. “Microsoft has to remain the star of the show,” Cole says. “You don’t want seven booths with seven different products. You want one booth that says, ‘Hey, with so many different products, Microsoft is the best value for me.’”

Let the show begin

At 10:30 a.m. the tour ends. Cole, Meljac and Le Mans disperse to tackle last-minute tasks. “I think we’re close,” Cole says. He reflects on the community of workers it takes to pull it all off. “You get so close to these people, it’s almost like being in the army together. You sacrifice and do whatever it takes to do it.”

Cole trots off to take the temperature of the business groups, who are just starting to arrive. “I feel like the mayor,” he says. “I don’t know any other way to put it. When I look over my whole career, it’s pretty neat to see how once I was involved with one small nugget of CES, and now I’m ultimately responsible for the whole thing.”

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