OneNote at ComDex - A Day to Remember

I guess I forgot to tell you all the story of the "day I won’t forget" in the last post. It actually started the night before. Announcing a new product is a carefully orchestrated affair. A press release is produced and queued up. This is sent in advance to a kind of PR escrow, where it is held until the exact minute that we want it released, and then it is sent out on the wire. This is done because the people managing the announcement are usually busy at an event. So we had our nice press release all ready to go for release at 6:30pm.

The top journalists don't like to be surprised by new products since they want to have time to write something coherent about them, so before we announced we had actually briefed some people under embargo until the press release went out. We actually pre-briefed far fewer press people than is normal since we wanted to try a surprise announce to see if that generated more press because it woudl actually be “news” to the press. Actually surprise announcements usually produce less press, since people are caught off guard and don't have their stories ready, and by the time they do get a chance to write, the event is old news anyway - plus they're annoyed that we didn’t brief them so they sometimes choose not to write out of spite - or something like that.

We had planned a special press conference for 5pm in an upstairs room at the MGM Grand to specifically announce OneNote. Jeff Raikes, Group VP at Microsoft (and a really swell guy) was worried that the brief appearance OneNote would have in BillG's keynote later in the evening would not be enough to properly introduce the product. So he had requested this special briefing. He would do an introduction, then I was to follow with a demo of OneNote - the first time in "public". The first glitch was that I went to the wrong hotel - I shared a cab to the MGM Grand, then somehow convinced myself that I was confused - the briefing was back at the Marriott (across town), and only BillG's keynote was at the MGM Grand. So I cabbed it back to the Marriott, realized my mistake, and cabbed it back to the MGM grand with 2 minutes to spare. When I got there, the PR people mentioned there had been a little screw up in the well-oiled machine - the PR Escrow had put the press release out on the wire at 6:30 AM - 12 hours early. Fortunately the whole industry is pretty gentlemanly about these things - we issued a retraction and said we didn’t mean to release that yet, and everyone simply held on tight until the official release.

The actual announcement went fairly well - I was a little nervous but the demo went well, and the press seemed reasonably enthused but I couldn't get a real sense of their reaction before we adjourned to go see BillG give his keynote address, which included a short scripted skit which included OneNote as well as TabletPCs.

The next day was the first day of ComDex, and I was there with another one of the program managers on my team, Owen. Owen was going to spend the day at the OneNote "booth", doing demos and taking questions from the conference attendees. My job was to sit in the Marriot Suites and meet with journalist after journalist for 30min private briefings and demos of OneNote, and to provide "color commentary", which is code for having a person who actually worked on the product present instead of just professional demo and PR people.

If you've worked on something hard for two years, and have not been able to tell anyone about it, and you have no idea what the reaction of the press and public will be, you look forward to the first chance for real feedback with anticipation.

In briefing after briefing, I had this wonderful experience of meeting the "gentleperson of the press", doing some introductions, then starting the demo. The first couple of meetings went really well - by the end the journalist I was talking to had gone from "Whaddya got for me this time?" through "interested look", to genuine enthusiasm. As I got better at doing the demo, I worked on shortening the length of time it took to get them to "enthusiastic". I found that there were certain things I could show that were more stimulating than others, and certain sequences and scenarios resonated better than others. Also some judicious questions early on to gauge the angle the journalist was taking and how they interpreted the demo helped me frame the demo later. I was getting it down to a science. Of course OneNote is a great tool for journalists - love that audio recording capability - so they were predisposed to like it. I was on top of the world by the end of the day.

I headed out to the Conference Center to see how Owen and the marketing guys were doing at the booth. I ran into Owen coming back to the hotel, and since we could see each other's faces so obviously beaming we spontaneously did a leap-in-the-air double high-five. We breathlessly recounted our experiences. It turned out Owen and team had been demo-ing to crowds five deep all day - we were one of the most popular booths at Comdex.

I got onto email that evening to see what articles had posted, and there were some great ones. I had also already started getting mail from colleagues at Microsoft congratulating us for being the first product in memory to get the words "sexy" and "Microsoft" in the same headline. Thank you eWeek.