By Ben Langlotz | March 13, 2020 | Opinion Pieces | 0 Comments
On March 10, I posted on Facebook:
Poll: Is the virus threat affecting your decision whether or not to attend the NRA Annual Meeting next month? (Reply only if you normally attend).
1. I’ll be there unless something changes substantially.
2. It’s a factor, and I’m watching the situation with uncertainty.
3. I’m unlikely to go unless something changes substantially.
About half the replies were a 1 for “I’m going.” One commented “1 because I have to.” That was the adult son of the founder and CEO. Hmmm. Another said “1 or 2” and they have “hunch that by April we will have an entirely different situation on the national stage since it is changing daily.”
Among exhibitors who responded, one predicted that the NRA will cancel. I tend to share this view, or at least hope for a clean cancel that will make sense given a point below.
Another exhibitor: “I don’t have a choice but to go. I haven’t thought about it until now. I suppose there is a possibility of the NRA canceling the event if the virus gets out of control.” This signals how these shows are for many of us in the industry: we can’t afford not to go.
The most insightful exhibitor made me realize what this is probably all about: “We’re choosing not to go because we think it will be a ghost town. Not a prudent use of our marketing dollars.”
Update: 24 hours later it’s a flood of responses that almost universally want out.
It’s not about Us. It’s About Them.
The last exhibitor comment shook me back to the reality of what the NRA Annual Meeting Exhibition Hall is all about: marketing to end users. So, let’s not think about this event in terms of the benefits that industry companies get by exhibiting versus the health risks. This is about the tens of thousands of local attendees. Most of them are probably within a day’s drive and don’t stay in a hotel. They might have the event on the calendar, but they have made no advance arrangements to attend, and might well not even decide until the week or day of the show. Their cost to stay home is zero.
Yes, there may be some who are highly committed and never miss a show. But, the vast majority of attendees might readily have their plans shaken by a serious health concern. At the SHOT Show, every attendee is a business person, who is there on a business mission of necessity. At NRA, it’s a fun Saturday activity. Presumably very expendable: “Honey, are ya’ll tellin’ me that you think you’re gonna drive for half the day just so you can go mingle with 10,000 other gun nuts – some probably from California -when we just spent the week stocking up on toilet paper to ride out the Chinese flu?!”.
So, those exhibitors, who have no concern about the health effects on themselves or their employees or family members, still have a reason to consider skipping the show. It will be a ghost town that could fail to provide the sales and marketing benefits they need to justify attending. I’m envisioning a “Swiss Cheese” show with numerous vacant booths. The commenter also noted that the NRA was being kind about letting booth costs roll over until the next year. Others have said they asked for this and were refused. Some were told to wait a few days for an announcement (presumably a cancel or postpone).
As my recent email blast noted, with the NRA allowing roll-overs, the exhibitors will effectively have the power to cause a cancellation if a critical mass exercises this option. Remember, you’re not just predicting whether or not there will be an increased or decreased medical threat, you’re predicting the psychological perceptions of gun enthusiasts within a day’s drive of Nashville. Good luck with that!
Because everyone knows how wisely managed the NRA is these days, I’m not sure whether the following is necessary to share. But, here’s a next-level management perspective. If the NRA allows the slow to go on, and it’s a ghost town of empty aisles and vacant booths, they will risk making themselves “missable” by exhibitors whose habitual pattern is broken. Not likely, but possible. Maybe better to cancel?
Another alternative to cancellation is postponement. Not everyone is available, but an August show at the same venue (if available) would fill a big gap in the calendar.
I don’t take medical advice from Facebook, and you shouldn’t take your medical advice from a gun-nut patent lawyer. I pay attention to the smart folks. Like those Stanford University geniuses who have told students not to come back to campus for spring quarter in April. They’ll study online, and those anticipating graduation will work things out. Listening to my in-laws in Estonia, all the nations taking serious measures presumably aren’t panicking “because the left-wing MSM want to keep Trump from being elected.” As of this writing 16 nations have closed their schools, and many have banned public events.
That doesn’t mean that this will all turn out as badly as feared. I see this as a low probability of a VERY bad outcome. Which is why I pay all sorts of insurance premiums. And, I don’t play Russian Roulette no matter how many empty chambers the cylinder has.
Those who remind us how many more deaths there are from “normal” flu outbreaks are foolishly comparing played-out epidemics with one that is potentially just getting started. And there are real medical differences when you consider that people can be infected and communicable for two weeks before they realize they are sick. Then there’s the potential effect on all medical services if treatment requires hospitalization of a much higher percentage of case than the usual flu.
Even if I’m right in my risk assessment, I’ll probably (hopefully) be proven wrong. A very real risk might not materialize. Just like those folks who ignore hurricane evacuation orders time after time and live to gloat about how the experts were wrong again, or who do just fine without wearing a seatbelt, I have a duty to my family to play the odds, and risk the potential embarrassment from taking what will probably appear in hindsight to be a needless precaution. But I’ll never forget the famed Harry Truman, who decided to ride out the Mount St. Helens eruption, and he became the patron saint of risk-deniers.
Personally, I have an infant and toddler at home, and while a visit to 100 clients is very valuable to my firm, I must treat this like a low-probability risk of a VERY bad outcome. Unless something changes in a big way.
Looking for Silver Linings
Here’s an optimistic tweet by an ordinary person with a couple hundred followers that I retweeted on my @gunpatent account.
Interest rates are falling. Oil prices are falling. China’s economy is failing. Our critical supply lines will come home. The Stock Market will recover. Who says this Virus isn’t having any positive affects? When the Virus threat is over, we will be stronger.
My favorite benefit is that those companies who proudly make their products in the USA from USA materials aren’t disrupted, even as their competitors who import from communist China are panicking. Call that a win. Long term, the true cost of being dependent on an unreliable and potentially hostile regime for your business has a downside that will get more consideration.
Then there is the added support this gives to efforts to make international trade fairer. Trump has more ammo to back up efforts to avoid cheap products being dumped, especially critical items like pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. We may see legislation that motivates and rewards made-in-USA for many items, and at least makes it clearer when things aren’t.
Same for illegal immigration. It’s not racist to control borders and protect society from the spread of disease.
Telecommuting is probably here to stay. My firm has been virtual for its decades-long history, and I recruit the best people who prefer the commute-less lifestyle. Why do people drive to a big building to sit at screens and talk on phones with each other?
There are educational benefits. As my kids have more than a dozen years until college is on the radar, I wonder if this event will play a role in a more sensible and effective educational system that doesn’t require the expensive residential country club party to get a practical education.
I genuinely wonder if we may see some permanent public health benefits. Just as seatbelt wearing is now the norm, and cigarette smoking isn’t, shaking hands might well be on the way out, and wishing hands on the way in. I wrote 800 words on that subject after last year’s SHOT Show that my team calmed me down and made me edit out of the newsletter for less cranky fare. Here are some highlights:
What I wrote when sick from SHOT Show Crud
You’d probably think I was just a whiner if it were only me, but my Facebook feed of health reports tell me there may a worsening health crisis at our SHOT Show. The SHOT Show “crud” or “flu” or “plague” seems to be the norm. The few Facebook curmudgeons who escaped illness are even getting irritated at the tiresome reports.
I’ll probably sound like a liberal politician when I say: “Someone needs to do something!”
Everyone knows that the show is unmissable. If you aren’t there, you might as well not exist. People will always attend even if sick, because we have to. Moreover, people can be sick enough to transmit illness and not yet be aware they’re infected. We can’t blame the “vectors.”
But to prove I’m more than just a whiner, I offer a positive solution: The NSSF or other show authorities should immediately conduct a heath survey to determine the scope of the health effects among show attendees. This could help to guide policies, facilities, and public information that might reduce the massive economic cost when thousands of people suffer debilitating health effects as a consequence of attending the event.
Perhaps a qualified consultant can be brought in to advise on best practices. Even a Kindergarten teacher is qualified to advise on the essentials of how (not) to cough, and how to wash hands.
Some might suggest that we try to stop shaking hands. A fist bump or snappy salute might seem fine, but it will never happen (I’m reconsidering this since I wrote it last year).
The show might also offer nice warning stickers that convey: “Don’t shake my hand – I’m sick” because it’s easy to forget in the face of the reflexive compulsion to shake hands.
My new strategy will be a handkerchief in the pocket. The goal is to have a handy way to rub an itchy eye or nose without transferring germs from my bio-hazard hands.
My Virtual NRA Show
I’ll be in touch, but I’m working on a “virtual trade show” in which I can meet with all my clients on general matters, at no charge, to take stock, answer questions, and see how things are going. At your options I can offer to have Uber deliver an after-hours martini to keep with the proper trade show atmosphere. Meanwhile, stay healthy, and let me know about your own plans for handling this big uncertain risk we all face.
My brother’s on the faculty at Stanford Medical Center, and his latest news of their expectations scared me enough to follow maximum “social distancing” the experts say is the only way to “flatten the curve” and reduce the risk or severity of peak demands that can fatally overwhelm hospital services. What seemed absurd days ago seems common sense now, and in a month we will either breath a sigh of relief or be living in a different world.
Those who receive this as an email can potentially benefit from my approach: risk taking too-protective measures too soon, and risk being embarrassed. In two weeks (when the print edition hits mailboxes) we will have a very good idea whether we dodged a bullet, or if we are experiencing a serious historical event of worldwide impact.