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Conference Burnout

At many glossy conferences he's attended, Dana's wondered: If the Armani-clad CEO speaking has so many great new ideas, why isn't he back at the office getting them implemented? Now that times are tougher, such events look even more pointless.

It’s amazing how problems in one industry can make others fall like dominoes.

The stock market fell, so e-tailing fell, and then networkers fell. Now PC sales are falling, so semiconductors are falling, too. Everyone gets depressed, and retail in general falls. TV networks start seeing slower ad sales, and they fall out of bed.

Now (speaking of bed), it’s hit the hotels, especially the high-end resort hotels in the desert. Especially high-end resort hotels in the desert with golf courses. All those great “investment conferences” are fading to black.

Though I’ve attended my share of such conferences over the years, I’ve always wondered about them. Investment bankers are in business to sell stocks, and they hire “analysts” who nearly always say stock prices are going up. (What are they going to say, “Don’t buy what we sell, it’s crap”?) Then, when stock prices do go up, the analysts become “gurus” and take long bows at these conferences.

Then you have the “CEO briefings.” The new disclosure rules state clearly that the CEOs can’t say anything at these briefings that they’re not going to tell the public at the same time, so what’s the point? Are we checking out their Armani suits, new haircuts (or rugs), or finely manicured nails?

And if these guys are so smart and important, what are they doing here pushing their stock anyway? Why aren’t they back at their offices making sure all these great ideas get implemented? And if they have great new ideas, why are they talking about them in public?

The best sessions I’ve ever attended, in fact, have consisted of little more than loudmouthed reporters (such as myself) spouting off about how stupid certain stock analysts and CEOs are. Since we’re not playing the game, we’re not afraid to say what we feel, and sometimes, we’re even right. Even when we’re not right, it’s at least lively.

But no one is going to spend thousands of dollars to listen to me, especially since they can do it here for free. (Plus, there’s that old “I’ve got a face for radio and a voice for print” issue, although I’m told I look OK in a hat.)

No, the answer is obvious. People go to these events to golf and schmooze (activities that are often one and the same). Success attracts hangers-on who hope a bit of the big-money gloss will rub off on them. Good times make people lazy, and if they can write off a little golf trip at the same time, why not? Face time with the great makes you feel like you’re great, too.

But what happens when things aren’t going so well? Suddenly, people start looking at the bills and wondering if attendees aren’t just going off to play golf and schmooze. Those analysts and CEOs start looking like Falcons coach Dan Reeves; he was a genius at one time, but those days are long past.

Now that you know all this, of course, you won’t be fooled when business picks up again, will you? (Yeah, right.)

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