Until the pandemic entered our lives, it was around this time every year when the warmer weather began infiltrating New England, that our CEO, Tom DeVesto, would hold his annual press conference in New York to introduce his new designs and take questions from the media. This tradition stretches back to Tom’s previous audio companies. This month’s Tech Rap looks back on past press conferences in NY as well as at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), along with other marketing efforts. You will be treated to some unpublished pictures and several “behind the scenes” stories about a side of the audio business most customers are not privy to.
The way these NY press events typically work is we would rent a truck and pack it with new models as well as a nice assortment of legacy models, along with signage, podiums, banners, cables, cords, power strips, music CDs, etc. For new models, sometimes we would not receive the samples until the very last minute and would have to hand-carry them to NY. We would also bring along some models to give to the media for reviews, etc. A meeting space in a NY boutique hotel would be reserved in advance. One of our staff would drive the truck down to NY the day before and secure the product in a storage room in the hotel. I and another staff member would follow via Amtrak to NY’s Grand Central Terminal. Setup began bright and early the following morning since the event kicked off at noon. We would have to track down the hotel’s IT point person to help us get our models connected to the hotel’s Wi-Fi network, as their firewall always prevented connection. While this was going on, the hotel’s staff set up tables and chairs to accommodate about 75 people, and their A/V team installed a large, flat screen TV and a public address system for Tom’s presentation. Since this was a lunchtime event, the hotel would also bring in some hot food for our guests just before their arrival.
Once the PA system was good to go, Tom would do a dry run through of his PowerPoint presentation, and as was the case with the last couple of events, prep for the live launch of a crowdfunding campaign.
When the event was over and questions from the press had been answered, it was time to “break down” the displays and pack up the models for transport back to the office and warehouse. Then it was back on the train for the trip home. It was not unusual for me to get home after 10pm thanks to significant train delays, and then be in the office first thing the next morning. It made for a very long day, but we always received a lot of fantastic press exposure and social media buzz, and it was a pleasure to hobnob with the press. I was familiar with some of them from their columns or YouTube reviews, so it was great to match the familiar names to faces.
Going back about sixteen years, I recall one January press conference held by Tom and Henry Kloss in a small hotel room in Las Vegas during a Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to tout our new two-piece stereo table radio. A few days after the conference I went to Kloss’ home in Cambridge, MA to manage the logistics so he could autograph radios for the reviewers who had attended the event. That was the first time I had been to Henry’s house. I will never forget seeing multiple FM wire antennas wrapped around his Emmy Award which he had won for his pioneering projection TV work. There were various electronic parts strew about his large dining room table. I also remember seeing a Novabeam projection TV in a small room off of the foyer with the panel removed and all the guts exposed. Can you say “sensory overload”? As my mind refocused to the task at hand, Henry explained to me that he wanted to make the gifts more personal by taking a little extra time to include a brief note on each rather than just signing his name. We exchanged some small chit chat as he worked his way through all of the units. After he finished signing all of the radios, I had to wait for my coworker to pick me up because my car was too compact to fit all of the cartons. Henry asked me if he could give me a hand moving all of the boxes outside onto his covered porch despite the fact that it was raining. I did not want him lifting the heavy boxes, so I moved all of them myself, one-by-one, from his dining room into the foyer. Note to self: There is an amazing invention called a hand truck.
One final “marketing” story I will share with you: Traditionally, we would have a box of little free gifts to give away to the media, distributors, dealers, and colleagues who visited our suite during every Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The gifts were never anything extravagant, just tokens of our appreciation for their support. One year we gave away USB thumb drives housed in wood cases engraved with our company logo. Another year we gave away walnut wood pens sporting our logo. A couple of years ago, unbeknownst to Tom, I had a bunch of M&M candies of all colors, custom made with Tom’s face printed on one side and Como Audio’s website URL on the other. The M&Ms were a big it and brought new meaning to the phrase “bite me”.
Trivia (from lovefoood.com): Red M&M’s were pulled off the market from 1976-86 because a study out of Russia linking red food dye to cancer. M&M’s are manufactured by Mars and account for more than $1 billion in sales. Every space shuttle mission since Columbia in 1981 had M&Ms on board and they can also be found on the International Space Station.
There were three key people involved in these press conferences. Naturally, Tom and his designs were the main focus of all of these events. My presence was mainly to assist with setup, being ready to help if something went wrong during the product demonstrations, helping to answer questions from the press, and packing up when it was all over. The third person in this critical triad was (and still is) our friend and long-time Public Relations representative, Cathy Callegari, of Cathy Callegari PR, Inc. in New York City. She is also a happy Como Audio customer. Callegari and her team specialize in branding, creating demand, opening new markets, launching new companies, products and technologies, sustainability, and generating revenue. For the press conferences, Callegari crafted all of the press materials including press releases, sent out invitations to the media, personally welcomed the journalists, coordinated review samples and interviews with Tom, and offered her unvarnished advice on how to make the events a well-attended success.
As with many other things in life, COVID put an abrupt end to these in-person press gatherings, though Callegari continues her loyal efforts to promote the Como Audio brand. Since this is the month we would normally hold the NY press event, I asked her to reflect upon her work with Tom over the decades.
Trivia (from meltwater.com): “One of the most important names [in] the field of PR is Edward Bernays, the Father of Public Relations and author of the influential book “Propaganda”. Being the nephew of Sigmund Freud, his PR strategies were greatly influenced by his uncle’s theories on behavioral psychology.”
PS: When did you first meet Tom?
CC: “I first met Tom DeVesto around 1980 in New York City to discuss a PR campaign for promoting Novatron – the first projection television invented by Henry Kloss. During the Kloss Video years as Henry was the pioneer inventor in projection tv, at CES Henry made a practice of inviting Sony and Panasonic competitors into his booth to discuss his product. I found that odd, but Henry put out a welcome mat and wasn’t worried about competition.
“Tom was the Marketing Director of Kloss Video and his goal was to launch projection TV in the US and raise the profile of Henry Kloss as the original creator of this category. Although it was many years before dress codes, such as casual Friday existed, I was struck that Tom appeared in jeans and a jacket. This was also well before Steve Jobs emerged on the big stage in his signature turtleneck and jeans. Tom was always a trendsetter with his own flair for aesthetics and design, as well as a “first” comer in the industry. With Novatron, he was about to change home entertainment from watching TV on tiny screens to the home movie theater experience. “
Trivia: Lower-cost projection TVs made in Japan eventually forced Cambridge, MA-based Kloss Video to close its doors. The Novabeam’s $2,495 price tag translates into $6,500 in today’s money.
PS: Do you have an interesting DeVesto story you can share?
CC: “My first CES [Consumer Electronics Show] trip for Kloss Video- Tom brought his 5-year [old] daughter Carmen to CES and had meetings scheduled in his suite so he placed her in my room – but neglected to tell me. When I checked [in] there was a teddy bear on the bed and little clothes in the closet. I called the hotel manager to ask if I was in the wrong room and he said no. It wasn’t until dinner that Tom met up with me and introduced me to Carmen. I really enjoyed being her roommate during that show (which didn’t not allow children on the show floor so we would have to sneak her in as a product model) and I told Tom later on that I wasn’t sure what kind of a client he would end up being for me – but he was certainly a great dad.”
Trivia: The first Consumer Electronics Show was held in 1967 in NY and turned into an annual event in Las Vegas starting in 1981. Over 175,000 people attended the pre-pandemic Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2019.
PS: Over twenty years ago I was the Assistant Manager at a Cambridge SoundWorks store in Portland, ME, but at first, CSW was mainly a mail-order speaker company.
CC: “After Kloss Video, Tom had the vision for another “first” –selling stereo systems to the consumer direct from the factory, eliminating the need for a listening room to evaluate the high-fidelity sound and quality. Tom knew that music was tweaked in the audio rooms of dealers and they would sound differently at home. He also knew that to build consumer confidence in buying a stereo system without first listening to the sound, he had to make this a very simple and fail proof process. Henry and Tom were very close (no pun intended to the name Kloss) up until Henry’s death. [Tom} founded Cambridge SoundWorks with Henry Kloss as his partner in 1988 and created the first website way before Amazon entered the scene of online selling. By eliminating a middle man, Cambridge SoundWorks offered great sounding systems at lower prices, backed by unprecedented customer service – even to the point of providing customers a 100% satisfaction guarantee with tech support to set up the room properly…Cambridge SoundWorks taught the industry that audio products could be sold factory direct, which quickly became the industry standard and remains so today. Cambridge Sound Works was sold to Creative Technology in 1998.”
Trivia (from Wikipedia): “Cambridge SoundWorks manufactured over 60 different models of home stereo, home theater, multimedia speakers and assorted electronics products…with research and development and acoustic engineering in Massachusetts.”
PS: Then came table radios…
CC: “In 2000, Tom made listening to the radio desirable again [when] he brought to market radios that sounded as good as they looked in great designs and colors. The radios were analog (not digital) in order to tune in the hard to capture stations. What started with one product on the web…soon became a global success with radios selling in 50 countries worldwide.”
Trivia (from radiodirect.com): “Only six radio stations east of the Mississippi River can still use “K” as the first letter in their call signs. Every other station uses “W.” Canadian radio stations begin with the letter “C” while stations in Mexico begin with “X.””
PS: Tom’s latest chapter is Como Audio.
CC: “Today, Tom expands his musical legacy with Como Audio – selling stereo systems and turntables recognized for great sound and outstanding design. Como Audio is a global phenomenon in a product line that sounds and looks like no other on the market. Tom came up with the novel idea that you could control all of your musical content from one device (without the need for an app) with just the press of a button in a multi-room system. He also wanted to be sure that the consumer enjoyed music the way the artist intended so he made smart stereo systems that could all sync together – and brought back CDs and vinyl with integrated CD players and turntables.
“Tom is the quintessential music man and still wears jeans, sweater and a jacket. In fact, at his last press event in New York City on a very hot July afternoon, Tom addressed the press wearing shorts.”
PS: As a fellow music lover, what do you like most about your Como Audio Musica?
CC: “Not only do I listen to great sounding music from Spotify and my Pandora accounts, but I can still listen to my extensive collection of CDs of which I have hundreds. For fun, I will tune in to the Internet radio and listen to jazz from Cuba or my favorite French Café radio station from Paris. Musica makes it easy to access a world of music by pressing buttons from a beautifully designed wooden device. The greatest music system ever!!!!”
Trivia: In 2017, DeVesto received the Consumer Technology Association’s Small Business Executive of the Year award. That same year the CTA recognized his 40+ years of CES attendance with a Certificate of Appreciation.
Over the last twenty years or so, Tom has collaborated on and off with Italian designer Ilaria Marelli. Marelli provides art direction and product and interior design consultation. She also teaches design innovation at Politecnico di Milano, a scientific-technological university founded in 1863. She has been the recipient of numerous awards including the AlumniPolimi Award in 2015 for architecture. Most of the projects she assisted with involved helping to choose colors, wood finishes, and designing carton artwork and silk screen printing for new models. On a few occasions, Marelli was charged with designing displays and “booths” for European trade shows, a vital component when it came to marketing. During one show in Milan, Italy in 2013, a humongous radio was constructed which actually played music. But the big surprise was that it opened up, allowing visitors to walk inside and explore individual radios on display. Marelli was the curator and recalled to me in an email: “The idea on the base of the ‘BIG RADIO’ project was to have a self-explaining booth that can tour all over Europe in an easy way – in fact it [was] the size of a [shipping] container.”
Marelli continued: “Inside the oversized version of the radio, the surprising project ‘The whispering trees’: seven talking trees – each one hides a radio inside to whisper messages in the visitor’s ear. ‘The whispering trees’ stems from a reflection by [me] on our sound experience: musical harmony as well as noise, different languages, the sounds of nature as well as the rhythms of industrial society, represent a concentration or our sound life – arousing emotions that are apparently very distant from each other, but that are mixed in our daily life “.
As for her Como Audio music system, Marelli says “I like my white Solo…it sounds good and it looks good! Equipped with internet radio and built in wi-fi to stream my music; it also fits to the interior of my living – a great choice!”
Even with Tom’s longevity in the audio business and his name recognition, starting a new company requires an investment in marketing to build the brand. Brand-building is a continuous effort. Once a company becomes well known, the brand-building does not stop. Reviews have become a vital marketing and brand building component for most companies. As a small startup we rely heavily on customer reviews and positive word of mouth advertising through social media and other channels. Tom has never lost sight of the importance of making customers happy and providing excellent customer service.
Como Audio has come a long way from when we started in early 2016 including surviving the serious challenges brought on by the pandemic. Since last summer we have been working in a larger, combined office/warehouse space. Last year our company became incorporated and we provided an opportunity for our customers to become part owners in the company. Our models have been featured in such publications/websites as Reader’s Digest, The Boston Globe, Forbes, the New York Post, the Audio Voice, Sound & Vision magazine, and The Verge. Tom and Como Audio were the subject of Boston ABC affiliate WCVB-TV’s Cutting Edge. Ellen DeGeneres gave away Como Audio Amico’s to her audience. Our Solo was spotlighted on the CBS daytime TV show The Talk. We launched our Tech Rap blog. We have issued an average of nine free software updates including a new one just a few weeks ago. And we have expanded our product offerings…in addition to our Solo, Duetto, Musica, and Amico music systems, we have added Solo with custom-colored knobs and grilles, two turntable models, a hard-sided travel case for Amico, and more recently, the aptly named Como Audio Platform…an Amish crafted, sturdy stage to place your turntable above your Musica or Duetto for better isolation and to save space. By the way, if you are already a happy Platform owner, please email us a picture of your hi-fi set up for us to proudly share on social media.
Whether you discovered us through one of our marketing efforts, a magazine or website review, from Amazon user reviews, or through social media, we appreciate your business and support over the last five years. If you like what you hear from your Como Audio music system or you received above average customer support from our great service team, consider leaving an honest review on your favorite review site about your experience. And while you are at it, give Tech Rap a plug as well because we want as many music enthusiasts as possible to enjoy the music.
June’s Tech Rap: Celebrating Vinyl II
Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio as V.P. of Product Development. If you have any comments or suggestions for a Tech Rap topic, Peter can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org