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Why Microsoft missed a golden opportunity at CTIA

There are at least six easy things Microsoft could have done to get into this weeks CTIA headlines. Microsoft, I hope you're listening.

CNET's concept of the 'Sea Ray' Nokia-made Windows Phone
Will Nokia's first Windows Phone look like this?
Josh Long/CNET

Oh, Microsoft. It's no secret that I think you could and should do more to win hearts and minds over to Windows Phone's cause. I proclaimed it loudly a year ago, and I'll say it again today. By relying solely on your partner manufacturers to trot out your few Windows Phones this CTIA, you've missed another golden opportunity for showing off the goods.

That's a big problem. When Samsung and Google delayed their Ice Cream Sandwich and Galaxy Nexus unveiling, it left a void in the show that any number of companies could have stepped up to take. And goodness knows, Microsoft, you need all the media goodwill you can get, especially after your Windows Phone 7.5 Mango update--which was a good update--didn't rock the world.

I know what you're thinking: What's the point? You're clearly waiting for Nokia World on October 26 to announce your first Nokia Windows Phone, and a high-end one at that, we all hope. But there's no time like the present to grasp that low-hanging fruit and get people to love your phones.

Now, I'm no public relations professional juggling a marketing budget, but if I were heading up your trade show PR, here are some easy things I'd attempt to do.

HTC Radar
The HTC Radar was one of the few Windows phones at CTIA.

Own the phones
Yes, it's true that HTC had a lot of Windows Phones on display at its booth, but don't make them do all the work. We see a lot of duplicate devices hosted by both the carrier and the manufacturer, and that's no bad thing. If anything, that just gives conference-goers and the press more opportunities to see your devices. So please, stake your claim on a booth and set out your phones, and while you're at it, throw in that new Windows 8 tablet that you handed out to developers at the D9 conference last month.

But back to the phones. HTC was the only manufacturer displaying new Windows Phones (the Titan and Radar). You missed the chance to pass around your newly announced Samsung Windows Phones as well. Getting my hands on the Samsung Focus S, Focus Flash, or international Omnia W would have added a little more sparkle to a pretty undazzling show.

Leverage Nokia's San Diego presence
OK, so I know there's zero chance that you'd announce the first Nokia Windows Phone at CTIA. But you blew it anyway. Nokia talked up Windows Phone plenty at the tour a mess of other journalists and I took to the San Diego phone-breaking facility (photos!), and that tour was the highlight of my week. What if you had joined forces with Nokia and used the event as an opportunity to pump up nearly 40 eager reporters for the imminent unveiling? It would have dove-tailed beautifully, and shown a real proof of partnership with Nokia.

Fatigue testing in full effect on a USB connector at Nokia's San Diego R&D center.
Fatigue testing in full effect on a USB connector at Nokia's San Diego R&D center. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Leverage your own San Diego presence
Hey guess what, Microsoft? Even if you didn't want to plan a San Diego event on someone else's territory, you could have done a lot anyway--because since 2009, you've have a retail shop in a happening San Diego mall, just a few doors down from the Apple store in the same mall. It's pretty well-populated, too, with kids playing Kinect games on giant screens, families hunched over Windows 7 laptops, and employees wearing fun, colorful shirts. If you hadn't wanted to organize an outing to the store to boost awareness from press eager to produce some interesting photo galleries, you might have considered offering coupons to show attendees for any Microsoft retail shop in the nation.

Copy Sprint
As far as we journalists are concerned, Sprint was the hands-down media darling of the show, without even announcing a single new device. Instead, they sponsored a fantastic lounge just off the show floor: convenient, huge, comfortable, with lots of outlets and excellent food, a strong Wi-Fi connection, and massage chairs attended by professional back-kneaders. They also filled the room with their previously announced products, giving us five hours a day to pore over them and take photos.

You could do that, too. If you don't want to compete for a lounge, you could host an awesome party, complete with Kinect, XBox live, and Windows 8 tablets to round out the smartphone offerings. Goodwill goes a long way, especially if you're trying to maintain relationships with the people who write about you. Sprint's phones didn't get any preferential treatment, but everyone who follows me on CNET or on my social networks now know that the carrier gets my kudos.

A shopper rocks it playing Kinect at a Microsoft retail store in San Diego.
Place journalists and conference-goers here. Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Be a tease
Let's say parties and events are too much, Microsoft. Give us a thrill by releasing a teaser image, video, or detail about that new phone you're going to launch in a couple of weeks. Pair it with a short question-answer session so writers and analysts can get a few good quotes out of it. Suddenly, you're in the news. It's harder to build momentum by staying silent.

Just show up
If all that fails: you have no phones, no staff, no booth, and no budget, well, Microsoft, the least you could do is send an executive to take interviews. You've had a strong mobile presence at CTIAs past, and even when there was little new to show off, you guys were still there, reminding everyone that you exist. Even RIM showed up at a CTIA press event, amidst their widespread network outages, which was doubtless an uncomfortable position for the PR team to be in. But seriously, Microsoft, being there not only shows confidence in your brand, it shows you care.