The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) starts tomorrow, and there are undoubtedly a lot of new faces showing up in Las Vegas to cover the show. But what’s the best way to do it? What do you need to know to get the most out of it? How can you be as efficient as possible? Thanks to covering the show for years now, I know the ins and outs of having a worthwhile experience and how to not end up face-down in a pool of your own drool by the time your flight arrives.
1) Plan according to your needs only
Covering CES (or any trade show, for that matter) is a balance between knowing what you need to do and how to do it. Say, for instance, you need to get articles written immediately. Appointments you set can’t be one after the other, because you’ll need time to write an article before heading to the next meeting or presentation. Understanding the limitations of time and what you can do within a given amount of time is the most important part of CES, one that individual or small teams tend to not fully get.
There are only a few ways to cover any trade show. The first is as above, writing about each thing you see immediately after getting all the necessary information about it. I call it bouncing, because reporters must bounce between their meeting and either the press room (if one’s available) or somewhere outside the hall where they can get internet. I don’t like bouncing because it requires too much walking and stressing about making it to the next appointment.
Another is in chunks, where reporters go out for chunks of time (like 2-3 hours) and then sit at a computer for another chunk of time, writing about what they’d seen. This method is far more reasonable, and allows reporters to submit articles to publish at different times, so while they’re in meetings articles are still publishing.
I tend to use the crunch method, which focuses on setting as many pertinent appointments as possible and, after the show ends for the day, writing articles on all relevant products/services. This is also difficult, but minimizes time lost walking back and forth during the show and maximizes the number of possible appointments in a day. As an individual covering as much as I can, it’s worked the best for me.
Teams can cover any show like CES much better, though the size of the show does matter. For a big show like CES, a team is worthwhile, but smaller shows like the LA Auto Show can easily be covered by a single reporter. With teams, there are a number of different ways to handle coverage, all of which work very well. If you’re part of a team, then it’s likely you already have a plan for how to cover the show, so skip this and read on.
2) Bring only what you need, plus redundancy
There are two crucial things I’ve learned from covering CES: never take more than you need to carry, and always have backups in case something fails. The former was a simple lesson from staying in a shady hotel and having nowhere to leave my valuables, so I carried everything with me. Laptop, camera, cables and accessories, everything. It may just seem like good exercise at first, but after 3-4 days of intensive walking with a bag like that, you are very likely to injure yourself. I did, and to this day one of my shoulders still bothers me. (sidenote: it’s also bulkier than the other.)
But at the same time, be prepared for the worst. Phones break, laptop batteries die, camera lenses drop while juggling the covers and smash to the floor in glassy bits and pieces. We’re only human, and the whole system is built by us imperfect beings. That means bring two phones if you can, preferably on different service providers (in case one is too congested), one with high-speed internet and tethering available. Carry around a spare laptop battery if you know your machine only lasts a few hours and power may not be accessible. Having a Mi-Fi, extra pens and paper, and a voice recorder also isn’t a bad idea if anything falters. No one wants to lug around a second laptop, even if you’re using an Ultrabook, so make sure if that breaks you can work the old fashioned way.
3) Plan everything ahead, and be flexible to changes
There’s no such thing as a perfect expo. Appointments don’t work out, someone is always late somewhere, meetings take longer than expected, traffic…just think of Murphy’s law, and welcome to CES. The best way to avoid problems altogether is to keep a tight schedule and plan everything in advance, from hotels to travel to the appointments themselves. For the former two, it’s both more convenient and less costly to plan earlier, though typically companies only start setting appointments at the start of December, though most a few weeks later.
It may seem like common sense to plan everything ahead of time, but because something always goes wrong, planning ahead isn’t just about knowing your schedule and itinerary. It’s knowing what to do when an appointment goes on too long, or when to change a meeting last minute. It’s also about setting meetings that are physically close to each other. My first year of CES was wretched because I just set appointments at random, and ran back and forth between the north and south halls. The convention center is huge. Running back and forth is not insane, it’s a marathon.
I like to set a particular day for one or two areas of the show floor, like covering the Central hall one day, south hall 1 and 2 another day, etc. Doing so saves me both time and the frustration of flying between appointments, even if there’s 15-30 minutes between them.
Figuring out how you’re going to travel around is also extremely important. Because I live in LA, it’s actually more convenient for me to drive out than to fly because I rarely stay on the strip (too expensive). Having a car, rented or otherwise, is especially useful on press days (days before the show floor opens), and if you have off-site meetings. While the shuttles between hotels and the monorail are convenient, the wait time is regularly 15-45 minutes one way. So it’s extremely important to plan for all possible time delays.
4) Figure out the best mode of transportation, and stick with it
My first CES I flew into Las Vegas and stayed at the Sahara, which is the last stop on the monorail. It was very convenient, and with a week pass I used the monorail for almost every trip. The next year room prices skyrocketed, and I stayed at a cheap place in downtown for $20/n. It may appear that I saved money, but the only way to get across town was by cab, and the fares were $15-$20 a pop. Two cab rides a day (at least), occasional monorail use, and the hotel combined to a much steeper cost.
Of course, I also made every appointment and because I was paying more, did better for myself in terms of time. The last two years I’ve driven myself, and while self-parking isn’t nearly as convenient (you’ve got to put the car somewhere), it allows for much more freedom at a lower price.
The point is this: once you pick a way to travel, stick with it. Don’t flip flop between whether you should take the monorail, get a cab, jump on a shuttle, take the bus, etc. That leads you nowhere and wastes time. Every mode of transportation has it’s pros and cons, but trying to figure out which is the best one during the show is only good for wasting time. Don’t listen to other people and follow a herd (they often go the opposite direction of what you need). Pick how you’re going to get somewhere ahead of time and use it exclusively.
5) Know how you eat & drink and don’t skimp out
The easiest mistake at any trade show or expo is to be in such awe (or such horror) at everything you see that you forget to eat or drink. Time flew by, you were too busy, whatever it may be. Everyone reacts a little different to a lack of sustenance, but we all know how our behavior changes. It really is like that Snickers commercial (now in Russian). And the last thing you need to do is act poorly and not notice it all because you were hungry or thirsty.
So do yourself, and those around you, a big favor: pack some snacks. If you’re flying in, make a stop to a local convenience store or gas station. Whatever you need to get you through the day, assuming there’s no lunch and possibly no breakfast, put it in your go bag and eat it the second your stomach rumbles.