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January 17, 2023 // Griffin Burrough  //       //  Opinion

Being at CES as a First Timer and Introvert

For several years, I’ve wanted to travel for work. It’s something I romanticized as a kid growing up watching movies: someone important needs me in this city at this time, and I have to don my super suit and spring into action.

The reality of a work trip is different from what I imagined. In particular, CES is quite far from my romanticized notions. So, with my first work trip and CES 2023 in the bag, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and a blazer

Every single account lead and manager told me this, but I cannot stress it enough. You will stand for multiple hours and your feet will hurt. There’s no solution, but there are ways to minimize the pain. 

On my first full day at CES, I wore my aforementioned super suit along with dress shoes. As I saw my male colleagues throughout the day, I noticed they were all smartly dressed as well, until I looked down. Most of them wore sneakers. Sneakers! In suits! This is not Vegas Heist Movie attire appropriate!

For the rest of the week, I switched over to sneakers. While my heels still hurt and a certain vertebra in my lower back may never be the same, they helped keep me on my feet for a few hours longer.

Another fashion hack is to wear a blazer. Not only does it make any ensemble classier, but having an extra set of pockets is crucial. You’ll need to hold various badges, forms, cards and passes. You can never have too many pockets!

  • Do your homework

I’ve spent years tracking CES coverage and preparing briefing books for executives who attended. Throughout my career, I’ve spent many hours consuming media articles and videos. I know who they are, they have no clue who I am.

This was a constant struggle throughout my first CES, as I needed to identify and corral media from point A to point B. So how do you stop media who have no idea what you look like? 

  • Memorize their headshots: We don’t all look like our profiles, but something is better than nothing.
  • Get/save their phone number, if possible.
  • Follow up over email to let them know where you are. You can even send them your headshot!

Overcommunicating at an event is never a problem. Sure, the media’s inboxes are always full and they might not see your message. But if you staff an event and a media member is 20 minutes late, you’ll have wished you followed up earlier.

  • Ask your experienced colleagues for an introduction to media

The point of CES is to build familiarity with media who you spend all year emailing, calling, DMing, sending messenger hawks or generally just trying to reach. While you’re at CES, I sincerely hope you’re accompanied by people who have been there before. If you are, make sure to use them! I find it very uncomfortable to go up to someone and immediately strike up a conversation. The easy solve for this is to ask your colleagues to make an introduction. If you followed step two, then you should know all about them. All you need is someone to get you started and you’re off to the races!

  • Take photos and notes of everything

It should go without saying in our profession that you need to take notes. But also make sure to take photos of everything, including people. As I mentioned earlier, having a cheat sheet of what people look like will make them much easier to find. 

While at CES, you’ll meet approximately a million people, give or take 500,000. It’s challenging to remember them all. If there’s someone who you’ll need to find later, try to slyly take a photo so you can find them in the crowd. 

You’ll also be inundated with requests from people, such as “Where is that” or “Is that item at the booth?” Instead of panicking and trying to hail a cab from space to space to confirm, make sure to take photos.

  • You don’t need to know everything, but you do need to know something

While onsite at our space, I was told to give a tour to a top tech journalist who will remain nameless. Our space didn’t have labels for all the products on display. Understandably, the journalist asked what each product was – “I don’t know” was not an acceptable answer.

I learned quickly to lean on the vast support network exhibitors have on display to answer these questions. Make sure to introduce yourself to the product specialists in the booth so they recognize you and are ready to give your media contacts all the nitty gritty details. My role was not to know the minutiae of each display, but to know where the products were and who to pull in to answer specific questions. I was air traffic control, not the pilot of the plane. 

  • Respect media’s time

A phrase I heard from more than one reporter at our event on Tuesday was “I have seven appointments tomorrow, how many you got?” While this is your big moment to engage with media, remember every other exhibitor at CES thinks the same thing. Assuming you’ve done step two, make sure to take media to what you know they’ll be interested in rather than defaulting to running through your entire presentation. 

If you’re unsure where to start with media, it’s 100% OK to start your conversation with: “Is there anything in particular that you’re interested in seeing?” This way, they have the opportunity to tell you if they’re in a rush or don’t want the full tour. If they respond with “No, just take me through what you have,” then you have the green light to run through your presentation. 

Media are people too. They can be intimidating when you consider they have the power to determine if people see the cool things you show them, but they are still people. Make sure to work with them rather than talk at them.

  • Things will go wrong and that’s ok

Pre-CES consists of working on many documents, schedules, updates, press releases, marketing decks, videos, presentations and more. This is absolutely crucial, along with having clear roles and responsibilities for every member of your onsite and offsite team. However, you will have to do things you didn’t anticipate.

On my final full day onsite, my team gave the media booth tours. I was not supposed to give booth tours, and we were provided two expert trainers who were ready to guide the media. As I stood patiently waiting for media to arrive and moments before, I was told I would lead the tour since my trainer was pulled into another engagement.

Armed with a 20-page script I had received only 10 minutes prior, I greeted my reporter and began the tour. I had done my homework and knew his beat focused on audio. Prior to his arrival, I scoped out the booth to find the attractions that focused on audio. As I learned earlier, I took him to each of the audio exhibits and allowed the trainers to do their demos. When in doubt, smile and breathe. Things will go wrong, but keeping a straight face and putting one step in front of the other is more than half the battle.

CES was what I expected it to be. It’s chaotic, exciting and tiring. It’s where the future of tech is unveiled and the best time to put faces to email signatures. Year one was a whirlwind, but I look forward to many to come!

Griffin Burrough is a senior account executive in the Washington, D.C office for A+P's Technology practice. When not representing clients at tradeshows, you can find him reading Joe Abercrombie or cooking gumbo.

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