Every year, the Consumer Technology Association holds several trade shows around the world for technology brands to showcase their products for retail buyers and others involved in the consumer market.
Known as CES, the largest of which is International CES held in Las Vegas in January. International CES is the largest event in Las Vegas, encompassing nearly the entirety of the Las Vegas Strip (located south of Las Vegas in the city of Paradise, NV) and downtown Las Vegas.
Hardware and software engineers working independently or for the largest agencies and organizations in the world are in attendance, along with celebrities galore (both announced and unannounced). A week-long event, it’s impossible to see all of CES on one trip, but exhibiting there could be your key to success in the tech industry.
Whether you’re a start-up looking for funding, an entrepreneur with a great idea, tech enthusiast, or seasoned industry professional, CES is the annual event you can’t afford to miss.
As with most events, media get free passes. Attendees will pay anywhere from $100-$300 just to get in the door, though conference tracks, Storyteller sessions, and other events are billed separately.
If you happen to have a lot of money burning a hole in your pocket, you can also sponsor or exhibit at CES. Booth prices start anywhere from $10,000-$25,000 for a 10×10 space, with prices skyrocketing for large sponsored booths.
On top of the initial investment, many companies spend millions hiring celebrities and booth babes, hosting afterparties and press conferences in offsite venues, creating worthy swag to give attendees, and decorating their booth. Credentialing for sponsors and exhibitors is accomplished with money.
For more information on preparing a trade show exhibit, check out my article on Quickbook’s Small Business Resource.
The below links will take you to the official CES registration pages:
Attending CES Press Conferences and Auxiliary Events
CES itself is a three-day event, though the events surrounding it extend it beyond a full week. First, there’s CES Unveiled, a press-only event for members of the media to get exclusive looks at all of the new tech being released in 2016.
The next day is Press Conference Day, where individual companies gather members of the media into large auditoriums to discuss their upcoming product lines.
These press conferences are invite-only, and are live-streamed by a variety of CTA media partners. If you didn’t get an invite to the press conference, you can still show up and attempt to gain entry. Many members of the press do so.
Whether you’re attending CES or not, there are auxiliary events in which you can still get a face-to-face with the c-suite of major tech companies.
Auxiliary events include Pepcom’s Digital Experience at The Mirage, CES Showstoppers at The Wynn, VRFest at The Palms, Startup Night in Downtown Las Vegas, the Technical Emmy’s, Shark Tank auditions, and more.
Then there are afterparties and kickoff parties, such as MediaLink’s Kickoff Party, the VRFest Lounge, Google and Hulu happy hours, and more.
The CES Badge
Confirmations for CES are sent via email, and all you need to pick up the ticket is a photo ID. The actual badge is a piece of paper attached to a lanyard. The lanyard is sponsored, but not likely to be a collector’s item like E3 and PAX Prime badges.
The paper badge includes a scannable RFID tag taped to the back. Since all of this can be replicated, badges are scanned for entry to Storyteller sessions, conferences, press conferences, etc.
Security at CES is tight – to enter restricted areas, such as the media lounge, you’ll need to show both your badge and a photo ID, which must match the badge. With visitors from all over the country and world, security sees a lot of different forms of photo ID. It’s Las Vegas – there’s nothing they haven’t seen.
Auxiliary events use wristbands, stamps, and secondary badges for admission. Some events (such as MediaLink’s kickoff party) require the wristband pick up in advance, and it takes a team of people to be everywhere at once.
The CES Show Floors
CES covers nearly the entirety of Las Vegas. In 2016, the main expo halls were in the Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands/Venetian Expo Center. Mandalay Bay hosted CES Unveiled and most press conferences, while C-Space, Storytellers, and another marketing/advertising exhibit are located at the Aria.
Every other casino, hotel, and resort housed corporate sponsors and exhibitors, private suites, along with private VIP parties and events.
The main focus of CES is the business of selling technology, and every company has flashy displays to draw people to their booths to provide coverage. In the main convention halls, huge displays are abundant, showcasing either exclusive footage or hands-on demos of every product shown in the press conferences.
Nearly every exhibitor gives out swag for showing up.
This swag includes early-access codes, branded Google Cardboard, shirts, hats, shoddy festival bags, buttons, pins, and a variety of assorted knick-knacksand toys.
During the first few days, exhibitors are a bit stingy with the swag, though Friday and Saturday are known as the best days for quick swag grabs. These companies don’t want to haul boxes of heavy junk back to headquarters to sit in a storage room so you can hit them up for free stuff.
With hardware like VR headsets and hologram glasses, an appointment is typically necessary. It’s important to reach out to companies beforehand to schedule appointments for any major tech or games.
Don’t expect to demo the hottest VR headset from the manufacturer – they’ll be booked. Instead look for developers who must use these headsets to show off their creations.
Remember every hardware and software developer has a PR company – find out who it is, and cc them in your email to the developer.
Also, never send emails to a general department address. Search the name of senior marketing reps and execs on LinkedIn, and contact them individually. Be honest and genuine about who you are and why you’re attending – they’ll likely accommodate you.
Offsite Events at CES
Since CES is a trade show, the focus is on commerce. Like any convention, trade show, or expo, most business is handled after hours and offsite. On each night of the expo, at least a dozen afterparties are happening in venues all around the Paradise strip and downtown Las Vegas.
During the day, sponsored lunches and happy hours can be found all around Las Vegas. In fact, it’s practically impossible to be in Las Vegas during the week of CES without knowing about it.
Afterparties are invite-only, though many of these are easier to sneak into than the conference itself. These parties are often better than a regular club night, and often come with free food and drinks.
If you’re looking to turn up to 12 with beautiful people and celebrity acts, look for parties from the big-name companies like Google, Ford, Amazon, Sony, and HP.
If you want to network within the industry, try the meet-and-greets, hosted lunches, happy hours, or even the offsite events like VRFest and Pepcom’s Digital Experience.
What to Bring and Wear to CES
Food and drinks at the convention centers are overpriced, but a variety of booths offer snacks and drinks. Sony’s press conference always includes free food and drinks, and lunch is provided for media. All other attendees will want to bring some snacks to avoid spending $10 on a slice of pizza.
Wear comfortable walking shoes, as the floors are huge and you’ll easily log 20 miles per day on your FitBit during CES.
There’s no need for a backpack, as sponsored bags are provided in the hallways before entering the show floor, and many vendors give out bags. It’s very easy to overload on swag if you’re into free stuff. The 2016 CES included extra bag checks due to fears of possible terrorist attacks.
Download the official CES app to keep track of any appointments, as well as have a handy guide with you at all times. Though CTA provides maps and guides everywhere, you’ll need this app to know where you’re going, as the staff won’t know much beyond their station.
Bring around $100 in cash to ensure you have enough for any other incidentals that may come up. Parking is free most places in Las Vegas, but you can’t park at LVCC (nor would you want to), so learn the free shuttle routes. Even taxi lines can be outrageous at CES.
Business suits are everywhere, and every exhibitor is wearing the team’s colors. You will see plenty of hired models, but they’re around for sales.
Brian Penny is a former operations manager and business analyst at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has been featured in High Times, Hardcore Droid, Fast Company, Main Street, Huffington Post, Gaiam, Intuit’s Small Business Resource, and BBC.