CES tips for rookie reporters

My first trip to what was then called the Consumer Electronics Show in 1998 feels like it happened so long ago, I can’t guarantee that my voice didn’t crack as I was introducing myself to people. But over the 13 subsequent visits to the show that now calls itself the “International CES,” I’ve picked up a few tips about how to manage its chaos.

Planning:

If you want to feel like you’re not being ignored by the rest of the universe, get on the CES mailing list. I received 66 e-mails pitching various CES exhibitors last week alone. My advice is to be exceedingly conservative in booking appointments: On one hand, you will be late to most of them (read on for reasons why), and on the other if you show up on time the appropriate publicist will probably be somewhere else through no fault of his or her own.

So I usually limit my booth appointments to large companies with a diverse product line–the likes of Samsung, Panasonic, Sony or Microsoft. In those cases, scheduling a meeting can help get an advance look at unreleased hardware or the chance to sit down with a higher-ranking executive.

Packing:

The most important item to bring to CES is a set of comfortable walking shoes. I’m partial to Eccos (note to Ecco PR: where’s my endorsement contract?), worn with hiking socks. Other useful things to pack: Clif Bars, in case you don’t get around to eating lunch; some separate source of bandwidth (either a phone with tethering available or a MiFi or equivalent); a travel-sized surge protector with USB ports (it can make you friends when other people notice the sole available wall outlet just as you reach for it); twice as many business cards as you think you’ll need.

Most important, for the love of all that is holy, do not forget to pack your laptop’s charger.

The LVCC and other exhibit areas:

The Las Vegas Convention Center, home to most of CES’s exhibit space, could double as an assembly line for airliners–or for other, smaller convention centers. Budget 10 minutes to get from any one of its three halls to the next, 20 to hustle from one end to the other. I usually do one at a time: the Central Hall, where most of the big-ticket vendors exhibit, will eat up at least a day by itself. The North Hall, home to automotive electronics and satellite radio, takes less time (but may also deafen you faster). The South Hall collects smartphone and tablet vendors, camera manufacturers and–well, everybody else. You’ll find the weirdest items on its lower level.

There’s also some exhibit space in the convention center’s parking lot, in the Las Vegas Hilton (about a 10-minute walk from the North Hall), and in the Sands Expo and the next-door Venetian about a mile and a half southwest.

Some companies also have off-site meetings in nearby hotels. (And some are exceedingly off-site: A few years ago, one manufacturer of high-end speakers offered to take journalists on its private plane to Los Angeles for a tour of its facility there. Not wanting to get fired for violating the Post’s ethics policy–and not being interested in audio hardware more expensive than most cars–I declined.) Don’t even think of trying to stop by those places in the middle of the day; visit them before or after everything else.

Getting around:

The Las Vegas Monorail is a good way to avoid traffic on your way to and from the convention center–except when you have to wait 10 to 15 minutes to board it in the morning or evening. But even then, it can be faster than getting on a bus that has to crawl through traffic to and from the LVCC–or spending even more time on a horrendously long taxi line. But since it doesn’t stop at the Sands or the Venetian, you’ll have to get off at the Harrah’s/Imperial Palace station and walk a block or two north.

The Consumer Electronics Association (note: a freelance client of mine) also hires out a fleet of shuttle buses to run between the official show hotels, the LVCC and the Sands. You shouldn’t have a long wait for them in the morning, but forget getting out of the LVCC  in a hurry on the first two evenings. The wait for one can exceed half an hour.

Many evening events happen at the Wynn. That’s nowhere near a monorail stop, but getting a taxi or shuttle bus can also require a prolonged queue. Remember my advice about walking shoes? Use them to hike the mile and change from the convention center to the hotel.

Power and bandwidth:

Both are in pitifully short supply. So anytime you’re sitting down and near an outlet, recharge your devices. Don’t expect wireless to work with so many gadgets in use, although you may find the occasional exhibit space with a more robust wireless network than usual. If you can find a wired connection, use that instead. And remember that if your phone has to spend more time hunting for a signal, it will run down even faster than usual.

Any other tips? Let me know in the comments and I can update this post accordingly.