How-To: Doing a CES Booth for the first time

How-To: Doing a CES Booth for the first time

CES is an amazing show.  With nearly 2 million square feet of exhibit space, it's easy to feel like your little 10x10 booth will get lost in the shuffle.  Which, in fact, it will.

Here's a detailed account of our experience with AppMakr doing a show at CES for the first time, along with blog-by-blow learning through videos as we went through the event.  Before the show I poked around on the interwebs hoping to find a first-timer guide, but it seems that everyone assumes that anyone who's doing a booth has already done one before.  The CES exhibitor guide is overwhelming to say the least, and there wasn't much information for newbies.  So I was committed to capturing as much of the learning as I could to share it with others contemplating a booth for the first time.

First let me say that without our AppMakr admin Crissie and our CES sales rep Tira, we would not have been able to plan this effectively, so thank you a thousand times for your help, and Tira especially for all the first-timer questions we asked (and it's great to know fog machines are allowed as long as they're water-based, even though we didn't end up using one!).  Also a huge thank-you to Sue and Michael for their tireless setup and take-down help over the course of the show.  Again, it would've been utterly impossible without you.

The first thing I did when contemplating the show was to prioritize goals.  Here's how I ranked them, from most important to least:

  1. Executive team has a chance to bond at the show
  2. Press from announcements, and being able to say "We announced at CES"
  3. Knowledge & thought leadership via a panel
  4. Leads from the booth itself
  5. Branding from the booth

You can see I ranked the actual booth as least important, because I assumed it'd be impossible for us to break through the CES clutter. Here's my scorecard on how those priorities shook out:

Executive team has a chance to bond at the show:

This was great - we all got to spend time together and reconnect in important ways.  We're all running so fast that we rarely have the chance to do this.  In fact, this is probably the only opportunity all year where we'll all be able to spend 3+ days together in both a work and social setting.  The show was worthwhile just for this.  Some of us brought spouses, who got to enjoy Las Vegas and relax -- and we all know that the support of our spouses is what enables us to work the crazy hours that we do, so that was just as important to me in the planning.

The only thing I would change is the setup schedule, which left me so exhausted (literally 9 hours of sleep over 3 days) that I wasn't able to enjoy everyone's company as much as I would've hoped to.  The show started Thursday morning, and I arrived at midnight on Tuesday, meaning we only had 1 day to set up.  It would've been better to arrive late Monday or early Tuesday to spread the setup over 2 days instead of one.

Press from announcements, and being able to say "We announced at CES"

AppMakr turned one year old while we were at CES, so it was a fitting venue to launch our multi-platform support for Android and Windows Phone devices in addition to iPhone.  While we got some press from the announcement, we didn't break through the press clutter as well as I would've liked.  So I'd say we underperformed in this area, although an unexpected upshot from the announcement was literally thousands of beta requests we got from the announcement, which are still now pouring in, and one of our resellers even launched a very cool app for the show.  Launching a new product or feature at CES does lend credibility, though, and we'll be able to say "we announced this at CES" in the future.

Knowledge & thought leadership via a panel

Our CTO Isaac Mosquera did a phenomenal panel on the state of apps at CES, which we captured, so this was a total win.

Leads from the booth itself

We got an unexpected bonus here.  Tira, our CES rep, situated us in the iLounge pavilion, which turned out to be mostly hardware case manufacturers.  In fact, we were the only software / services company I saw in the iLounge.  CES has traditionally been a hardware show, and we knew we were taking a risk by being there, but attendees seemed to find it very refreshing to stumble upon something different at our booth.  Several times attendees said AppMakr was "the most impressive thing they'd seen at the show."  Considering we were 100 sq feet out of 2 million, we took that as a pretty good sign that being there was the right thing to have done, and the interest we got from people validated that.  In addition to AppMakr, which is currently free, we offer an AppMakr concierge service, where resellers build apps for clients with small budgets (under $20k) as well as an enterprise professional services brand, PointAbout, which handles Fortune 1000 clients.  We got a good lead flow off the entire spectrum of mobile solutions we offer.  Total unexpected win here.

Branding from the booth

It's hard to tell how effective our branding was, although the AppMakr booth looked great thanks to our lead designer, Jeff.  We did have a number of people come up to us and tell us that they've already used AppMakr to make apps, which was great.  This one is hard to quantify, which is why it was at the bottom of the priority list in the first place.

Key learnings from the event

In the videos below I go into detail as we figured things out.  Here are some of the main things I would highlight -- watch the videos for more detail.

  • Give yourself 2 days to set up, or hire a professional crew to do it if you have the budget -- it's exhausting (and I'm used to long hours!)
  • Have a staging area pre-show.  We had two friends, Chris & Peter, who very graciously agreed to accept packages before-hand for us.  If they hadn't done that, we wouldn't have been able to ship things to Vegas up to a week ahead of time.  Most hotels charge by the pound to accept items and even then only within a limited timeframe
  • Plan meticulously.  We did pretty well here.  We all had schedules of when we were going to be on booth duty, which was key.  I had pre-shipped most of what we needed.  I had backups for the backups for key parts of the interactive photo booth that we had.

CES membership costs $700 per year.  It gives you a special "members only" reserved parking area.  It's almost worth the $700 just for the parking.  Otherwise, parking would've been impossible.  And speaking of parking...

  • ... If you have lots of stuff you'll be schlepping around, get a minivan.  We did, as a last minute low-cost upgrade, and we wouldn't have been able to do the show without it.
  • Sunday wasn't as slow as I expected it to be:  The show starts on Thursday, and I thought by Sunday most people would be gone, but the traffic was surprisingly steady on Sunday.  It's worth sticking around for
  • The on-site facilities contractors are impossible to deal with:  The on-site facilities coordinators, a company called GES, was a complete mess.  In fairness, they're responsible for setting up 2 million square feet of space, and I'm sure they didn't care about our small 10x10 booth, but the only thing consistent about them was how they messed up almost every part of our booth.  When we arrived, we had the wrong setup, and the coordinator demanded proof that it was, in fact, incorrect.  I had to stop what I was doing to open my laptop and show her what we'd ordered.  Then, when we asked it to be fixed, it wasn't by 3am the next morning when we'd finished setting up, so we made due with what we'd been given.  The next day, however, we found an notice from GES saying we'd have to pay to fix their own mistake.  I then asked GES not to change anything, as we'd made the current setup work, and they proceeded to swap it out anyway.  To make things worse, the next day I found an invoice charging us over $200 for the work I'd asked them not to do, which was to fix their mistake in the first place.  Basically, they failed at every chance they got.  It was a very stressful and disappointing experience, and it was probably the biggest factor that would keep me from doing a booth in the future.  I have the entire correspondence chain in writing if you find it hard to believe.

Here's a lot more detail, hope the videos are helpful and please feel free to ask questions in the comments below, which I'll answer.

CES How-To Video #1 - Unloading Peter's truck with all the pre-ship items he held for us:

CES How-To Video #2 - The minivan and CEA membership:

CES How-To Videos #3 - #8 (coming)

CES How-To Video #9 - Sneak peek before the show:

CES How-To Video #10 - #11 (coming)

CES How-To Video #12 - Parking:

CES How-To Video #13 - The Switch-A-Roo Fiasco:

CES How-To Video #14 - The Interactive Photo Booth:

CES How-To Video #15 - The Kodak Zi8:

CES How-To Video #16 - Re-booking flights:

CES How-To Video #17 - The breakdown + in-booth wifi pro-tip:

CES How-To Video #18 - On the plane home (finally):