The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is the biggest tech show on earth, and gathering under the bright lights of Las Vegas to showcase or even launch a new product is an essential milestone in nearly every consumer technology company’s coming of age. Companies bet big on CES because the payoffs are as big as the show. But there’s a mistake they often make that renders them just another logo in the crowd: they wait too long to lay down their bets.
The thing startups and even larger tech companies get wrong most is the date they start their planning process.The PR engine for CES begins long before the show, maybe even as the one from the year prior wraps.
Some people hire a tech PR agency in November thinking that’s enough time to launch a new product or offering at the show in January. What they don’t realize is that success at CES requires a ton of advance preparation. In fact, the preparation phase may matter even more than your time on the show floor – and here’s why.
CES is Huge
First, CES is a massive show. People who haven’t attended may not appreciate its scope, which truly takes over the entire Las Vegas strip. The square footage the event occupies, the big name tech brands looking to show their latest developments, and the splashy VIP events that participating vendors spend on all add to a larger-than-life experience. There will always be someone who outspends you to make their booth splashy and try to attract visitors to the booth. Splashy shouldn’t be the focus of your preparation, though. There’s more practical work to do, and plenty of it.
Journalists are inundated
Most of the tech journalists who attend CES aren’t too interested in splashy stunts, barring the occasional booth that warrants a mention for being goofy and outlandish. What tech journalists actually care about is whether your team is showcasing a solid product that lives up to the hype.
But a good product is not the only success factor – in fact, even a great one can be drowned out. The sheer volume of pitches and the size of CES makes many journalists view simply attending as a headache in itself.
So, how should you prepare?
Make it easy
The brands that make it easiest to connect and interact with products tend to get the most attention. Tech journalists are also keen to work with the teams who facilitate media materials, arrange interviews and ship courtesy products for reviews with the fewest number of headaches possible. Feature media coverage goes to the vendor PR team that’s most prepared to meet the journalists’ needs, which center on product availability and flexibility to access it within a timeframe that works best for them.
Waiting too long can be costly. Some journalists will only choose one product in a vertical to focus on, given the size of the show and the number of vendors present. There is so much for each journalist’s team to cover in the course of the show, and last minute appointments are a big ask. As a result, the most successful brands connect well before CES, and ship their products to targeted tech writers for their consideration ahead of the show.
Make the most of CTA
It’s crowded and noisy at CES – literally. But there are enclaves that attract top media. Work the best opportunities provided by the showrunners, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), and be on the front foot with the relevant tech journalists you’re looking to reach.
CES Unveiled (usually held one or two nights before the main show starts) is the event most media attend, and broadcast teams use that event to take footage of products and secure in-person interviews with brands they are interested in. CES Unveiled events are set up to make it easy for tech journalists and analysts to quickly visit lots of vendors’ booths, including spaces set up to facilitate interviews.
A presence at media events like CES Unveiled requires booking a booth ahead of the event, and a separate deposit from your main CES vendor booth. It is advisable to make this booking and complete all required CTA forms and fees early in December to avoid a last-minute scramble.
CTA’s Innovation Honorees program is a valuable tool to generate interest from media at CES Unveiled. The Innovation Honorees tend to attract the most media attention, especially highly visual products. A well-written application to CTA’s Innovation Honors program is essential to a competitive entry. It’s probably impossible for your preparation to start too early. Submissions to participate as featured speakers and panelists, among the first hard deadlines for PR teams working on CES, are usually in mid-August.
Get to know the high rollers
Be sure to take advantage of the other benefits from networking and making relationships at CES as well. Creating and maintaining connections with the leadership at CTA can prove helpful as they may consider including your executive team on an official speaking program.
Often, when CTA is involved in the client’s industry or developments, that can draw more attention and media interest. For example, CTA is deeply involved in healthtech and advocated for the FDA rule change improving access to over-the-counter hearing aids in 2022. As a result, CTA leadership took a special interest in healthtech vendors who participated in CES 2023. In this example, CTA arranged guided media tours of the CES show floor for tech journalists and journalists who covered healthcare. CTA does this for other verticals too and working with your CTA contacts can be a good way to secure interest in including your team’s booth on tours like this.
Have you started planning ways to drive media and visitor interest in your booth at CES? Some of your competitors are already working on their product and message and vying for speaker slots. The clock is ticking and companies are placing their bets. If you haven’t anted up yet, it’s time to get in the game. Good luck!
About the Author
Maura Lafferty is an influencer relations specialist, with a particular focus on media outreach over social channels. Maura has over 14 years' experience in public relations, and relationships with media working in national, California, and Silicon Valley newsrooms.