One, unfortunately, cannot simply waltz into SHOT and expect to be welcomed with open arms (maybe if you're Ted Nugent, which I am not, but if you are- I had no idea you read my blog, Uncle Ted- let's hang!). From what I could tell, there were a few classes of badges permanently adhered to the patrons of SHOT: buyer, non-buyer, media, guest, exhibitor, and booth staff. Quite obviously for the purposes of this post, I'll be focusing on the media side of things, given it was my distinction for the last few days.
My application process began in earnest in October. At the beginning, I believed the most important things to be squared away first was hotel and flight which couldn't have been farther from the truth, as I would learn after we booked and paid for both. Two frightening days passed a week after I had booked the trip when I did not know if I would obtain a media badge. The reason being my alias, Writing Huntress, could not be used as a valid name for entrance into SHOT. Given that every single thing I write is under my alias, I shot (no pun intended) myself in the foot. However, I was able to get my lovely WON editor to add my name to my bio page without any fuss, thus legitimizing my industry presence. Let me reiterate: you CAN use an alias while writing but you MUST be able to provide the SHOT staff with a valid identification of your legal name used in the industry in order to obtain your credentials. While I am the Writing Huntress to many, I suddenly became Lisa Jane Barron to all present. (This caused some confusion that was slightly amusing to witness as many a person came up to me, looked deeply into my eyes, imagined my visage slathered with camo face paint, and screamed "WRITING HUNTRESS!")
As I've said, this was my first SHOT so I had not one clue what to expect. According to the SHOT website and it's intimating infographic, I learned the exhibitor floor boasted an impressive, if not daunting, 12.5 miles of aisles and covered the same area as a half-marathon. Luckily, I had joined a gym some months ago, thus believing I was up to the task which ended up being a notion I now laugh at as my feet have been begging for a voluntary amputation since day 2. In keeping with the preparation theme, allow me to impart a little SHOT preparation knowledge your way.
1) Take Airborne in the place of meals, snacks, or liquids for at least 2 weeks prior to show.
This secret, as told to me by my industry twin, honestly saved me from being unbelievably ill the entire show. I went from my town of 16 to a convention center of 60,000 in a matter of hours, immediately making the esteemed members of my immune system, sans tonsils as they went to the happy infection grounds when I was 19, have tiny heart attacks and stress-induced seizures. However, since I had been fortifying my defenses with Airborne, I never had a cough or runny nose. I was happily allowed to enjoy all of SHOT, start to finish, without ever getting sick.
2) Buy comfortable shoes.
I literally heard this 1,000 times before stepping foot onto the Sands Convention center floor. Did I listen? Of course not! You'll come to find that while sneakers are the way to go, they don't really match with many quasi-professional outfits. While I really wanted to be comfortable, I found I wanted to look good as well, so I went for moccasins and cowboy boots. The latter literally tore my feet apart, the former made it feel as if I was wearing shoes made of marble for their support was lacking. Mike took a different route, wearing his cowboy boots one day, sneakers the rest and still complained his feet hurt so badly his body became a civil war: brain wanting to see everything vs. feet wanting to shuffle into a corner and slowly die. My opinion? Either way, your feet are going to hurt. Invest in some insoles, load up on blister pads and deal with the pain.
We had the blessing of a Christmas gift hotel stay, a necessity, as we could not afford to eat at all had we had to pay for our hotel. Our suite was some ways from the Sands, a walk that was bearable the first day and turned into torturous after meandering about the show for 16+ hours. We ended up in many taxis, which, again was affordable since our hotel stay was covered but wouldn't have been had we had to cover it ourselves. Next year, given the times I had to change, run back to get work done, or drop off all of our bags before a dinner engagement, we'll definitely stay closer to SHOT.
4) Trolly bags aren't cool normally but they are during SHOT.
Again, I was told prior to the show people experience "SHOT shoulder", an ailment brought on by messenger or computer bags toted solely upon one's shoulder for days on end after 12.5 miles of walking. More advice I ignored but didn't suffer through since my pack mule Mike toted everything for me in his backpack. However, had I not had him around, there is no way I could have amassed all of the brochures, reading materials, little gifts, or giveaway items I accrued. Mike, on the other hand, experienced "SHOT camera neck" which resulted from him having to tote my D3100 at a constantly ready position just in case I needed a quick picture. Again, I have no cures for that since the pictures he painstakingly took turned out beautifully.
5) Baggage Space.
One of the only real bits of advice I took prior to SHOT was to pack lightly. Normally, I pack for trips the way a hoarder collects bits of cat hair or mason jar cans filled with pickled beets or berries. I never, I mean never, plan out outfits or go through the motions of rolling clothing up neatly. However, since I knew SHOT booths tend to be generous with the goodies (and because our "cheap" airline charges even for carry-on bags), I planned my outfits to the day. I opted for skirts, leggings, short dresses, and blouses. Instead of carrying my boots, I wore them on the plane (the people behind me in the TSA lines positively adored that, let me tell you) and loaded up on layers to make room in my bag. Although we had to carry on a slightly heftier load coming home, it was worth it.
Make them. I learned this the hard way last year when I was the digital media coordinator for the Missouri Deer Classic. I, bonehead me, decided since no one knew me, there was no reason to make business cards. However, I was asked so many times for my information (and in the process, lost what could have been a lot of business) that I was kicking myself the entire way home. For SHOT, I had business cards made. While I could have gone for cheaper ones with simple information, I ended up shelling out more for better quality cards. When the first person I gave one to commented, "Wow--great card", I knew I had made the right choice. Sadly enough, there was a typo on my cards. Whether it was my fault or the printer's, it was still there. I had two choices: either leave it and hope no one notices or fix it. As an editor, I decided to go with a more amusing route and edit each of my 250 cards with a silver sharpie and add Editor at the end. This got more than a few chuckles when I explained and one unexpected reaction.
I was talking to a person in the media room who was the kind of person I didn't think I'd ever be able to talk to in terms of business opportunities. He was extremely cordial and asked for my card when we parted. I told him quickly the mistake made and how I didn't have time to reprint them so I simply edited them since people in the industry tend to notice these things. He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Yes, we do notice typos. Good on you for thinking on your toes and correcting your mistake."
Preparing for SHOT, especially when you have no idea what to expect, can be daunting. However, I am happy to report that even if you do make some mistakes along the way, you'll be able to have a fine time. If y'all will excuse me, I have a bit of unpacking to do before I borrow one of my best hunting friend's hot tub to melt my poor feet into a pool of contentment.