Before I went to the Expo, I boned up on what to expect by reading Cybele’s past coverage and checking in with Sera on what her experience was like. For current/aspiring candy bloggers, here’s my list of DOs and DON’Ts.
DO dress nicely. This is a business trade show, and there will be buyers and sellers and brokers out there in full business suit attire. As a blogger, you get some leeway to dress down, but I was still glad that I was wearing flats, a dress, and a blazer. By day three, though, I had to switch to jeans with a nice sweater, as my feet were killing me. See next tip.
DO wear flats. You will be on your feet all day, and it will make your feet hurt. Heels would just be asking for trouble.
DON’T stay for the third day, unless you want to take home a bunch of free samples. I managed to see all the booths in the first two days. On day three, I aimlessly wandered. Many industry people will have already left, and many that are left will be mostly thinking about packing up and getting rid of all their excess samples. If you want to take home handfuls and cases of treats, though, you should stay for day three.
DO bring an extra suitcase. I guesstimate that I took home at least 20 pounds of candy. I had packed an empty duffel bag inside my carry-on and flew Southwest, so free checked bags on the way home!
DO bring extra canvas bags with you to the Expo. Like Cybele, I stashed a bag (or two) in the press room. You’re only allowed a smallish sample bag on the floor, so I’d empty that out into my press room bag and go back for more. On day 3, to discourage the free-for-all atmosphere, they were punching bags to limit the number of dumps and refills that you could do. By then, though, I was basically sampled out.
DON’T eat too much candy on the floor. You will make yourself sick. I overhead an NCA intern talking about how one of her fellow interns had to go home early because she ate three chocolate bars in a row one morning. I think I ate the equivalent of one or two candy bars across my three days on the Expo floor. However,
DO eat the snacks, especially the jerky. Protein will be your friend, and salty snacks will prevent sugar overload, real or mental.
DON’T be afraid to ask for samples. For the most part, people were great about giving me wrapped samples that I could take home. See Perugina guy as Exhibit A. I would introduce myself as a candy blogger and ask if they had anything that I could take home to photograph and review later. The only people who said no were the business guys who checked out as soon as they realized that I wasn’t going to buy anything (coughLindtcough), and small companies that needed their full displays. It also helps if you can find your way to a marketing or PR person, or, if it’s a small company, a president or VP, rather than the business guys.
DO get business cards made. You’ll need at least one anyway to register as press, but I also found myself handing them out to candy people at their booths. If anything, it legitimized me as someone worthy of free samples. I had 100 mini cards made up from Moo (note: that’s a referral link for me) for $19.99. It was a little pricier than going to a local copy shop, but they came out really nicely, and quite a few people complimented me on how they looked.
DON’T believe the registration website when it says photography isn’t allowed. I even tried calling the NCA to figure out the real camera policy and couldn’t get a clear answer, so I told Emma not to travel with her expensive and fancy camera. When we got there, they said photography was fine and even encouraged; it was just video photography that was restricted. Wasted opportunity!
DO bring a companion if you can. I am so happy that Emma was able to come with me. While I was chatting up people at their booths and taking notes on what they were telling me, Emma was busy Tweeting away and taking photographs. She also kept me on task (I nearly got derailed when they gave away Eiffel Bon Bons) and kept me sane. And it was just fun to have someone to chat with!
DO navigate the Expo in a systematic manner if you don’t want to miss things. We went up and down each aisle in sequence so we knew where to pick off where we left off whenever we needed a bathroom or pressroom break. DON’T diverge from your path, even if you see something really exciting, as it is really easy to skip a whole block if you’re not paying attention.
DON’T try to get a side salad from the salad bar at McCormick Place’s food court. I thought it would be nice to get a turkey sandwich with a small side salad from the salad bar. Turns out the salad bar is priced PER PLATE, not by weight like any other salad bar in the world. And it was $9.50 for my tiny side salad, and my lunch ended up costing me nearly $20. So not worth it.
That’s all I can remember for now. Feel free to leave any further questions in the comments!