Should the firearms industry tighten the admission standards for media at trade shows?

Every year when I attend an industry trade show, I think of this exchange from the best episode of Firefly, Shindig:

Kaylee Frye: Don’t you just love this party? Everything’s so fancy, and there’s some kind of hot cheese over there.
Cabott: It’s not as good as last year.
Kaylee Frye: Oh, really? What-what’d they have last year?
Cabott: Standards.

neckbeard blogger

In that episode, Cabott is the bitchy, stuck up girl, and we’re supposed to dislike her for being mean to the plucky and adorable Kaylee, which of course I agree with. But it gets me thinking, have media standards gotten too lose at industry shows? I remember my first SHOT Show, in 2008. I had no business being there; my blog was small with limited readership, and really I was just some asshole who liked guns but had the right connections to get a media badge at SHOT. Now, I’m still just some asshole who likes guns, but I do this for a living now. It’s funny how that changes my perception of who should and shouldn’t be at shows. What further complicates this issue is that each show is a different audience. For example, SHOT and NASGW are trade shows – not technically open to the public, so I feel that they should enforce tighter standards on media than at a show like NRA, which is open to the public.

It’s difficult to talk about this issue without sounding like an elitist jerk, so I’ll just get out of the way: there are people credentialed as “media” at SHOT Show who have absolutely no business being media, or even at the show itself. I know, because I was one of those people. But how do you control that while still allowing access for up-and-coming writers and bloggers, people who are grinding to pay their dues? Essentially, the question I’m stuck on is how does an organization keep the riff-raff, the tire kickers, and the T&E whores out, while still providing a means for people on the way up the food chain to earn their chops?

I’m not just talking about online media here either. The guy who writes one article a year for Middle BFE Fishing Journal shouldn’t be there any more than the guy who runs Fred’s Gun Blog that has three posts and 1 reader (Fred’s mom). At the same time, enforcing standards on “traditional” media is a lot easier than digital media, because you can say “you must have at least x articles published each year to qualify” is a fairly objective standard. Of course, with the freelance game getting tighter and tighter, most up and coming writers are eschewing that model entirely, preferring to…wait for it…create their own content on their own sites.

Which makes sense, when you think about. Why would you suffer the slings and arrows of writing someone else’s assignments when you can create your own work, about what you’re passionate about, and if you’re lucky connect with a reasonably sized audience. So with more writers, and talented ones at that, pushing into digital media, how do you effectively qualify digital media?

The easiest answer is of course, traffic. You can set an arbitrary threshold of “site must have x pageviews or uniques a month for the author to participate” – but that’s not really a 100% solution. I mean, if my site was called “Tits and machine guns” and all I did was post pictures of slutty girls with automatic weapons, I’d probably have triple the traffic I have now, but that wouldn’t mean I was actually qualified to cover SHOT Show. To flip the script, you could have a very in-depth, technical, knowledgeable youtube channel full of news and how-to vids that only has 2,000 subscribers – you’d be absolutely qualified to cover SHOT, but your traffic is a joke.

The truth about gun reporting is that the best way to determine whether or not a site should or shouldn’t be qualified is about the same way you distinguish erotica from porn: I can’t tell you the difference, but I know it when I see it. Traffic is important, yes. But so is content. So is frequency, quality, even little things like site design.

To close this post out, I’m going to post some hypothetical bloggers. I want you to post in the comments whether or not, based on the information I give you, whether or not they should be credentialed as media at SHOT.

Blogger 1
Works primarily as a defensive firearms instructor, teaches open enrollment classes about shooting fundamentals. Blogs 1-3 times a week, posts entirely about defensive shooting concepts, products, and ideas. Has about 75,000 unique visitors a month.

Blogger 2
Day job unknown, posts two posts a day, five days a week, M-Th are focused on video games, Friday is a weekly “firearms friday” where they take the guns from video games and shoot them on a real range. Isn’t really a good shooter, but due to crossover appeal reaches 1 million unique visitors a month.

Blogger 3
Posts primarily about non-firearms topics, but is a gun enthusiast. Possesses poor technical knowledge, minimal shooting skills, and frequently passes bad information based on ignorance and a lack of skill. Due to a lack of technical writing skills and poor content, reaches less than 5,000 unique visitors a month.

Blogger 4
Some asshole that was on Top Shot and thinks he/she is hot shit now.

Blogger 5
Blogger 5 is the prototypical enthusiast blogger. They have a regular 9-5 job, but they like guns, like to shoot, are reasonably knowledgeable, and post decent content. They’re not superstars, they make mistakes, but they work hard and have attracted a loyal following. Their posts are a mix of firearms related stuff, maybe some personal stuff, maybe their other hobbies mixed in a bit, but mostly keep it centered around guns/politics. Let’s say between 10,000 and 40,000 uniques a month.

Let me know in the comments what you think, not just about the bloggers at the end but the post in its entirety.


  1. Caleb, I know you know how hard it is to conduct business at the industries largest trade show, the SHOT Show. The problem is not only with media passes though, it’s with EVERY person that is there that shouldn’t be. There are tons of firearms enthusiasts at the show that take up valuable space and time. They make it more difficult to navigate the show and see products so that deals can be made with vendors/manufacturers. It’s quite frustrating to many in the industry.

    1. Honestly, that’s an entirely different post I’m going to write as well. Because truth be told, even if SHOT didn’t cut down the media but just cut down on the number of tire kickers and 2nd cousin’s wife’s brother’s in law of guys who own a gun shop, it’d solve most of this.

      1. Absolutely, and that is more of what I was addressing, not so much media personnel. Every year, SHOT Show is clogged with tons of “shooters” from the various competition sports and tactical timmy guys just wanting to see the new stuff and more importantly post on Facebook that they are going. I wish the NRA Show would do a better job of advertising it as a community or public show, and I wish NSSF would crack down somehow on admission to SHOT Show.

  2. We are in a golden era for the firearms industry. Couple that with the changing faces of media and there are bound to be some growing pains and hurt feelings. I think the industry will sort this out all in due time, however, maybe not as fast as the internet expects. There should probably be more shows. If the audience is so committed and the industry is so robust that some are trying to figure out who to exclude, maybe more specialized, frequent, and locally varied venues are in order. It’s a gravy train with biscuit wheels, and the track does not go on for ever. Live it up, try to think about how to diversify and include more, not less.

  3. SHOT has been a lot of work in terms of the new media attendees. There are a handful that we’ve been in touch with for years, like Soldier Systems Daily, who is always worth whatever time it takes to show them the latest and greatest. The flip side of that is that Eric is so busy that he only has a short while to spend in the booth in order to get everywhere he wants to go. After those few, it gets much tougher to decide if it’s worth sending a piece of gear to a writer or not. It becomes detective work when I get back to the office to see if we’re going to benefit from it, since we’re not in the business of supplying gear to writers without due diligence.

    SHOT hasn’t been a place to write orders in a long time now, judging from the conversations I’ve had with other industry people, especially in the tactical gear segment. I’ve been told that one of the suppressor distributors writes 30-40% of their yearly business there, like in the old days.

  4. This is why I no longer offer to do T&E. I’m a former Level 5 who has, due to a new job that consumes a lot of time, just doesn’t have time to devote to the gun stuffs any more.

    Even if given a pass, I’d not go to SHOT because I’d be as useless as facts at a Moms Demand Attention rally.

    I miss being in the thick of it sometimes. I just don’t have the brainpower to give it the correct amount of detail any more.

    That being said (i.e. enough about me), I know way too many ‘gun bloggers’ with minimal readership that would gladly suck up an inordinate amount of time at SHOT. But it’s a razor thin line to dance on. Piss off the wrong blogger and suddenly you get a Twittertardnado unleashed upon you. And us gun bloggers seem to be diffusing more & more. Us “big shots” aren’t doing it much any more. Uncle, you, Sebastian, are keeping it up, but even Tam is now primarily a ‘random thought’ blog more than guns. Me? I might post about my guitar every here or there.

    Maybe the issue will take care of itself as time goes on and fewer & fewer people put the effort into blogging that they used to, who knows?

  5. Oh boo hoo, trade show is too popular and it makes it hard for me to get around 🙁

    I’m #teamcaleb usually, but this is a little too sad panda for me. Yes, trade shows attract people who aren’t there doing business. Same as every other trade show ever.

    The idea that any blogger would be feeling they are more entitled to be at SHOT than another is funny. The only people who can really say anything are the people putting in tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars with various mfgs. “Press” is sort of an antiquated topic now. I don’t need to want to read what Guns And Ammo writes about SHOT, and if X blogger doesn’t cover it, Y forum will, or Z instagram, etc.

    1. For the record, my comments are from an 07 Manufacturer that spends that “tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars” to rent a piece of real estate at SHOT Show. It’s hard to conduct business with industry professionals when all the “tire kickers” are in the way.

    2. Sorry, I wasn’t going for sad panda. It’s actually even more complicated than that – I am a huge believer in blogs and online media as the future of content. What I’m trying to figure out is how to make sure that new and up and coming blogs get access, while at the same time limiting participation from people who are really just there to whore for free T&E samples.

  6. If someone gave me a ticket to go to SHOT I would go. I’d look around at stuff, ask lots of dumb questions to the reps, and it would benefit no one other than myself. I’m interested in guns and want to see the new stuff. That doesn’t seem wrong to me.

    If you want to do business at SHOT, you can always get someone’s business card and then talk out specifics for large orders later. If you are negotiating a serious business deal, then the packed floor of a huge trade show doesn’t seem ideal anyways.

    1. That doesn’t SEEM wrong to you, but it is. SHOT Show is the INDUSTRY trade show. It’s not there for the public or fan boys.

      “Attendance at the SHOT Show is RESTRICTED to the shooting, hunting and outdoor trade; and commercial buyers and sellers of military, law enforcement, and tactical products and services ONLY. The show is not open to the public and NO one under age 16 shall be admitted (including infants).

      Admission to the show requires government-issued photo identification plus documentation demonstrating direct, professional affiliation to the trade. Show exhibitors and media are subject to different credentialing requirements.”

    2. Andrew, if you want to do those things, that is what the NRAAM is for, NOT SHOT Show!!

      This is where buyers go to make deals, the Media goes to see the newest and Greatest and where industry relations are made and forged.

      Going to SHOT to do those things you describe would prevent legitimate business from being conducted.

      The NRAAM is where the manufacturers and reps dedicate 100% of their efforts to talking to the end user and the public, you can get all your goal met there and you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get in.

  7. Hi Caleb

    I am just a humble firearm enthusiast, with no involvement or relationship with the gun industry or media.  However, I do have opinions, and since you asked…here are my thoughts offered for consideration and potential ridicule.

    SHOT has grown to become a victim of its own success.  Back in the day, I bet it was a standard trade show, rarely seen or heard of beyond the traditional industry audience.  However, it has now become this huge media / public spectacle, with new and exciting items offered around every corner. With the media trumping up SHOT like a carnival barker with every breath and word for two months prior and every other breath for six months after the show, it should not be surprising that the huddled masses clamber to gain admission by any means possible. It is simply human nature, particularly among hard core enthusiasts, to want to be the first to see and fondle the latest and greatest guns, gear and what have you. 

    Also, keep in mind that those same folks that are in the way of true business during the show, are the very same folks you depend on having at your counter buying up your inventory (at a profit for you of course) or visiting your site and consuming content after the show is over.  It is definitely a two edged sword for you guys. 

    The only way I see to resolve this, in my opinion of course, it for SHOT to limit…and I mean severely limit…the number of tickets/admissions.   Yes, truly deserving folks will be left outside looking in.  But, if Mr. Large Gun Store (manufacturer, media outlet) only had 20 tickets to use versus 100, then there would be less excess available to hand out to various friends, neighbors and hangers on twice removed.  The attendees would be more likely than not limited to those truly in the business, with a real need to be there.

    On your questions as to which of your blogger examples to admit, I say admit them all.  Yes, you would indeed include the lesser and perhaps undeserving of the group.  But that is the price to pay for also allowing in those who are up coming movers and shakers.  Take yourself as an example.  By your own admission, you did not deserve to attend your first few shows.  However, I bet you made contacts and developed relationships during those visits that helped your grow into the businessman and success you are today.  Would your chosen career have taken a different trajectory if you had remained among those on the outside ?

    Anyway, there you go.  Thanks for having me.


    1. Oh, absolutely. I’m not so vain as to not notice my own hypocrisy here; I know that attending SHOT in 2008 and 2009 undoubtedly helped me grow my brand and develop the blog you see before you today.

  8. As someone who has a modest but extraordinarily high quality blog about Gun Culture 2.0, I feel I can speak for many many readers in answering Caleb’s question with “anyone but Blogger 4!”

    But seriously, I am glad that Bobby jumped in because Caleb’s original post did not actually specify what problems he was experiencing at SHOT that he was trying to solve by tightening access. I thought there weren’t enough croissants and bandwidth in the media room or something like that.

    I’ve never been to SHOT but I know that the NRA show is uncomfortably crowded, so I can only imagine. But it seems all trade shows are basically boondoggles for a certain percentage of attendees, and the NSSF probably gets some mileage out of saying X number of people attended and the event was covered by Y number of media.

    In terms of figuring out how to allocate time, I think businesses always have to consider which media to work with and which to avoid, and in the world of new media that gets more complicated.

    Indeed, the very question of who “the media” are is raised. I think of media as journalists and writers, but not people who are basically working in PR or advertising. And let’s face it, Caleb falls in this latter category now. So, hopefully he goes to SHOT (if he goes) as some sort of industry professional as opposed to a member of the media. If not, he should and that would be one less media credential right there!

  9. I would guess that the purpose of the SHOT show is to sell stuff. The reason one would have media there is to generate buzz for new stuff so you can sell it. And space and time at the show is limited- time wasted on the tire kickers is time not devoted to the major distributor, which means you sell less stuff. So..
    #1 is a definite must invite, as whenever he tries out new gear, many folks will go and do likewise.
    #2 is also a definite. This guy would generate a lot of buzz, which means a lot of sales.
    #3 is a no. Not enough oomph to really get things moving.
    #4 should be tarred, feathered, and run out on a rail
    #5 is a yes, especially if they are often read, linked and quoted by other gunbloggers

    Bottom line: SHOT passes are for closers.

  10. I need more background info: what are the problems with having too many media badges?
    1- problems it causes exhibitors
    2- problems it causes other media
    3- problems it causes other attendees

    As a retailer, I still attend consumer shows, as there are some manufacturers I don’t see at trade shows. However, I don’t expect to get quality time with them, or do business with them at the consumer show.
    My main trade show is more popular than ever, with events and seminars selling out, and the show floor being very crowded. In our case, I believe the show needs to get more space, but also tweak the format.

    I know San Diego comic con caps the number of attendees. They have an application for first time media, but I can’t tell if they cap badges or how they approve media passes. I assume they also have the same problems you’re talking about.

    1. Found their podcast/blog criteria:

      If you are applying with a podcast or blog, you must be
      currently employed with the outlet you are representing
      and you are required to submit the following:

      At least THREE industry related podcasts or blog entries
      from an established outlet within the last 18 months.

      A list of archives showing activity from the last 18
      months. We consider the frequency of your updates
      (must be updated weekly and if not updated for
      more than 30 days without explanation, it will not be
      considered as valid verification material)

  11. Several ways to deal with this:
    1) Do nothing and allow nature to take its course. Obviously, the tradesmen, and women, are feeling that the show’s stated intent has increasingly been subverted for the sake of media exposure. The organizers seem oblivious that this state of affairs leaves them rife for being eclipsed by a better organized tradeshow.

    2) (The most obvious fix): Limit all media passes to a day, or two, access at most–obviously leaving the rest of the time for a tradeshow to act the part of a tradeshow.

    3) Have a tiered system tied to circulation/traffic. The lowest tier having the smallest number of allocated open spots would represent the smaller/up-and-coming blogs with passes given out by lottery. The highest tier would be populated by the largest industry publications/sites, and further be accompanied some sort of pay to play scheme as well.

    1. I wonder about the comment, “Obviously, the tradesmen, and women, are feeling that the show’s stated intent has increasingly been subverted for the sake of media exposure.”

      It may be the case that people in the trade generally feel this way. But based on one blogger (Caleb) and a few commentators here, I don’t know if we can say it is “obviously” a problem.

  12. I know the video game industry went through this a few years ago — for 2007 E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) heavily restricted admission to invite-only, due to a perception that many of the attendees were there just to check out the new and upcoming games for their own benefit. That move was very unpopular, and the show reverted back to its old format after a couple years, but they still have restrictions on who they’ll give a pass to:

    However, in that time PAX became dramatically more successful, and is now considered the big consumer-focused show, so there isn’t nearly as much demand from the general public for admission to E3 as there used to be.

    Is there enough demand for the NSSF to set up a consumer-focused show elsewhere in the year?

  13. Well here’s your stupid simple answer: host your own trade show and invite whoever the hell you want. Call it Kaleb’s Elite Gun Group Exhibition Rally or KEGGER for short.

  14. “Some asshole that was on Top Shot and thinks he/she is hot shit now.”

    I absolutely think Ben Stoeger should be allowed at Shot Show.

  15. Caleb, until I retired I dealt with the problem of sorting out “legitimate” media from T&E whores. NSSF can’t do it, too involved, but I got so I’d talk to them for a bit, a simple conversation tells you a lot. Then, I’d look at their blog or website, YouTube channel or whatever. Even if clicks were low, if they had good, gun related content and sounded like they cared, then I’d help. Charging them something for the products also helped to thin the herd. I looked for a site that was monetized. Without some income, blogging eventually becomes a really expensive, time-consuming hobby. SHOT did seem to cut the pack down some last year. That said, cutting out the buddies of the second cousin would probably do more to make access easier for the legit folks at the show than eliminating all the media. Steven Tyler and his entourage blocking the aisle was more of a pain than irritating amateurs. We could also eliminate R. Lee Ermey autograph sessions…

    1. We could also eliminate R. Lee Ermey autograph sessions…

      That’s funny right there, I don’t care who you are. 😀

  16. 1,2,5. If we’re going to exclude outliers then let’s do it from both sides of the distribution. Gun rags like Guns and Ammo should also be banned, they’re as bad or maybe even worse than the occasional jerk off bloggers.

  17. Three solutions –

    1) Create standards for media and limit media badges. And create standards and limit vendor badges, cutting the number to a thirs of what it is.

    2) Create a public day with advanced tickets and cut down media badges to x traffic or x articles/time period. The public day will be a freakin’ zoo, but it’s one day, so everyone can be prepared. The public is there to see the new stuff and the show is already a hybrid public/industry show at this point anyways.

    3) Require professional membership and advanced registration to attend with no additional tickets offered to non-members. New members must be sponsored by two current members. Everyone not a member gets no ticket in. This is, by the by, how many professional societies do business. Every year at my annual profeessional conference, new members must be sponsored and their sponsors are identified on their badges. It makes the whole society of professionals accountable. This is a great, but man-hour intensive solution.

    1. You don’t need a Public Day at SHOT Show, SHOT is NOT for the Public, but for DEALERS!!

      There is already a PUBLIC Show, it’s called the NRAAM!!

      Wanna make it public, Charge $500 pear head!! You will see it go down fast!!

      1. The NRAAM are a cluster fuck because it travels. Some cities are good, and have the capacity to hold such a large event, most don’t.

        I will be honest, I much prefer the more open media policy. The overall coverage level is much higher, there are things that I see covered that weren’t covered in the past because isn’t a huge innovation and not from a company that gets all of it’s products covered due to hype.

        1. We need to Keep it professional, right now, the True Cluster is every idiot with a Video Camera and a computer calling themselves a Blogger, we need accurate reporting, not misinformation and stupid ass remarks from someone with little or no firearms knowledge!!

          1. Ok so here’s my simple thoughts, require the following:
            1. Professional dress (I.e. Polo and slacks).
            2. A fairly high fee $400-1000 for a press pass.
            3. A certification from the parent organization that anyone they send behave in a professional manner (I.e. No broken ankle from a failed drunken sandals dismount) or face serious consequences (like organization banned for a period of time).

          2. “1. Professional dress (I.e. Polo and slacks).”

            I never dress like that, I’m a Pro and Tomorrow I celebrate 30 years in the Photo Industry

            “2. A fairly high fee $400-1000 for a press pass.”

            Not going to work, REAL Media won’t pay for that, hell, they don’t pay that for an article at times!! Frellancers won’t come and it will die!!

            3. A certification from the parent organization that anyone they send behave in a professional manner (I.e. No broken ankle from a failed drunken sandals dismount) or face serious consequences (like organization banned for a period of time).

            That is called Affiliation!! But as long as they take “Billybobs Gun Blog as a Legitimate Affiliation, it will continue the way it is!

            A agree that “Dead Tree” Media is NOT the only way to go, but Legitimacy SHOULD be a must!!

  18. People are here talking about T&E whores being bad and I’m just wondering how I get in on that gig. I’ll post youtube reviews! Not promising anyone will see them but hey.

    1. I think you answered your own question!!

      Manufacturers and vendors want ROI (Return of Investment)

      They want to know that they will get something from the T&E Stuff they give you, NOT just something for you to play with and brag to your friends about.

      99.99999999% of the stuff I get for T&E appears on Photographs, Articles others write, Magazine Covers and Book Covers, THAT is ROI!! BIG TIME!!

      1. Which is why I never had a problem sending you things, Yamil! Happy photo anniversary.

  19. I work for a dealer, and this year was the first one I’m aware of that they chose to eschew SHOT show — from their point of view it has become a media event, and is no longer a “buying” show.

    As much as some might not like that, it’s probably a good thing in the long run: The various distributor shows (Ellett Bros, Acusport, Amchar, etc.) can be much more selective about admittance, while the NRAAM/GAOS are open to the public. This in turn leaves the media really needing a show of their own, and SHOT show is really in the perfect position for that: It has long been a “this is the cool stuff we have in the pipeline” kind of show, and that’s more suited to a media event anyway.

    I understand the complaints about tire-kickers and time-wasters, but the unfortunate truth is that new media is a hell of a lot more distributed than dead-tree media ever was, and that means more bodies on the ground. While vendors and professional attendees are upset with the shift away from the demographics of years past, the fact of the matter is that the industry as a whole benefits from the work of new-media types at SHOT.

    Frankly, if you take the approach of trying to return SHOT to it’s “buying show” roots, then you’re going to push a lot of media types out into the cold, and force them into trying to elbow through hordes of proles (70,000+ attendees) at the NRAAM. That in turn will severely limit their potential media effect…..

    In other words, SHOT really needs to decide whether it wants to be a distributor show, or a media circus; Personally, I’m inclined to believe that the latter would be the better decision for the industry as a whole.

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