At 4pm on January 14, the first of more than 5,000 people started lining up outside San Francisco's Moscone Center to see Steve Jobs deliver the Macworld Conference & Expo keynote address at 9am the next morning.
"They sleep on the sidewalk and cook out," says Charlotte McCormack, PR manager at IDG World Expo, which produces Macworld and has owned it since its inception 24 years ago. "It's phenomenal. Nobody can believe it until they see it."
All the local and many national TV stations were on hand, ensuring that plenty of people saw the frenzy. McCormack, who has come from Boston to manage the event for the past two years, went back to her hotel - though she got little sleep. The 1,000 or so journalists covering Macworld were calling around the clock. By 4:30am, she was back on-site to help herd the keynote audience inside.
"It can be like a stampede," she says. "You've got to worry about trampling and escalators breaking down."
IDG produces six events and Macworld is one of its biggest, this year attracting more than 50,000 attendees (up 10% from 2007) and 475 exhibitors (up 75 from 2007).
McCormack, the sole internal PR person, manages all events. Agencies work on a show-by-show basis, while Schwartz Communications helps with Macworld.
"[It's] challenging to generate coverage months before to drive registration," she admits. "We relate [trends] back to the show [and determine] what experts we can offer. You can [hook] somebody on an angle, but getting them to tie that back to an event is difficult."
And once the event starts, the intensity picks up dramatically.
"We literally walk [media] around and help them get information so they can do their jobs and we can get publicity for events and vendors," McCormack says.
Keynote press passes are limited to 593, but McCormack notes that all media meeting "stringent credentialing requirements" get into the overall event.
"These days everyone thinks they are media, even if they just have a personal blog, so it's hard to make the distinction," she admits. "[To get a press pass a] blog must reflect current, industry-related news posted on a consistent daily or weekly basis by paid staff.
Typically, those who get into the keynote are the ones who register early. Once we reach capacity, that's it."
Linsy Reese, IDG's VP of marketing, praises McCormack's tireless effort and calmness. "It's high pressure and she provide[s the] best possible service," he says.
Still, with an event this hectic, McCormack struggles to please all.
As an Engadget blogger, Paul Boutin, currently a correspondent at Valleywag, had trouble getting into the keynote for several years.
"I [had] one of the five most-read blogs on the planet, and I couldn't get in," he says. "Everyone was afraid to credential. Nobody wanted to give the OK to treat a gadget blog the same as CNET or The Wall Street Journal.
"This year," Boutin adds, "I write for Valleywag, which was rejected [for the keynote]. We have 100,000 readers a day. My editor sent a snippy e-mail to Charlotte and copied me. I lost it [and said], 'I've gotten you millions of readers, and you don't recognize my name.' Charlotte wrote me back to apologize, [saying thousands of bloggers] want in the keynote and she can't tell who has 100,000 readers and who has three. She gave me an idea of what it was like [for her]."
Boutin got into the keynote and Valleywag coverage of Macworld 2008 got about 500,000 page views.
"Charlotte [is] someone who, in the middle of the craziness, enabled me to do my job," he says.
IDG World Expo, PR manager
August 2002-Oct. 2005
Boston Biomedica, marcomms manager
June 1998-August 2002
Taqua Systems, senior marcomms specialist
Sept. 1996-November 1997
Weber PR Worldwide, AE
January 1994-August 1996
Mastro Communications, AE