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What it’s Like Going to Milwaukee NPS, Their Annual New Tool Media Event

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This post was first published on 4/27/18 and updated on 2/22/21.

When I first wrote this post, Milwaukee’s NPS18 new tool media was less than a week away. That was more than two years ago now.

There was no official Milwaukee NPS event in 2020, due to the COVID pandemic.

My daughter mentioned the “cow cheese” that I used to bring her from Wisconsin, leading me to reminisce about past Milwaukee NPS media events.

Although there was a virtual event in late 2020 – read more about the Milwaukee Pipeline new tool launches here – nothing comes close to the real-life experience.

Milwaukee NPS Preparations

So what it’s like going to a Milwaukee NPS tool show? In one word, it’s exhausting! But in a good way.

Different brands’ media events flow differently, and even evolve over time. Prior to 2020, Milwaukee’s NPS events didn’t change very much, at least not in my experiences, aside from growing a little bigger and bigger each year.

I attended Milwaukee’s NPS media events in 2012, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Benjamen went for ToolGuyd in 2016, and attended every year since then as well.

Preparation usually involves playing a frustrating game of “what do I bring?” where I pack enough camera gear for sufficient photo coverage but not too much that it bogs me down.

Day 1: Travelling to Milwaukee

When travelling to Milwaukee, I am usually on my own to and from the departure airport, and Milwaukee handles the rest, from picking me up at the airport, to delivering me back there when it’s time to go home.

Larger media events tend to be like this, where most of your activities are scheduled and executed without much individual effort. You show up, and the host takes care of the rest.

Food and drinks are paid for by Milwaukee, and the same has been true for airfare and hotel accommodations.

In earlier years, we went on tours of Milwaukee Tool’s facilities the first day. Given my flight schedule, this usually meant going straight from the airport to Milwaukee Tool.

Milwaukee adjusted the arrival-day schedule in later years, and I tended to use the extra time walking around the city.

There will usually be a welcome dinner before the event, and maybe an entertainment option the end. There’s time to schmooze and reconnect with people, and to chat with Milwaukee Tool managers and engineers.

It’s not long before everything feels like summer camp. Well, at least that’s how it feels for me. I don’t travel a lot for ToolGuyd, and so when I do it’s somewhat of a treat, despite the hard work and long hours involved. It’s always great to see friends and acquaintances again, and that’s part of what makes everything so much fun.

Each year there are more faces, and it’s always great to meet new people.

Everyone catches up a bit the first night, but we all try to get a good night’s sleep, at least those of us that know what’s ahead of us.

If something was announced or shown off that first evening, I usually try to put together a quick post before bed.

Day 2: The Big Event

Milwaukee NPS17 inside the hand tool tent

Wear comfortable shoes and don’t be shy about eating a good breakfast.

There are different ways to experience Milwaukee’s NPS media events. You can treat it like a “show and tell,” where you follow along and absorb. You can live-stream the experience to your audience, helping them to be a part of it. You can treat it like a hands-on experience where you try out all the new tools that everyone will be asking you about.

My approach involves a mix of things. I like to take photos, ask questions, and test the tools that interest me most. If I take a break to rest my feet, maybe I’ll post something to social media.

For me, these and other media events aren’t just about learning what is coming out, but what, why, and how. Emails and phone interviews are helpful and insightful, but they don’t come close to what can be gleaned from face to face discussions with engineers and product managers who played major parts in designing the tools being demoed and talked about.

Here’s a quick example:

Milwaukee Tool introduced a new “point and shoot” thermal imager at NPS17.

See Also: Sneak Peek: This is Every New Milwaukee Tool We Saw at NPS17

Milwaukee Spot Thermal Imager Side Grip

When I first saw it, I thought the compact M12 thermal imager sacrificed features for the sake of reaching rock-bottom pricing. After talking to an engineer and the product manager about it, I had completely changed my mind.

We talked about how they worked to reduce start-up time. We pulled the battery, to compare a cold start-up to a sleep start-up. We talked about how they hid the temperature units switch (°F and °C selector) within the battery compartment in order to simplify the main user interface as much as possible. We also talked about the types of users they designed the tool for.

You can’t get the same deep insights from press releases, and although there are interview opportunities throughout the year, nothing matches up to NPS event-level conversations.

If I have a question, the appropriate person gets pulled into the discussion.

For first-timers, here’s my advice: take breaks when you can, and grab a snack before you need one. I don’t take enough breaks, and my body always feels the punishment afterwards.

NPS Isn’t Just One Day

I try to keep in mind that NPS isn’t just one day. Milwaukee hosts other presentations the same week, especially if specialty tools are involved. Plus, there’s all the setup, planning, and set-building that’s involved.

If a demo shows how a tool responds to 16″ stud clearances, they build a free-standing wall. Someone has to design and build all of the test rigs, jigs, sensors, and equipment.

It’s a huge convention that involves a lot of work behind the scenes. This is of course beyond all of the work and effort that goes into the new tools themselves.

And, after going through the setup, presentations, demos, and hordes of journalists, reviewers, and influencers manhandling everything, they have to take everything down and clear out of the event space.

Sometimes a prototype isn’t perfect, or a demo doesn’t go exactly as planned. Not everything is going to have a high level of polish, but it’s worth keeping in mind that many of the tools are often a few months away from launching.

NPS is a massive effort, not just by Milwaukee as a brand, but by people.

While not quite the same, Milwaukee’s 2020 Pipeline virtual events also involved a lot of work and effort.

Dinner and Drinks

Milwaukee NPS17 Brewhouse Jacksons Giant Pretzel

Milwaukee knows how to throw a party. So far, no other media event I’ve been to has come close to replicating the experience, but some have certainly tried.

It’s a fun cap to a very long, hard, and busy day.

I’m very curious to see what Milwaukee’s bar tab looks like at the end of an NPS media event.

Day 3: Departure

IN 2017, we had extra time for photos, video, and discussions, and then we went on a boat tour. The optional Milwaukee Tool tour was scheduled for the departure day in 2018, and my flight schedule forced me to miss it.

Milwaukee tends to survey attendees before and after events, and they change things up over time. In 2019, there was nothing scheduled for the departure day, but because the first night’s dinner event was at Milwaukee Tool headquarters, they were able to fit in a tour of the facility first.

Day 4: Back to Work

Processing all the information, insights, and images from an NPS event is hard work and takes some time.

I usually start by focusing on the major highlights, and then follow that with a steady stream of news coverage.

One thing I’m thankful for is that Milwaukee’s NPS events usually end on a Friday, giving everyone a weekend to recuperate.

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