Tradeshow PR: The Do’s and Don’ts

Tradeshow PR

(a.k.a. I’m going to <really big conference> and want to get the most bang for my buck)

Fall inevitably is tradeshow season for many companies. In the tech world, there is a flurry of events spanning from August’s VMworld to AWS re:Invent in November. Many of my clients are putting quite a bit of resources behind making their “big show” a success. So if you are in the same boat, how can tradeshow PR support and amplify the company’s efforts?

Here are a few ideas on how to capitalize on these events.

1 – Ride the news wave.

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Usually, these events, heavily attended by media, are owned by another entity who will be announcing their big news – and the reporters are there to cover that announcement and meet with their customers. What can you do? Try to find out what the news might be about and develop statements for the media to address that topic. It is much easier to get included in a story about the leading news that all of the attending press are going cover than to try to convince them to write about a different topic instead. Go with the flow!

For example, when the news of Salesforce Einstein broke a few weeks ago, I counseled to my clients that were going to Dreamforce, had a strong story or position on AI and machine learning in business, to start putting together a statement to capitalize on that news. That recommendation is paying off in articles this week as well as booked media interviews next week.

2 – But don’t try to steal the show.

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As I noted above, there will be a news cycle at these events – usually driven by news from the company hosting the conference. My experience working in PR for many years is that these shows are a great place to extend and amplify your story, but not necessarily the place to launch your news.

Instead, we recommend launching news prior to the event and then using the resulting coverage and buzz to drive attendees (read: prospects and customers) to your booth. This allows you to hold your media interviews in advance when reporters aren’t inundated with vendor, pitches, and booked from morning to night. You can also save the valuable meeting room space for meetings with customers and prospects vs. journalists – who are often overbooked and miss appointments. If you do book on-site meetings with reporters, note that up to 30% will cancel or not show. Be prepared for that. Get cell phone numbers when you can to connect with reporters you’re scheduled to meet with.

3 – Build relationships.

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Tradeshows provide a great opportunity to build relationships with media vs. hounding them for coverage. Many of your targeted journalists will be in attendance, but overwhelmed with meetings and quickly moving from one place to the next so that they can file several stories each day. One way we recommend engaging with reporters is to hold a low-key event where they can get to know your executives, partners and customers in a no-pressure environment. Often that means a breakfast, lunch or dinner with 10 or so other folks to mingle with. Sometimes it’s a cocktail hour or whiskey tasting to loosen up the group.

A few clients have offered VIP lounge access where reporters can recharge – figuratively and literally – away from the crowds. They can get a bite to eat, maybe even a foot massage after a long day walking the hard floors of conference halls. Offering your most coveted journalists this kind of treatment and access to your team can go a long way to building a good relationship with them.

4 – Stay relevant, but venture out of your comfort zone.

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Whatever news you announce, it should be relevant to the audience that is attending that event. If the show attracts CMOs and marketing types, don’t issue news that is highly technical in nature and more suited for IT professionals. You won’t get the coverage from on-site media or attendees and you’ll be setting your PR team up for failure.

Also, try to stand out from the crowd with fun mailers, booth giveaways, or an attention-grabbing booth. Don’t blend in with the other vendors. Be different; be memorable. I’ve seen a huge shipping container tricked out as a museum style booth, celebrities in booths taking photo ops and signing autographs, and race cars in booths. One client gave away a weekend in Vegas with Ferrari rental. When you can include media in something unusual or jaw dropping, do it. It might even be a trip around the block with the CEO while test driving a Tesla…now that’s a briefing a journalist is sure to remember! Don’t forget to consider these types of giveaways even before the event. One year the Salesforce PR team sent out save-the-date reminders for Dreamforce with an ostrich pillow. It was a great way to ignite interest well in advance of the actual event.

5 – Don’t use old school methods to share materials.

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Mobile is everything these days. This is true for both spokespeople and media. When on the show floor, we are even more attached to our smartphones. As a result, we can no longer rely on antiquated press kits to tell reporters about our company or fat printed briefing books to get background materials to busy executives. Everything must be consumable on a small screen. Even press kits on USBs can be a challenge for reporters who are concerned about security or not able to boot up a laptop for every meeting. Instead, consider landing pages or a Dropbox account with materials that work well on screens of all sizes. It’s also an opportunity to offer visuals to reporters – videos, infographics, screenshots, etc. Share the address via text or email and write it on your business card.

Want to know more about tradeshow PR and marketing? Check out our ebook on the topic for more insights.

Cathy Summers
Senior Vice President

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Posted on September 28, 2016 in Events

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