Maximize Trade Shows for Media Success

Projects + Events

We recently attended 2014 Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim (see my story, Where the Brands Are the Stars from the 2013 show) and International Housewares in Chicago. Both shows were incredibly successful in terms of brand story telling to media, conversion into placement wins and overall relationship building for our client. After many years of attending trade shows such as Fancy Foods, Gourmet Housewares, Expo and now Housewares, we have developed a go-to trade show strategy that has proven to be successful time and time again.

From a branding and PR POV, every show offers very different opportunities, but following are some tips to maximize industry trade shows for PR success.

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Think Ahead. A three-month lead-time from the date of the show is ideal. This gives you enough time to research, plan, develop materials and conduct outreach and follow-ups.

Develop a Plan. What are you hoping to achieve from a PR perspective? Help your client define the show objectives and integrate PR planning into their overall trade show thinking. I present a creative brief for clients that drive the execution of all tactics. The brief begins with the objective(s) – what are we hoping to accomplish? This is not about # of impressions or placements, this is a bigger vision statement of what success looks like. What is the story we are telling, how does this particular trade show help to tell the story, what do we want to accomplish by telling the story to this audience and of course what does a media coverage win look like?

Be Creative. Don’t simply re-hash what worked last year. It’s about more than a press list and massive email campaign. It’s critical to come up with new and targeted strategies to win. How does the booth presence help us to tell the story? How can we use the assets created by the marketing team to engage with a media audience? What are the key materials needed to garner the right audience, engage, romance and win? The brief also contains a week-to-week timeline of PR action items and deliverables. This timeline keeps everyone on track and ensures that the big pieces are not forgotten in the race to get everything done. Details matter.

Stay Focused and Drive. For companies, trade shows are about driving sales, winning PO’s and if the company has been around a few years, shows also become a great way to engage with former and new business partners. The PR plan often becomes a last minute after thought. This has always seemed so crazy to me. The amount of cost and resources put into a trade show, from entry fee, booth production, signage, product displays etc., creates the PERFECT platform to tell the company brand and product story to a qualified media audience. As the PR partner, it is our responsibility to drive this vision and make sure the PR plan is in place and executed.

Everyone is a Spokesperson. Hopefully your client values PR enough to send you to the show. Even assuming you have a prepped and ready media spokesperson at the show, you still need to have everyone from the company trained and ready to engage with media attendees and key influencers. I like to hold a pre-show all hands meeting. Have your client walk through the product features and benefits one last time as well as the sales PO process. This grounds everyone on the sales priority. This is also the perfect time to share the key messages PR has been sharing with the media. Anyone walking into your client booth is important – a retailer, partner, or media prospect. Everyone from your company should be enthusiastic and ready to speak with the same voice.

Follow this as a guide to get you or your client started when thinking and planning for your next trade show. Trade shows are a perfect platform, especially for retail brands that are not multi-channel (i.e. do not have stores, catalogs or other channels for media to engage and to “see” the brand and product story in a meaningful and memorable way). A trade show booth can become the platform for communicating the best piece of the brand story. Plus, you get to see and to meet all the other wonderful products and brands that play in the same space! And, don’t forget to have FUN.

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