Trade Show PRIts Time To Focus on Goals Substance Results

In every major city around the globe there is a trade show, conference or convention taking place every business day of the year. In true show towns like Las Vegas there are at least five shows taking place.

It’s little wonder that the conference/convention business is more than $50 billion annually.

But in your company’s industry there are probably only 5-6 major shows each year and 8-10 secondary or regional shows. Even at that there are only 2-3 your senior management and marketing people crown as “must” events. Those are the ones where the key customers, key prospects and -- oh yes -- key editors, reporters, analysts gather.

Big Budget or No Budget

At the major shows, large companies tend to have big events, big parties. Smaller firms that can’t financially justify the tightly choreographed events ask how cheaply they can “get by.”

Events are a judgement call.

Doing it on-the-cheap only proves that PR is an expense, not an investment because there are no positive results.

But trade show PR should be part of your total program complete with goals, strategies, tactics and meaningful results.

It requires a professional plan…professional materials…professional approach…professional budget. Everything needs to be done with the objective of explaining, complementing and reinforcing the company and its marketing positioning. Anything less is a waste of time, effort, money and opportunity. Worse it is a disservice to management and the press.

While we try to advise our clients to announce new products three months prior to a major show the truth is it seldom happens. Senior management and product development continue to use major trade shows as their deadlines for completing and announcing their newest and best.

The challenge is that the company and announcement is competing with everyone else at the show for mindshare. Carrying out your introduction three months prior gives you an opportunity meet with the key industry analysts and media on their own turf to explain the product(s) and technology so they have time to explain them to their audience. This not only means more qualified people visit the company at the show but secondary and peripheral members of the press understand why they want to meet with you and discuss what the company is doing.

The results? Better pre-show coverage. Substantive press meetings at the show. Broader and more effective post-show coverage.

That’s the logical, professional approach. But it’s a tough, usually impossible sell. So get over it! Focus on doing the best you can for the company, management, marketing, the products and the media.

In the photos accompanying this article we discussed a random selection of press materials we received from editors and reporters we work with on a regular basis. The critiques are not meant to slight any PR person or organization because each example is only representative of 10-15 examples we could have chosen.

We didn’t include the worst offenders because they appeared to be assembled by a marketing manager or marketing support staff member who had no understanding of press materials, editorial information requirements or media relations.


The Outer Packaging

It is said that beauty is only skin deep and ugly is to the bone. But let’s face it…everyone and everything is judged first by our/its skin.

First impressions count. Especially in a trade show pressroom where your “news” must compete (unaided) for the attention of the press and financial/market research people.

Note we didn’t stress the press and analysts who visit the pressroom because we have come to believe that a key part of any trade show effort should be an aggressive pre and post-show effort.

This includes:

• News releases and media alerts sent out prior to the show over the wire services – MarketWire, PR Newswire, and Business Wire.

• Posting press kits on Virtual Press Office so the information can be easily accessed by reporters/editors/analysts around the globe.

Some PR groups and companies don’t even bother to put press kits in the pressroom. They simply put a card in their box saying the press material is available at It’s okay. We suppose.

A few firms have very pro-active web press rooms print cards listing their internal and external PR contacts and the location of their show press kit. Sony – in our opinion – in the consumer electronics space does the best job of delivering their news – even immediate information -- to the press with their web site.

Most that attempt to emulate their approach deliver feeble attempts!

But back to the real “action” in the show’s press room. The company’s material sits in a lowly pigeonhole along with rows of pigeonholes and press kits.

Press kits range from elegant, double-embossed, die cut, triple-fold works of graphic art to manila folders with and without company identification. And there is everything in between.

Most proudly display the company’s name. But beyond that, there’s not a clue. No indication of what the company does. Not a whisper about what is new, interesting and exciting from the company at the show.

A few – very few – obviously created press kits just for the show that:

• identify the company name/business

• give you bullet-point ideas of new products being shown

• tell you the booth location so you can get more information.

An increasing number of PR people have taken the “save trees” trend to heart and simply knock out CD press kits. It is a noble gesture. But 99% are again a waste of time, money and effort. According to editors/reporters we interviewed the discs are often taken, sent back to the office and never opened.

There are universal problems:

• The disc only identifies the company and possibly the show. There is no indication of the company news that is entrapped on the disc

• If the editor/reporter is going to get information to use at the show, he or she has to load the disc, read through the contents, determine if there are product/story ideas they want to cover on the floor, print out the release and follow-up. Doesn’t happen ! Their schedules are too tight to do your work for you.

Our problem has always been – and perhaps our clients and we are undisciplined – that the newest and best announcement information isn’t finalized until a day or two (if we are lucky) prior to the show.

We usually end up pressing for release approvals a few days before the how. Then it is a rush to print, stuff and overnight kits to the tradeshow floor. At other times the releases are approved the night before the show opens. That means people rush to the local quick print shop in town, get the copies and stuff kits well into the night on their hotel room beds so press kits can be delivered to the press room before the show opens.

The glamour of trade show PR wears thin very quickly.

The Best Approach

Before we go to the meat of the press kit let’s discuss what in our opinion is the best presentation of your trade show news:

• Make your best announcements over the wire a week or two before the show.

• Use the wire service for media alerts to highlight what will be featured at the show, when/where press events will be held (if there will be events) and how specific individuals can be contacted for a 1:1 or added information.

• If you do an outstanding job of it consider Sony’s approach and do an effective job of getting the press their on-floor and follow-up contact information. Then direct them to a very robust web pressroom complete with news, background and illustrations. If you don't do a great job…don’t do it!!!

• Produce a straightforward folder that identifies the company, booth location and key attention getters.

• Post key show news on Virtual Press Office so it is available to the media and analysts can get the information during and after the show – even if they don’t attend the show.

• If you have the luxury of time and budget, include CD of your press material -- including photos, presentations, and graphics – in the folder.

Delivering Newsworthy News

Now we separate the professionals from the people who are lazy or inept.

It is called news for a reason. It’s about new products, new services, and new applications. It’s about thorough background, including presentations/white papers when necessary. It is about establishing the company’s position, focus and direction.

It is not about including copies of releases from the past three months. It is not about stuffing the kit with data sheets and brochures.

It is about quality news, not press kit heft.

Releases…Our Achilles Heel

“Good writing is damn hard work.” – Author Unknown

We have always liked that quote because good writing --especially really good writing -- is exciting and fun to read. More importantly, we know that despite what clients say news release writing – good news release writing – is even harder work.

It is harder because first you have to sell the work to management because if they don’t sign-off the news doesn’t go to the media. Then you have to convince the media that the information is of interest to them. Finally you have to convince the press the information is of interest to their audience.

That’s a lot of hard work just to reach your company’s prospective customers.

Unfortunately, most managers fail to understand or appreciate good writing. That is because it is in tragically short supply if you ask most members of the press.

It should be the first fundamental a PR practitioner learns in school. It is something that should be drilled into them from the first day they enter college. It should be enforced rigorously up until the day the graduate. It should be practiced and reinforced throughout your career.

Releases aren’t short stories or the great American novel. Releases should:

• Begin with contact names, phone numbers and email addresses. For trade shows let the press know your hotel and your cell phone number. If they need something – information, quote, photo sent somewhere – they need it immediately, not when it is convenient for you

• Should be written with the editor/reporter in mind and his/her audience. Not management

• Start with the essentials – who, what, when, where, why and how

• Be written in a manner that permits the editor/reporter to go from the summary idea to the greatest detail

• Be well formatted so it is inviting and easy to read with bold-face subheads so it can be quickly scanned so the reporter quickly gets the essence of the news

• Include information essential to the story and the editor/reporter. Not management flattering “fluff”

• Be simple, factual, complete. Tell the complete story, deliver all the facts…stop

• Be written to position the company and product/service quickly, clearly and concisely

• Have complete sentences with active nouns and verbs

• follow fundamental news style and have solid/complete information – nothing more, nothing less

• Include contact information at the end on how the press can get more information, photos and request review product if appropriate

If the story is complex or needs amplification include a good PowerPoint presentation in the kit. Or include a clear, concise and complete white paper or backgrounder.

Marketing may be very proud of their sales literature but it has no place in a press kit. Sales literature is for…sales. That includes ad reprints and reprints of someone else’s product review/article. Few editors or reporters are impressed what someone else says about the company and/or product. They prefer to make up their own mind and write their own story.

If you have done your preparation for the show properly you have briefed key industry analysts. Include a list of analysts who have been briefed and include their contact information.

If you have a lot of activity going on at the show, include a show activity summary. List conference session presentations or speeches; times/locations of key demonstrations; press conference time/location; key executives who are available for interviews and the appropriate person to contact to arrange a 1:1 meeting.

Added Activities, Added Opportunities

There’s more that can be done at a trade show to set yourself apart from the herd and have a positive impact with the press. They can include:

- reporter’s notepads with company/product/booth information printed on them

- bags, portfolios, backpacks with the company logo on them for carrying all of the material/information the press gathers each day. Some of the bags you’ll see for years at press events.

- press conferences that focus on one to three key messages rather than a two-hour discussion of every new product/service developed since the last show. If you don’t know what is key and vital, don’t expect the press to figure it out for you. That’s not their job…that’s yours.

- exclusive no-business dinner or party for your very key editors, reporters and analysts to meet with your management team.

Give Press Their Tools

Most corporate executives and public relations people will do almost anything to get editors and reporters to cover their companies and products. They will do almost anything to get industry analysts to talk about and endorse the firm, the products and the company’s direction.

It is vital that you invest what is required to ensure the right information is properly written and communicated to this important target audience. It takes time, effort, talent and money to get the message across. Not just at the show but every day of the year.

If we don’t focus on the goals, the substance and the results, who will?

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G. A. "Andy" Marken President Marken Communications, Inc. Santa Clara, CA Andy has worked in front of and behind the TV camera and radio mike. Unlike most PR people he listens to and understands the consumer’s perspective on the actual use of products. He has written more than 100 articles in the business and trade press. During this time he has also addressed industry issues and technologies not as corporate wishlists but how they can be used by normal people. He has been a marketing an...

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