In addition to writing regularly for a number of marketing and communications publications, we also write industry and technology trend articles for business and trade publications during the course of the year. As a result at certain trade shows we are able to receive press credentials.
This means we receive:
* special little packages from companies concerning their announcements
* invitations to lots of press parties
* a first-hand view of what many firms pass off as press kits
We also receive:
* Lots of phone calls from people who want to fill executive agendas at the shows
* Volumes of faxes
* Stacks of press releases prior to and following the shows
* More than a fair amount of "must read" e-mail media alerts
It's no wonder members of the media hold PR people and our efforts/activities in such high regard.
We'll bypass any discussion of trade show press kits because no matter how often we talk about it, people still stuff them with dated and poorly written releases, data sheets and reprints of articles. Some people obviously have no idea of what constitutes news or how media people really work.
Instead, let's focus on the pre-show stalking of members of the media. To simplify matters we've bundled the activities into consistently observed activities.
Good, Bad, Yours?
1. The New Kid Calls -- Everyone in the field has to start somewhere. But it's difficult to understand why the newest people in the office (who know nothing about the company, the products, the market or the media people involved) are the ones who most often assigned to setting up editorial appointments. Most are worse than brokerage house boiler room calling teams. They simply don't have enough product, technology, market or competitive positioning information to answer any questions.
They are simply calling to fill in 1/2-hour blocks on the schedule.
No one should be allowed to work with the media until they know the publications, their editorial environment and their areas of coverage as well as the company's products and applications.
2. The Admitted Innocent -- The individual who is up-front about his or her new position and the task.
One e-mail read: "Firstly I'm new to (name of agency) and therefore new to (name of company). But we'd really like to set up a meeting with our senior executives for you to discuss (product) at our booth (location)."
The editor isn't seeking the PR person's job history, just the facts -- what's new, what's different, reader benefits and reasons why he or she can't miss the meeting.
3. The Triple-Hitter -- These people are thorough. They send an e-mail, they fax and then the call to make certain you received the messages and want to know when you want to meet. He or she knows a little about the product but can't differentiate between information of interest to end users, corporate buyers/implementors or dealers/resellers.
4. The E-Mail Attacher -- This contact doesn't provide a brief summary as to why you've been blessed to receive his or her message but they do know a little about the Internet because they attach the news release for you.
For the Internet-challenged, let us note that the attachment automatically gets stored into one of your hard drive's working areas. After receiving the message, the recipient has to go from one working area of the system to another to open the file, review it and determine if it's worth keeping.
It's a pain. It can also jeopardize the integrity of the recipient's system.
Twice this past year, we have received attachments that immediately released a virus when they were opened that infected about a dozen important files. When you receive a message from the "outside world," you're supposed to follow safe computing and run an anti-virus program against the file before you open it. Unfortunately, few people practice really safe computing, so they end up wasting hours cleaning up files--or worse, stripping and rebuilding their entire hard drive.
5. The Cover All Bases Approach -- Anyone who has called the media for meetings will inevitably get the person who says: A) "I don't schedule appointments, so send me information and the booth number. I'll drop by." or B) "My calendar for the show is packed, but I've set aside some time to patrol the floor. Send me the information and I'll make it a point to stop by."
Translation: Don't hold your breath.
I made the mistake of making that statment prior to a recent show. We received an e-mail with the complete press kit attached -- three releases and a company backgrounder. We also received faxes of all three releases.
Can't anyone summarize what's going to be important at the show in one page? If you can't explain it in one page, you obviously don't know what the company is trying to accomplish.
6. The Over-Confident Approach -- These people call one to two days before the show, announce which "major" (sometimes not so major) company they are with and then add, "So when do you want to meet with us?"
"Gee...I don't know. I think I'll cancel my meeting with Intel, with IBM, with Microsoft or some other piddly organization because of your heartwarming offer."
Fortunately, the companies we just mentioned don't do that. They plan their show attack early. Their people know who they are talking with and why the meeting is going to be important to the editor, reporter, columnists or analyst. In fact, they and other PR people who really focus on understanding and serving the media, have a list of individuals they work with all year long. They schedule specific meetings for specific company people and topics...and that's it. They don't try to fill every slot with someone/anyone.
7. The "You're On the List, So You Must Be Interested" -- Every business and trade publication will send a number of their editors and reporters to cover a specific trade show. Some publications divide the convention center into grids and have people gather information from companies in a specific sector and then feed it back to the proper reporter. Most, however, divide the show into product categories and the people responsible for that subject area will cover companies in their areas of interest.
Increasingly, show management is sending PR people information on who has pre-registered for the event to assist in determining exactly who will be there so the right contacts can be made. Seasoned PR people scan the list and pick the people they know cover their product areas. Then, they contact them for specific meetings.
The same list, in the hands of newbies and schedule packers. That means that if the press person is covering the show he or she has got to be interested in the company's product and they most certainly want to meet with company management. Wrong!
The Wheat Among the Chaff
Fortunately, there are good PR agencies and people in the field who make the profession look good.
1. Pre-Show Briefers -- These people know ahead of time that there's going to be a show, they know what the company's going to be unveiling or emphasizing, and they contact/brief their key editors prior to the show. The reporters and editors have a chance to write their news before coming to the show. Then, if they have a 1/1 meeting, it is to round out the information or to discuss specific topics such as industry trends, applications, channels of distribution, initial user comments on the product/service and information on what industry analysts think of the announcement
2. Custom Contacts -- These are professionals who regularly work with and assist 20-40 press people on a fairly regular basis. They check the pre-reg list and pick their targets based on:
- their interests
- what's hot in the industry
- what the company is highlighting at the show
They call and/or e-mail the media person with a very specific message and the reason for the meeting. They may even be so bold as to suggest the best meeting for the executive they need to talk with to get the straight information.
3. The Unobtrusive Impact Player -- These people have a plan of action designed to have an impact on a wide range of editors to get visibility and results for the company. They not only carefully develop their plan and their timing but the follow up. Usually, these efforts are for emerging companies or products that want to produce an impact with their launch. They use the tools they have available to them. They get results.
For example, the media received an e-mail telling them to be on the lookout for a special announcement package. Two days later, they received an overnight package giving them details of special activities they were planning in their booth, times of the activities and the names of key people who would be available.
The media knew who. They knew what. They knew why. The media came and covered the company and its products.
It's a constant surprise. Companies will spend hundreds of thosands of dollars for their booth selection, booth construciton/set-up, show staffing and special literature to reach, inform and persuade show attendees. But when it comes to focusing on the people who can have the most impact on the firm's success -- editors, reporters, analysts and columnists -- management only wants to get their facetime without any concern as to why the publication would want to meet with them or who is going to deliver the message.
Smiling and dialing without firm objectives and a plan of action means members of the media have to take time from their deadlines to answer calls; read e-mails; file or trash the e-mail; or wade through the faxes.
No wonder most don't sign up until just before the show or fight the registration crowd to do it the day of the show.
A little professionalism couldn't hurt!