Reports on the death of tradeshows has been greatly exaggerated. I don’t think Mark Twain would appreciate the adaptation of his famous misquote, but you get the idea. We’ve been hearing for a long time that tradeshows are going away. They’re too expensive and take up too much time. In this digital constant-connect age, where we wear our cell phones like body parts, we shouldn’t have to travel hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles to meet people. We have email, conference calls and even sophisticated video conferencing if you want that face-to-face experience.
So why are we still schlepping to these things? Packing business clothes, going through the ever increasing hassles of air travel and ending up in places like Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago and Las Vegas only to spend the entire time on a convention floor or at a nearby bar. We all have the sore backs, tried feet and drawers full of promotional pens, squeeze balls, lanyards, lip moisturizer and breath mints (otherwise known as chachke) to prove tradeshows are alive and well.
I am not sure I have the answer to why tradeshows still thrive, but the convention industry estimates there are more than 10,000 in the United States each year. Probably, the simplest answer to the question is tradeshows work. We seem to still be social enough creatures that meeting people in person and getting a hands on look at a group of products in one place facilitates business. That need may be die with upcoming generations. I keep reading articles about millennials with phone phobia and if you’re freighted on the phone I can only imagine what meeting in person would do to you. It could be the ox-and-cart trade fairs of medieval Europe that have evolved into the digital-interactive-80-inch-high-def-screen events of today will, in the future, dissolve into online virtual events complete with avatars. It’s been tried.
So, for now tradeshows are here whether we like them or not. It’s a huge marketing expense with companies spending up to a half-million dollars on booths, displays, shipping and travel. You would think that companies would look to maximize those dollars, but too often they don’t squeeze everything they can out of their tradeshow spend. One often overlooked area is public relations. I am not talking about putting out a news release with a photo. I am talking about getting to know the editors and writers who cover your Industry and forging longer-term relationships. They attend these events and are actively looking for industry news. It only makes sense to meet with them just like you would customers and prospective customers. By working with them you get the word out to a much wider audience and you can highlight specific products, projects, services and your overall company profile.
Here are a few ways to start:
· Do a little research on your media. Who are the editors of your trade publications? What is their target audience – end-users, consumers, vendors, resellers, etc?
· Look at what you have to offer. What’s new? Do you have new products or services? Are you seeing new trends in the industry or do you have any success stories you can discuss.
· Once you have identified your news match it up with the appropriate editor. A resale trade publication is usually looking for a different angle than an end-user magazine.
· Line up your SME (subject matter experts). Who in your organization is the appropriate spokesperson for each of the topics? It can be your president or a product manager depending on the depth of their knowledge and the story angle.
· Now you’re ready to contact the editors to set up a meeting at the event. Let them know you want to meet, what your news is and who the SME will be.
· Put together talking points for each interview to make sure everyone is on the same page and all of the messages are delivered.
· You will also need to follow up with each editor on any promised photos, materials or follow ups.
This process takes time and it helps if you already know your industry media. That’s why many companies use public relations firms to put together and manage this process. It becomes the PR firm’s job to set up the interviews, manage the schedule and handle all follow up. The result is better coverage for your news, a higher profile in the industry and long -term relationship with editors more likely to reach out to your company in the future.
If you are going to all the expense and hassle of a tradeshow it only make sense to get everything you can out of it. A nice article in a valued traded publication is a far better takeaway then any highlighters, bottle openers, cup insulators or other giveaway you can score at a tradeshow. Although, my favorite tradeshow swag was a Duncan Yo-Yo. I still have it and my kids loved it.