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Are Trade Shows still a Good Place for PR Launches?

Are Tradeshows still a Good Place for PR Launches

One hundred and forty-seven.

That’s the number of pre-trade show pitches one blogger told me he had received in a sidebar conversation last week. For the most part, he runs his blog like a traditional news site, clearly has good industry contacts and always winds up involved in a couple of sessions.

The blog is an industry staple, he’s plugged into the community and his name always winds up on industry conference media lists. The PR pitch deluge inevitably follows.

When I gear up for a conference, it’s all I can do to knock out an endless stream of action items in preparation for being out of the office for the next week.  I’d imagine the same is true for any blogger or professional media member.

The result is little bandwidth for a hundred or more pitches, let alone pitches from strangers with no previous connection. The question that remains is worthwhile to consider:  Is it even worth the effort to launch a new product at a tradeshow?

A Traditional Case for Trade Show Launches

The traditional rationale for launching a new product, service or company at a trade show is basic:

  • There’s a critical mass of influential content creators in media and bloggers.
  • An announcement drives interest for customers and prospects to visit the booth.
  • It provides an “event” to talk about with attendees – a hook to hang a hat on.
  • Generally, an entire marketing organization is focused on that one event.
  • Every company feels compelled to keep up with the Jones’.
  • Executive leadership expects an announcement to be made.

Some of those reasons are better than others, but invariably the same rationale is being applied at every other company attending too. The noise is deafening, and usually, at a trade show, there’s one vendor announcement that sweeps attention because it defies expectations. When that happens, the slim shot at a little limelight evaporates.

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Staying Relevant without an Announcement

I did not have an announcement at this trade show – I didn’t have a pitch among those 147 pitches – and yet still secured a little more than a half-dozen meetings with influential media, bloggers and analysts. We still had a voice in the trade press.  We earned a few retweets.

That didn’t happen by accident. It didn’t happen by luck.  It’s the result of more than a year’s worth of work getting to know people and generally, being responsive and helpful.

If the first time a PR pro sees a name is on a registered media list, they are already too far behind.  Here’s how to get ahead of it for the next time:

  • Build relationships beforehand.  Sure a trade show is a chance to meet new people and network, but amid the deluge of meeting requests, it’s also an enormous challenge. Pitching any story shouldn’t be a one-off event, but an opportunity to prove relevancy or solidify a position as a trusted source. When we finally see that registered media list, 75% of the names or publications on it ought to be familiar already.  PR needs to prove its utility long before the conference publishes an Excel spreadsheet of names.
  • Be a media company.  One of the best ways to stay relevant at a conference is to be a media company – to blog and curate content that’s useful for show attendees. Most companies do not do this – they fill their blog and social channels with self-aggrandizing blather about how great their products are – so when a company does this they stand out and turn heads. The concept, like content marketing, is pretty simple:  When we help people with useful content, they’ll pay attention to us. Just like relationship building, you’re better off having some consistent contributions over time prior to the conference.
  • Curate useful content on social channels. As I watched the social stream – primarily on a Twitter hashtag – I couldn’t help but cringe at the self-promotion. Sure, it’s fine to do a few sales tweets, perhaps even necessary, but filling a shared channel with nothing but self-promotion works like people-repellant. “Stop by booth #123 to get a free woobie #superconf” is about as useless as an ejection seat on a helicopter. Conferences are FILLED with content – send staff to sessions and share some of the stats or takeaways.

* * *

We don’t need an announcement – or go through the sheer cycles of made up news – to stay relevant. Merely looking for ways to add value while at a conference will inherently add value to our efforts.

More importantly, PR is a bit like banking in that we’ve got to have something in our account before we can ask for a withdrawal. Such events and basic actions like these are a good way to make a deposit into the trust. The alternative is the one hundred and forty fifth email pitch that doesn’t get read.

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