In-person events like trade shows and conferences usually rank high on the list of priorities for B2B marketing organizations. This is for good reason because research demonstrates events are often a good source of leads.
For example, the most recent B2B lead generation report by Chief Marketer listed live events as the second top source of leads. Fifty-nine percent of marketers said events were a top source, which narrowly trailed only email marketing with 62%.
For all the wonderful capabilities in digital marketing and social media, there’s still something very special and tangible about connecting in person. However, events come with one big caveat: they are very expensive.
The booth space, design, brochures, tchotchkes, swag, shipping, travel costs, lodging, client dinners…the list goes on and on. Many businesses, particularly technology companies, will arrange their yearly marketing calendars around these events.
This makes it really important to get the most out of these events — and there is a lot you can do before, during and after the show to better leverage your existing investments in conferences and trade shows.
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Building Relationships Before the Conference
A sound PR principle is to build goodwill far in advance. A good way to do that is to build relationships through content before the show even begins. For this reason, it’s a good idea to plan and weave in relationship building content into your editorial calendar to be published in weeks leading up to the show.
Some examples include:
- Solicit interviews with independent speakers and panelists.
- Preview any presentations your business is providing at the conference.
- Interview partners or customers planning to attend.
- Research a well-produced roundup recapping the previous year’s show.
- Make predictions for the key issues at this year’s event.
- Develop an easy-to-read and scan-able list of all of your company’s planned activities.
- Schedule some strategic posts to be published during the show.
Most of these ideas are good substance for blog posts and social media. Certainly, there are more traditional PR methods that could be used – an online press release or even contributed content could work. The point is more than ever, PR and content need each other and ideally, you’ll use a mix of owned, shared and earned media.
Pro tip: Don’t be shy about putting a brief two or three sentence message in every one of these posts announcing your exhibit and booth number. I also like to use any possible conference hashtags in a headline in advance of a show.
Hustle during the show
Sales people belong in the booth. Events people belong in the booth. PR pros, content marketers and community managers should spend the bulk of their time networking and attending sessions.
This is because while customers and prospects will peruse the exhibit floor and the booth, reporters and influencers are giving sessions, conducting meetings or generally out networking. They’ll only stop by the booth if PR has been successful in setting up pre-arranged meetings.
Keep in mind every vendor exhibiting has been hounding the same media list. Unless you have something truly amazing to announce, or a reporter just happens to have an interest, one-on-one meetings are a difficult sell.
To stand out, you’ve got to do something different. You’ve got to build relationships:
- Attend key influencers sessions and live-tweet interesting commentary; tag the speakers where it’s appropriate.
- When the session is over, stay to shake hands and make a personal introduction.
- Monitor the hashtags, follow, engage and re-share interesting comments or people.
- Take notes in the sessions and publish recaps on your blog that night or the next day; doing this at the moment – at the show – will help your business stand out.
- Meet as many people as you can and listen for ideas, connections, and commentary.
- Look for opportunities to introduce other people you think might have a mutual benefit.
You need competent writers, who are social media savvy, in combination with a fast and journalistic process to be publishing at the show. If your company does a lot of hand-wringing over edits and reviews in your content cycle, you’ll find it hard to be successful. Leaders should get the process worked out before the show.
Second, while all your buddies are out having drinks on the corporate credit card, you are back in the hotel room or a coffee shop writing and editing into the wee hours of the morning. It’s thankless at present but will pay dividends in the future.
Third, this is asking a lot of any one single person. Good marketing leaders that understand content marketing will disseminate the responsibility and make it a team priority.
Fourth, this effort is primarily focused on investing in relationships and audience building for future outreach efforts.
Pro tip: Put a little paid social spend behind both your promotional and thought leadership content on the conference hashtag. While every other vendor is exclusively tweeting give-a-ways and raffles, you’ll earn credibly, followers, and subscribers for being at least partly human.
By “a little” I mean dedicate between $200 and $2,000 for content promotion on social media. Most businesses drop tens of thousands (even hundreds of thousands) of dollars on these events – a few hundred more aimed at well-target amplification to what is, in essence, a captive audience, is just smart marketing money.
More content value after the show
When the show ends, the content still has a shelf life, and there are plenty of people online hanging around the hashtags. There are also a number of relationship-building tasks to be completed.
Here are several such tasks:
- Research and aggregate news coverage and other quality blogs into a cohesive roundup; for example, 20, or 30 or 40 articles summarizing the show.
- Cull through the social media hashtags and pull out the most interesting soundbites to be threaded into an interesting post.
- Write up summaries to sessions (from your notes) that you couldn’t get to at the conference; or revisit the topics your business wants to examine more thoroughly.
- Some shows make recordings of sessions available after the show, so you can still “cover” sessions you didn’t get to, or even repurpose your own sessions.
- Send a “nice to meet you” email message to everyone you met, including influencers big and small; don’t ask for anything.
- Look for them again at the next show or conference.
* * *
At one conference recently, a veteran editor known to have a sharp tongue with PR people gave me a hug. It caught me off guard and I’m not really the hugging type anyway. But I went with it and we ended up having a good conversation. I got five or more minutes of undivided attention.
As we finished our conversation, the CEO of a prominent and competitive company walked up to the editor to say hello. The editor turned to the CEO and introduced me – not as a PR or communications person but as a “blogger” for that company.
The editor’s tone was one of endearment. And she was reading our blog. I didn’t earn that by pitching stories over email. I earned that through content and using content to foster genuine influencer and media relationships.
If you are in a crowded B2B technology space, where all the vendors sound relatively the same and pitch the same 10 or 15 trade publications – this is an important way you can get more out the money you pour into conferences and trade shows.
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