PR Strategy: A Must Have for Live Events


Wait! What’s a PR strategy anymore?  We know that face-to-face marketing programs aren’t complete without one, but the times, Bob Dylan once sang, are a-changing. Bob Dylan is in his 70s now, and times just keep changing. At the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR)Predict conference, Daniel Lippman, a reporter for POLITICO, said, “The age of press releases is over.”

So, what has replaced the press release? And if the press release is over, what about the rest of the tried and true PR initiatives that have been part of the marketer’s arsenal for years? Almost twenty years ago, in The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR, Ries and Ries announced PR has become extremely powerful since the market is inured to—and skeptical of–traditional advertising, now more than ever in the age of ad blockers.

Business-to-business PR has undergone dramatic changes since the Rieses’ book. Twenty years ago, there were many robust B-to-B vertical industry publications, boasting staff and circulation. There was also a healthy general press. PR was an exercise in developing contacts who could facilitate content placement. Today print publications—those that still exist—struggle for survival, and on-line publications, or those using both print and digital format, are continually exploring ways to monetize the dissemination of content.

Then there was the unfortunate phase of the overwritten, overwrought press release, chock full of overused searchable terms and published, one way or another, online. Fortunately, as search engine algorithms became more sophisticated, the overblown press release went the way of Windows XP—or should have.

This mini-history lesson illustrates the current challenges of developing a PR strategy. Yet the goal of PR remains the same: to create the perception of corporate leadership and credibility—and to influence buying preference based on those perceptions.

Today effective PR opportunities are readily available if not instantly obvious. Goal-driven marketers look for unique, non-traditional ways to fulfill the PR mandate. We are also experiencing the power of the influencer.

How can you enhance your company’s participation—and investment—in live events, particularly if your budget can’t handle trade journals or show daily advertising? Here are some ideas:

Press Release: Daniel Lippman notwithstanding, a well-written press release still has. One caveat: make sure your press release announces something new and is not merely a puff piece. Or in other words, make sure it is something the media will use without reservation. The news can be about your show offering, a promotion in your exhibit, a new product launch that will coincide with the event–anything that is news. More importantly, the 21st-century press release will tell a story about how your exhibit evolved and about the experiential component it offers. And of course, your release should be accompanied by some media—a photograph, an illustration, or a video, for example.

Press Event: If you have seriously big news that will make your industry sit up and take notice, hold a press event. But don’t just talk to (at) media representatives, involve them. as panelists, as speakers, as responders.  Ask them to help you present by putting your announcement in context. Get creative with your press events. Tell a story. Don’t limit your invitations to people whose names appear on publications. Find the folks in your field who are active on Twitter and other social channels. You can hold it in your exhibit or off the floor. A great time to do this is at a breakfast meeting. Breakfast costs less than other meals and is welcome before starting a long day on the show floor.

Speaking Opportunities: According to industry statistics from research organizations such as the Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), attendees at trade shows cite “education” as one of the top reasons they attend. Submit an idea for a presentation that enhances your company’s position in thought leadership. To do this, you will have to contact show management well in advance—perhaps as much as a year–to learn when the call for papers is going out and how to get on the program. Work with your corporate marketing department to identify potential speakers. You don’t have to limit yourself to senior management; engineers, designers, and project managers can tell compelling and relatable stories.

Social Media Campaigns: Lock in a hashtag for your company’s presence at the show and use that in tandem with the show hashtag. Take advantage of all available social media: Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to determine which channel is “best”—no matter what your industry, your market is sufficiently diverse that attendees get information from multiple online sources. Look into posting video from Facebook Live. Keep the posts short but informative and engaging. Post directly from your exhibit and enlist colleagues not in attendance to post as well.

Off-the-Floor Events: What are some PR opportunities that happen off the show floor? In addition to client dinners and other traditional events, how about 5K races? Or corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives? Aligning your brand with an activity where people can network, have fun, and feel energized is a great way to build memorability and loyalty. Share your thoughts with the show organizers; in almost every case, you will find them supportive.

In-Booth Experiences: What is going to happen when attendees visit your booth? You are planning ways to engage them, right? There are many ways to build excitement about the experience; social media, press releases, email campaigns, and similar initiatives help you create pre-show excitement. There is a lot of work involved, but relatively minimal cost. Ask sales (well in advance) for their CRM lists. And while you’re at it, investigate the use of beacons to determine whether they will work with your in-booth messages and promotions.

This list is hardly exhaustive. Use it as a jumping-off point for creating a PR strategy at your next live event. Enlist your colleagues to brainstorm opportunities. The impact of a good PR strategy far exceeds the cost.

Ready to start talking strategy and establishing your goals? We’d love to help. Schedule your free strategy session now.