Face-to-face marketing programs aren’t complete without a PR strategy, one which provides increased opportunities and dimensions beyond the confines of the show floor. Fifteen years ago, The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR by Ries and Ries, announced the market had become inured to traditional advertising, and the power of PR had to be harnessed. In the age of ad blockers, this pronouncement remains true.
Business-to-business PR has undergone dramatic changes since the Rieses’ book. Fifteen years ago, there were many robust B-to-B publications across industries, 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 constantly exploring ways to monetize the dissemination of content.
Then there was the unfortunate PR 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 radical changes and challenges to developing a PR strategy since the turn of the century. 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.
What are some ways to enhance your company’s participation—and investment—in live events, particularly if your budget can’t handle trade journal or show daily advertising? Here are a few to consider:
Press Release: A well-written press release still has power and gets noticed. One caveat: make sure your press release announces something new and is not simply a puff piece. Or in other words, make sure it is something a publication will actually use. 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. And by all means, your release should be accompanied by some media—a photograph, an illustration, or a video, for example.
Press Event: If you have really big news that will make your industry sit up and take notice, hold a press event. 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. How about creating a press kit for attendees? A good idea as long as it is digital and as long as you hand it directly to the press contact. The old practice of paper press kits left in the press office where anyone could pick them up was a treasure trove for your competitors.
Speaking Opportunities: Attendees at trade shows often cite “education” as one of the top reasons they attend. Submit an idea for a presentation that enhances your company’s perception as knowledgeable. 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 powerful 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. 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 on-line sources. Look into posting video from Facebook Live. Keep the posts short but informative and engaging. Post directly from your booth, 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. Share your thoughts with the show organizers; in almost every case, you will find them supportive.
In-Booth Promotions: What is going to happen when attendees visit your booth? You are planning ways to engage them, right? There are many ways to build buzz about the activity; social media, press releases, email campaigns and similar initiatives help you build pre-show excitement. There is a lot of work involved, but very little 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.