Getting the most from trade shows

For most people, CES (Consumer Electronics Show) begins with a push, shove and hours of walking the miles and miles of concrete floor. For marketing/communications people, it begins months before and obliterates the holidays as they finish last-minute details like announcements that are finalized the evening before the doors swing open for a week of controlled chaos.

CES (Consumer Electronics Show) is probably the best and worst event of the year– every year.

It’s the best because:

– It’s the place where firms of every size launch new product concepts, new products.

– It attracts the best potential business partners from around the globe.

– It is the one main event that everyone in the media wants to/has to cover.

It’s the worst because:

– Every new small- to medium-sized organization must compete for attention side-by-side with the biggest household name firms.

– It is held right after the first of the year, which means Christmas, New Years are put on the back burner for most marketing/communications people.

Related story: 10 cool new offerings from CES

CES is where reputations – company and individual – are made or broken.

Large companies have big events, big parties. Small firms that can’t financially justify the tightly choreographed events often feel they have to settle for crumbs.

Actually, no company has to “go big or go home,” it just means thinking differently, thinking more creatively and doing it all exceptionally well.

The key is to leverage everything you do to maximize your firm’s ROI (return on investment) while minimizing wasted time and money. You have to make fewer mistakes than the next guy.

In planning your CES media activities, everyone – management and you – should view publicity as an investment, rather than an expense.

Otherwise it’s the road to no positive results!

CES marketing should be part of your total program, not a one-shot deal. It should also have its own complete set of goals, strategies and tactics.

Anything less is a waste of time, effort, money and opportunities. Worst of all, it’s a disservice to management and the press.

Professionals will advise management to make their biggest, best announcements prior to the show in November/December. That’s when “news” is light and you have a better opportunity to not only get coverage but also attract decision makers to your booth.

But it seldom happens:

– Management feels they have to keep their best under wraps until the show and then surprise the competition.

– The major trade show becomes an engineering/development deadline for project completion.

The products are only one of the details for effective trade show activities … not the plan itself.

The challenge for any company, any announcement is competing with everyone else at the show for mindshare.

Getting coverage before the show means people – customers, prospects, partners, media – will visit the booth at the show so the event will be more productive, more profitable.

But it’s often a tough sell to management for reasons we’ve never understood.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

The CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) that runs CES was a pioneer in having a paperless press room.

Even though many publicists give lip service to the online world, they still resort to putting their press materials on CDs or on USB flash drives for members of the media.

Most trade shows have put an end to their press kit rooms, eliminating the need for tons of folders and paper being sent to the show and then moved to the recycling center. Going digital saves the environment and the need for media folks to wade through piles to find one well-written piece of news. Online kits aren’t written any better, but they’re less painful to destroy with the delete button.

It’s estimated that 99 per cent of that effort is wasted!

Editors/reporters we’ve interviewed say the discs and USB drives are often taken, sent back to the office and never opened because:

-The disc or drive only identifies the company and possibly the show. There is no indication of the company news that is entrapped on the disc.

-If the editor/reporter is going to get information to use at the show, he or she has to load the disc or drive, read through the contents, determine if there are product/story ideas they want to cover on the floor, print out the release and follow up. It just doesn’t happen! Their schedules are too tight to do your work for you.Online press kits get you past all the stress, all the hassle!

Virtual Press Office (VPO) has worked with show management for years, but they’re certainly not the only game in town.

The online press room makes it fast and easy for media people at the show and around the globe to receive company announcements.

A few companies take a different approach by putting their press materials on their press website, which is something akin to having a self-standing store “somewhere,” rather than being in a large shopping mall.

The online kit makes sense because:

-The basic press kit is cheap to produce and provides plenty of room for the show announcements, photos, white papers.

-Releases go live (are available for viewing) on the day/hour you specify.

-Materials are available not only to the media at CES but also to registered media around the globe who want to cover the show but can’t afford the expense of the trip to Las Vegas.

-The kit is available online six months after the show for people to visit/review but that interest fades to almost zero four-six weeks after the show.

-A detailed analysis of press kit and press release access is provided post-show so PR and management can see exactly which announcements were most interesting to people, which announcements were not only visited but opened, what areas of the country/globe viewed the kit/announcements, specifically who the individual was and his/her media outlet.

For most companies, publicists product announcements are good enough.

But there’s more that can be done.

Trade shows, conferences and conventions like CES are humming every day around the globe bringing people and organizations together, each hoping they will find a customer and/or a solution they want/need. Events consume huge amounts of money and energy. Professionals have to ensure every opportunity counts.

CES coverage doesn’t begin with the mad rush onto the floor the opening morning of the show.

There’s also the CEA Press Preview in November and CES Unveiled, both pretty good for getting attending media attention if you’re interested in pressing the flesh of a whole lot of folks you don’t talk to during the year.

But the best assurance you get attention is to start your CES press coverage before the show.

Develop your own package that meets your objectives:

– Determine which releases are most critical for the company and have VPO schedule them for release over the wire on PR Newswire.

-Convince management that the best results will be achieved with a schedule of announcements, not everything going live the first day of the show. Then start your releases going out with special VPO outreach to their global registrations 2-3 weeks prior to the show.

-Use the pre-show and show summaries going to the media people and make certain your announcements are there on specific days. We know it’s more fun to bombard them with your own creative pieces but … really?

-Think in terms of really educating, informing, exciting the people who access your online press kit with pertinent white papers, PowerPoint presentations, embedded videos.

-Pinpoint the direct access location of your press kit well before the show and publish the link in your media contacts.

-Print up special cards that give summaries of your announcements along with the press kit link and give them to media people at CES Press Preview, CES Unveiled, in the booth. Put the show information on one side and note-taking lines on the other side so they’ll take notes and hang onto the card to use when they get back to their hotel room or office.

These are all the easy parts of the show effort.

The hard part is writing the news.

News for a Reason

It’s about new products, new services and new applications. It’s about thorough background, including presentations/white papers when necessary. It is about establishing the company’s position, focus and direction.

It is not about including copies of releases from the past three months.

It is not about stuffing the online kit with data sheets and brochures.

It is about quality news, not quantity.

Releases are simply tools for the media:

• Begin with contact names, phone numbers and email addresses. For tradeshows, let the press know your hotel and your cell phone number. If they need something – information, quote, photo sent somewhere – they need it immediately, not when it is convenient for you.

• Write with the editor/reporter in mind and his/her audience, not management.

• Start with the essentials – who, what, when, where, why and how.

• Write in a manner that permits the editor/reporter to go from the summary idea to the greatest detail.

• Use good formatting so it is inviting and easy to read with bold-face subheads so it can be quickly scanned so the reporter quickly gets the essence of the news.

• Include information essential to the story and the editor/reporter. Not management flattering “fluff”.

• Be simple, factual, complete. Tell the complete story, deliver all the facts … then stop.

• Position the company and product/service quickly, clearly and concisely.

• Use complete sentences with active nouns and verbs.

• Follow the basic news style and have solid/complete information – nothing more, nothing less.

• Include contact information at the end on how the press can get more information, photos and request review product if appropriate.

If the story is complex or needs amplification, include a brief PowerPoint presentation in the kit. Or, include a clear, concise and complete white paper or backgrounder.

All too often, the people who shout the loudest to attract the biggest crowds at trade shows have the least to say. Those who focus on quality vs. quantity work to spend their time with the people who can understand and benefit from the announcements. In a mob, it’s usually hard to pinpoint the right people to spend the most time with.

Just remember, even good information doesn’t sell itself.

It’s a lot of hard work to rise above 3,500+ companies from around the globe; which is why most fall on their own petard!

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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