PR Technique Trade Shows - The art of meeting the media at trade shows

Conferences are a great place to put your messages in front of journalists.

Conferences are a great place to put your messages in front of journalists.

Conferences are a great place to put your messages in front of journalists.

So why do so many PR people seem to just go through the motions? Thom Weidlich uncovers some tips from veterans of the trade show

What's the difference between doing press relations at a trade show, and the day-to-day variety?

Plenty.

Conferences offer great opportunities to meet up with reporters and get your message out, but conducting media relations at them is hectic and urgent, and must be focused on the theme of the show.

Wayne Dunham, owner of Chicago-based Dunham Communications, who does PR for several trade shows, including the Exhibitor Show (yes, there is a trade show for trade show professionals) says the biggest mistake PR practitioners make in working a conference is starting too late.

Begin contacting press at least four weeks out. Don't take a scattershot approach to making media appointments - figure out which reporters are most important to see. Michelle Bowman, of Bowman Communications Group, Bellevue, WA, who trains PR people, suggests using trade shows to schedule meetings with journalists located outside major cities, or with freelancers you usually don't get to see on media road shows.

Post press materials early on your Web site. BF Goodrich's site offered reporters access to photos, a corporate profile and other helpful documents in advance of the National Business Aviation Association show in New Orleans earlier this month. Once the show began, the entire press kit was available on the Web.

Contact the PR person for the show organizer to find out what media relations services are offered. For example, for a fee, Comdex and the Toy Show will put your press pack on a CD-ROM to be mailed to reporters and given out at the event.

Find out from the show manager who's producing the show daily. The first day's edition is usually filled with 'canned' material; contact the publisher early with news about your company. Offer the show a daily Q&A sidebar with your CEO, advises Bowman.

For the show itself, don't be afraid to be too bold. 'Our approach is that we want to own the show,' says Tuesday Uhland, VP of Access Communications in San Francisco. To promote client Sega's SegaNet online gaming system at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in May, Access sponsored climbing walls outside the conference center just under the E3 sign - Sega's logo was included in media shots.

Make it easy for reporters to find you. In press materials include your pager, cell phone and hotel numbers. 'If you've got four days at a trade show, you really need to be available 24 hours a day for them,' says Andy Marken, president of Santa Clara, CA-based Marken Communications.

But don't just let the reporters find you - find them. 'I've been known to haunt the floors and give press kits to journalists I meet,' says Elena Hart, media supervisor with Edelman. At the National Hardware Show, Ketchum PR execs working for Philips Lighting scoured the floor, lightbulbs in hand, looking for reporters.

One thing everyone agrees on: unless you're Microsoft or Cisco, or announcing the second coming, don't hold a news conference at the event. Trade shows have too much going on and the journalists are busy. Also, reporters want to get their own angle on a story.

Instead, rely on one-on-one meetings with journalists at your booth.

You may think inviting reporters to your CEO's swank hotel suite will impress them, but it's more likely to annoy them; don't take reporters away from the exhibit floor. 'What matters most to journalists is convenience and being considerate of their time,' says Tim Fiala, managing director of Burson-Marsteller Technology.

The exception may be if you're previewing something and need to do it behind closed doors, or if it's an especially high-level CEO doing the interview.

Before the trade show begins, have a powwow with all personnel working the booth to review key messages. Make sure salespeople know who to turn journalists over to when they approach the booth. PR people advise not letting salespeople talk to journalists. If your booth is big enough, have a comfortable place for the reporters to sit down and relax.

Much of your focus will be on the pressroom. Introduce yourself to the people running it; if you have something noteworthy going on at your booth, they can alert the journalists to it. The pressroom should have a bulletin board where you can announce demonstrations and other activities.

While journalists are beginning to get comfortable with electronic press kits, many still want a paper kit. Create new press materials for the show; reporters won't pick up stuff they've seen 20 times before. Have something distinctive on the folder to attract reporters' attention. Highlight a major recent announcement. Is your CEO speaking at the show? Point that out. Marken counsels to have a page on top listing what's in the press pack.

Use the kit to direct reporters to your booth, but not just with the booth number - who can find them? Point out something distinctive about your booth so journalists know where to go. Uhland says Access sends reporters maps to the booth.

Consider sponsoring the newsroom. Direct marketing services company Harte-Hanks plunked down dollars 5,000 to do just that at the Direct Marketing Association's meeting in New Orleans earlier this month. 'I took that sponsorship for the simple reason that I would be able to maintain a physical presence in the room, to put faces with names of reporters and also to help out the DMA,' says Chet Dalzell, director of public relations, who left the trade group a few months ago. 'I'm not going to wrap up the room with Harte-Hanks wrapping paper.'

Finally, says Edelman's Hart, 'Wear comfortable shoes.'



DOS AND DON'TS

DO

1 Start calling reporters to set up appointments early - at least four weeks out.

2 Post press materials on your Web site before and during the trade show.

3 Find out from the PR pro representing the show's sponsor what media relations vehicles are available to exhibitors.

4 Make sure your press materials are fresh and distinctive.



DON'T

1 Forget the show daily - it offers many opportunities for your company to be seen.

2 Hide from reporters - include all your contact information (including your hotel number) in press materials.

3 Hold a news conference at the show unless you have a truly major announcement.

4 Take reporters away from the show by holding meetings with them in a distant place.



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