News Analysis: Big shows strive for fresh appeal

As the Ideal Home Show overhauls its comms strategy, Dan Bloch examines how the UK's largest consumer exhibitions pull in the punters.

Soft furnishings, skiwear and luxury boats - just some of the 'lifestyle' goods promoted at Britain's ever-popular consumer shows. But with consumer spending flat and increasing competition for people's leisure time, the right PR strategy to attract attendees has never been more important.

Acknowledging this, the Daily Mail Group last week hired two hotshot agencies - Frank PR and Resonate - to shake up the PR behind the Ideal Home Show. It wants to boost the twice-yearly event's appeal to a younger crowd.

Graham Goodkind, founder of Frank PR, which is promoting the 7-16 October 2005 show at Earls Court, says: 'We will inject stories on things the show will do for the first time that you wouldn't expect, and create a buzz to help people get excited about a show that's been around for a long time. The core attendees are middle-aged and older; part of the challenge is broadening that demographic.'

Resonate director and co-founder Graham Drew says of the 8 March-2 April 2006 show: 'The main target is the 18 to 35-year-old age group of loyalists and non-loyalists. I'm one of them - I'm not particularly negative or positive; it's just not on my radar because it hasn't inserted itself into media that targets me.' Resonate will base its strategy around the lifestyles of this group - what TV programmes they watch, where they go, and what they are interested in.

Structured build-up

The importance of pre-sales to organisers calls for careful planning.

Selling in features or competitions to consumer magazines for the issues coinciding with an event begins three to four months ahead, says Seventy Seven PR associate director Sam Brickhill. Features, competitions and celebrity case studies in the weeklies come later, two to three months ahead. And the agency will aim to place ticket offers, competitions and features for national and regional papers six weeks in advance.

In the crucial final weeks, Brickhill, who has worked on the London Boat Show and Southampton International Boat Show for the past three years, will offer statistics on the event. But maintaining interest during the shows is also crucial.

'We assemble all our stories and split them up over the period,' she says. 'We used to release the marine industry sales statistics on the press preview day. Now we do it on the Thursday after the Monday start, which gives you a second wind.'

Organising plentiful photo opportunities before and during the event is also important. Brickhill has managed to persuade GMTV and BBC Breakfast to broadcast their weather forecasts live from the Southampton show in the past two years.

How organisers promote their events vary. Some, such as DMG World Media and Haymarket Exhibitions, use a mixture of in-house PR and agencies. Others, such as Inside Communications, which runs the National Boat, Caravan & Outdoor Show at Birmingham's NEC, rely on external support for publicity.

The aim is always to get coverage in as many different sections of the media as possible. The International Motorcycle and Scooter Show has picked actor Charley Boorman as an 'ambassador' for this year's event (29 October to 6 November). Boorman made a film and book of his trip with friend Ewan McGregor around the world on BMW touring bikes. 'Charley is very popular in the specialist press for his biking exploits, but he is not only a biker, so it's a good opportunity to get the show into other media,' says Ben Faber, account manager at Capitalize, which is handling PR for the show.

Big-name backers attract punters, especially if they can interact with them. Last year's London Boat Show featured Olympic yachtsman Ben Ainslie, who did interviews and took part in a competition offering the chance to go sailing with him.

Ambassadors need to be chosen carefully, though, to win over the media, says Zest deputy editor Susie Whalley. 'They need to have the cachet of a good celebrity name - somebody we would find it hard to get access to, such as Madonna at the Yoga Show.' However, it is important that interviews with such celebrities are only offered to relevant publications.

Local focus

Tactics are evolving. Of the International Boat Show, Southern Daily Echo senior reporter Claire Moriarty says: 'Over the past few years the organisers have got much more clued up. We used to find it very difficult to get comment on visitor numbers or income generated, but this year they have come up with case studies of local businesses that have benefited from the show.'

The event's structure has also developed. 'This year, they are creating an artificial beach for volleyball. We did a page-three news story on that and the PR people were good at providing artists' impressions,' adds Moriarty.

The interactive element is crucial, argues Capitalize's Faber: 'There will always be a hardcore visitor who knows what the show is about. But you need to attract new people. Giving them something to do, so it is more of a day out, develops people's interest and keeps them coming back year on year.'

Drew agrees, with one qualification. 'There are lots of loyalty things you can do, but you must communicate that there is genuinely new stuff every year,' he says.

Ultimately, while novel ideas are desirable, a show requires their efficient exposure to make them memorable. The worst of all worlds in event PR terms is for repeat visitors to go home with a sense of deja vu.

TOP UK SHOWS RANKED BY AUDITED VISITOR NUMBERS Show Date Visitors Current agency British International Motor Show 27 May-6 Jun 2004 461,000* Communique Daily Mail Ideal Home Show 2-28 Mar 2005 345,148 Resonate Int'l Motorcycle and Scooter Show 4-14 Nov 2004 165,095 Capitalize Clotheshow 3-8 Dec 2004 157,317 Ketchum London Boat Show 6-16 Jan 2005 140,642 Seventy Seven PR BBC Good Food Show 24-28 Nov 2004 112,823 Wild Card Southampton International Boat Show 10-19 Sep 2004 111,785 Seventy Seven PR BBC Gardeners' World Live 16-20 Jun 2004 107,237 Kaizo Barclay Stratton National Boat, Caravan & Outdoor Show 19-27 Feb 2005 98,598 Cut Communications Auto Sport International 13-16 Jan 2005 67,805 Sports Reports Autumn Ideal Home Show 8-17 Oct 2004 67,590 Frank PR Source: ABC

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