For PR firms working in the tech space, trade shows offer the chance to simultaneously build buzz for a product or service, learn about new technologies and trends, and get the buzz on companies that could one day become clients.
Participating in trade shows provides "a great opportunity to build relationships in areas where we're keenly focused, and also attend as many sessions as we can to build up knowledge and understand hot-button issues that will help our clients," says Welz & Weisel Communications cofounder and principal Tony Welz. "We [also] try to use as much time as we can to check out the new companies."
With the tech industry at the heart of the US economy, an agency's ability to develop trade show strategies - and create unforgettable show-floor presentations - can be a major factor for companies when choosing a PR partner.
But trade-show participation has its drawbacks: To rent exhibit space, build booths, fly out staff, and put them up in hotels can take a considerable investment of resources. And when a show floor is packed with hundreds of other companies, all seeking the attention of the same journalists, analysts, and potential investors, a decent ROI may not be possible.
"By the time they look at their bottom line and compare that to, maybe, the sales leads that are generated, if that's the metric they're using, they don't feel like they've spent their money wisely," says Baron. He adds that the sales [leads] are usually attendees just providing information in return for a T-shirt, as opposed to being particularly interested in the company's products or services.
In the worst-case scenarios, says Baron, exhibit booths are staffed by disconnected sales reps offering limited information in return for show admission and a T-shirt. They may not be well-versed or even particularly interested in their company's products or services.
Still, Welz and other tech-practice pros emphasize that important shows do exist for most every client based on its vertical market, from Web security to fiber-to-the-home telecom tech. These highly focused shows - those that concentrate on one particular area of technology and cater to attendees who care specifically about companies operating in that space - are of increasingly more interest than broad-based, catch-all expos.
Given their frenetic nature, however, trade shows aren't the best places to make first impressions.
"We look at trade shows as opportunities for relationship-building, not relationship-commencement," says Baron.
Because attendees are likely to be rushing from one panel discussion or briefing to the next, and may feel overwhelmed by the amount of information swirling around them, many PR execs say the key to effective trade-show resource management is reaching out to people in advance. Once a relationship is already established, a show meeting will only reinforce it.
Obstacles aside, Arketi Group principal Mike Neumeier says that tech clients need PR firm representation at shows for a variety of reasons, from exchanging information on the fly and reminding journalists and analysts to attend briefings, to simply making new contacts and sitting in on meetings with the executives they represent.
"Just from a perception standpoint," Neumeier says, "when a PR person is sitting in on an interview with an executive, it elevates the executive's status."
For tech firms, trade-show participation can be a good way to gain industry knowledge and scout possible clients
In terms of ROI, highly focused shows are often preferable to huge expos
Relationships with the press, analysts, and investors are better formed prior to show-floor briefings