Top 5 mistakes companies make with trade show PR

Since our founding nearly a decade ago, Swyft has helped all kinds of tech companies with their trade show PR needs. Along the way, we have been witness to many companies that failed to properly plan for their trade show media outreach. Consequently, they frequently missed out on valuable media coverage in the industry publications that matter. Knowing that trade shows are often the biggest single marketing investment many B2B tech companies make each year, missing out on maximizing brand awareness through effective media outreach amounts to a huge missed opportunity.

For those B2B tech companies looking to score or improve their brand buzz in 2020, you would be wise to avoid this list of the top 5 mistakes companies make with trade show PR.

Little to no trade show PR planning

A lot has to go right for a B2B tech company, especially for smaller ones that don’t have a dominant position in the industry, to get a healthy share of media coverage at a trade show. Success starts with meticulous planning that begins as many as nine months out from the event. The larger a company is, the more moving pieces and involved stakeholders there are to account for and align. Smaller SMBs can move more nimbly and typically require far fewer resources to plan and execute a trade show media strategy. That doesn’t mean they should wait until the last minute, however. At the end of the day, your planning timeline should be tied to your slowest bottleneck.

The moving parts for a trade show PR plan may vary from company to company but they invariably involve stakeholders from the C-suite, product marketing, digital marketing, sales and, in many cases, an outside PR firm. Holding meetings where every stakeholder attends (it may not be realistic for a member of the C-suite to attend but a proxy member should) is key to ensuring the plan is thorough, on message, and timely.

Planning can’t begin without a planning document. Call me old fashioned, but having an overarching planning document helps ensure visibility and alignment across an organization. To be visible, you will need to share the trade show PR planning document, which can be done efficiently by using Google Office or Microsoft Office 365 / Sharepoint. You may want to give key stakeholders view access only and keep editorial rights within a small group of marketing and communications staff to ensure changes aren’t made without universal approval. Fortunately, most online documents show a history of time-stamped changes, which makes it far easier to review and roll back any unapproved edits.

Speaking of planning documents, the plan should ideally be organized in a way that shows the discrete sections:

  • Trade show communications strategy
  • Messaging and key talking points
  • Communications timeline (timing announcements and other important deadlines like panel speaker submissions)
  • Spokesperson availability with associated blocks of time
  • Contact information of outside PR firm if relevant
  • Under investing in trade show PR

It seems so obvious, right? But you would be amazed at how many companies either fail to plan for their trade show PR or completely under-invest, little realizing that the costs have a way of adding up over time.

There is no hard-and-fast number you can budget for. Hence the need to start your PR planning early. If you have been to trade shows in the past, you can always reference those past expenses. But keep in mind that it’s possible you were under-investing at prior events, so they may not be the best measuring stick to use.

For easy reference on budgeting for your tech PR trade show plan, start by accounting for these expense line-items:

  • Travel and lodging for any internal communications support
  • 3rd party PR firm, including travel and lodging for any onsite support
  • Press releases going out on the wire (cost can run up to $3,000 per wire depending upon the length of release, additional visuals you want to include, size of geographic distribution)
  • Communications collateral, whether in print or on thumb drives, you plan to share with media
  • Entertainment of media (happy hour, media lunch, etc.)

Forgetting to set SMART goals

Many B2B tech companies plan for measurable outcomes (e.g., new contacts, leads, sales orders) at trade shows but often fail to do the same for PR. Failing to do so can jeopardize not only the quantity but also the quality of media coverage you receive.

While nobody in communications in their right mind would ever sign up to any lead generation objectives, there are some that make sense for trade show media outreach. SMART goals stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. They should reflect your company’s trade show primary goals, which can include building or reinforcing brand awareness.

Some SMART goals for a trade show might look like these:

  • Acquire 8 articles in various industry media outlets
  • Arrange 3 interviews with industry analysts
  • Coordinate at least 5 on-site booth interviews with journalists
  • Drive x amount or x percentage increase in website traffic to a dedicated landing page during the trade show

The more you define what your objectives are for a trade show, the easier it gets to chart a course toward accomplishing them and achieving measurable strategic results.

No integrated communications

Some B2B tech companies either operate in silos where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing or they simply forget to coordinate their efforts across all marketing channels. This kind of lapse will ultimately blunt the impact of a trade show investment and limit the reach of all marketing and communications activities.

To avoid that scenario, you would be wise to identify and organize all marketing channels and their associated owners during the planning phase (as discussed above). The goal is to ensure the entire company is on the same page regarding what the SMART goals are for the company in its entirety as well as by marketing/sales/communications function. It’s also to ensure that the strategic messaging is embraced by all marketing channels and echoed by sales.

Some key marketing channels to consider include:

  • Social media
  • Email marketing
  • Digital marketing (e.g., PPC marketing, website content, blog)
  • Product marketing (sales enablement)
  • Other marketing channels (e.g., internal or external-facing corporate podcast, webinars)

The key is to keep all relevant channels informed and on track with the trade show messaging, planned announcements and target audience. Doing this will make achieving even the most aggressive SMART goals far easier.

No follow-up

Planning for and attending a trade show is a massive undertaking and involves marshaling resources and team members from across a company. It also can cost in excess of $100,000 when factoring in travel, lodging, sales collateral, booth costs, 3rd party PR firms, etc. With all of that on the line, you might be surprised at how easy it is for some B2B tech companies to forget to follow-up with media to ensure all the promised publications actually happen.

The fact is that once the trade show is done, and everybody returns home, usually completely exhausted, the marketing and communications team may end up taking their collective foot off the gas pedal. That’s the worst thing to do as most races can still be won or lost in the final stretch.

The better approach? Hold an immediate post-event conference call between any key stakeholders (marketing, internal communications, 3rd party PR firm, C-suite or spokespersons, etc.) to ensure any outstanding media opportunities are identified and immediately addressed. After all, many media outlets will continue writing about an event up to a couple weeks after the close. Those are some of the most effective placements because there is usually a news lull following a trade show. If you’re in the news then, you’re probably one of the only ones, which gives you a bigger spotlight for your company’s brand.

Bonus: Not holding a trade show recap meeting

This one is a bonus because, technically, it doesn’t have anything to do with PR support at a trade show. Holding a recap meeting with your key stakeholders is your best opportunity to learn what went right and what needs improving for next year’s event.

You would be wise to put together a recap presentation showing your overall messaging strategy, SMART goals and media outreach results. Why? The take-aways from your past trade show can inform and improve the planning and execution of your next one. After all, marketing and communications at trade shows are not static, rather they are fluid and informed by actions from the competition, the media and customers. Something unexpected that happened at the last trade show could be an indicator of what may happen at the next one.

Last, but certainly not least, a recap meeting is a great opportunity to get visibility to your PR team and how well it performed at the trade show. Call it a victory lap if you want, but a recap will reinforce the need to continue investing in trade show PR among key stakeholder groups like the C-suite, product marketing and sales.

Planning to attend one of these healthcare technology conferences in 2020? Download this free guide from the trade show and marketing experts at Swyft to refine your marketing strategy prior to the event.