Trade shows have been around for decades as important venues where companies derive value from contacts with a host of external stakeholders, among them channel partners, existing and prospective clients, media, investors, future employees, and business partners.
One of the most important things a trade show has to offer, and a reason for its enduring success? Cost efficiency.
One survey shows that companies spend $142 on average for a face-face meeting with a prospect at a tradeshow, whereas the cost of that same face-to-face meeting at a prospect’s office is $259.
In order to maximize results from trade show media outreach, integrated approaches deliver considerably better results than simply sending out a release and hoping for the best. This post is about how integrated media campaigns can best be planned to maximize media coverage.
Before any plans can be made, however, a decision needs to be made about what goals and objectives the company will want to achieve through its trade show media campaign.
From goals to SMART trade show media objectives
When supporting a trade show booth with a corresponding media campaign everything starts from the goals a company wishes to accomplish. According to a research report from the Center for Exhibition Industry Research entitled 2016 Changing Environment of Exhibitions, companies that exhibit at trade shows are essentially either building or “expanding and reinforcing” their brand awareness. It also reports that sales objectives are generally all about relationship management with customers and prospective customers, generating sales leads and generating orders with existing customers and prospects.
Goals like the ones described above must then be translated into SMART media objectives. While historically tied to marketing campaigns, SMART objectives are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely. In short, the media campaign should help meet a subset of the company’s overall SMART objectives to the extent that they can be accomplished through the media.
Two typical goals that media relations can help realize at a trade show are building brand awareness (e.g., in support of a new product launch) and establishing thought leadership.
Those goals translated into SMART objectives might look something like:
- Brand awareness: acquire 10 articles in tier 1 trade press by a certain date
- Thought leadership: acquire 3 articles in tier 1 trade press where an expert from the company comments on industry trends by a certain date
Planning for the media relations campaign
Once SMART objectives for the media campaign have been set, it’s time to decide on strategy and tactics. Strategy is about the overall approach to the objectives and should ideally be summarized in one sentence. For instance, in support of a product launch, you might illustrate in fairly simple terms the need for that product in the marketplace. This is then realized (tactics) through third party data that are stated convincingly and visualized in an appealing manner.
When all the choices on the tactics are made, you will have a planning document that consists of two dimensions: 1) owned, earned and paid media tracks (your own channels, media relations and advertising respectively), and 2) the time dimension with activities that need to be undertaken at different times before, during, and after the conference.
More often than not the media relations team will not have ownership over the “owned” and “paid” tracks, meaning that they will have to work closely together with colleagues in one or more other departments to turn the integrated media approach into a success. Luckily you now have SMART objectives that everybody can work towards together and be held accountable to.
In the grid that follows we have provided an example of an integrated trade show media campaign. Mind you, a trade show planning document would normally be far more detailed, but this example serves to give you a high-level look at the key components and their corresponding timing.
To give you even more context for the example, we usually incorporate the following principles when we draw up a trade show plan:
A PR campaign supporting a product launch ideally has three phases: tease, launch and sustain. In all of this, the trade show track comes in at the end of the tease, for the entire duration of the launch campaign, and for a short part of the sustain.
We typically send out a press release to journalists up to three months ahead of a trade show. This release gives a glimpse of what will be launched at the show and is meant to whet the appetite of both journalists and their audiences. Some trade publications require a longer lead time (e.g. print publications) so you may have to share more detailed information about the trade show campaign and related product announcements far earlier than expected, but do so under a strict embargo to ensure no information gets leaked in advance.
Save the meat of your messaging for the launch phase at the start of the trade show. The timing of the launch release, however, is a mix of art and science. If there is intense competition for share of voice during a conference and you are a smaller player in your industry, you may decide to send your release up to a week prior to the event’s start date when there is a lull of media coverage and fewer product announcements by competitors. The traditional approach, of course, is to launch your media blitz in the first two days of the trade show when you are trying to drive awareness and booth traffic for your products.
Integrating media relations
Owned and paid channels can be used in different ways to bolster your media outreach, even as you support trade show marketing objectives like generating more leads. You can decide to run a blog post in the run-up to the trade show and then seed that post on social media. The goal here is to catch the attention of the journalists that follow you. You could also decide to (switching here from owned to paid) turn that blog post into promoted content on LinkedIn. That post could be seeded to editors and journalists at target media outlets.
While not a requirement, Integration of owned and earned can also entail the set-up of a landing page on your website where visitors who come in through clicks on the media articles can convert into leads. It’s been our experience that tier 1 media outlets will generally not link to your landing page in their editorial content, but tier 2 titles often copy press releases, which means links are kept intact.
The third way of integration between earned and paid is to contribute an article to a trade outlet. Different roads can be taken here. You could decide to submit a non-paid vendor neutral article in which you discuss the problems in the sector that you serve. If you publish the article just weeks before the trade show it will help prime the readership for the upcoming product announcement. You could also pay for sponsored content in order to promote your new solution in an article at the time of launch. There is always the option to buy display ads and other advertising packages that the media outlet will offer to build even more awareness, buzz, and website traffic.
When it comes to integrating owned, earned and paid efforts, many different (combinations of) options exist. It’s important to make sure that the messaging on all channels is consistent and that efforts follow each other in a logical way. Indeed, we covered the need for careful message cascading in this article.
Example of integrated trade show media relations campaign
Here is an example of what the integrated media relations campaign of a manufacturer of 3D printers might look like based on recent work we did for Materialise and Pelco. The company wants to raise awareness for the launch of its new 3D printer at the time of the conference. The media messaging strategy stresses how different the printer is (in terms of speed) from other options on the market. What’s more, the company wants to acquire 8 tier 1 media articles by the second week following the conference.
|Prior to trade show||
Up to two weeks before trade show: blog post is published on an important 3D printing industry challenge (printing speed in manufacturing);
Posts to social media (Twitter, LinkedIn) that look forward to trade show, share blog post, etc.
Up to 12 weeks before trade show: first press release goes out to announce what the company will present along with booth logistics, interview slots with key executives, etc.
Three to six weeks before trade show: second press release goes out with launch announcement shared under embargo (includes data charts on speed of 3D printing machines)
|During trade show||
Landing page for new 3D printing machine goes live.
Updates made on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn) on launch date.
|First day of trade show: second press release announcing launch (with link to landing page) goes out.||Sponsored content article goes live to announce the new 3D printing machine in a leading trade outlet.|
|After trade show||
Updates made on social media (Twitter, LinkedIn) reflecting on the trade show, the launch, and any trailing media coverage.
Posting of any presentations from tradeshow on SlideShare.
|Up to four weeks after trade show: follow-up with journalists on launch to close any outstanding media opportunities.|