tips for trade show public relations

Photo credit: USDA

As marketing and PR pros look forward to 2019, they’ll review trade shows scheduled throughout the year, select conferences to attend, settle on booth design, submit proposed presentations, decide on giveaways and events, and plan media outreach efforts. First on the calendar may be the gigantic Consumer Electronics Show (CES) set for early next month in Las Vegas. Organizers expect more than 182,000 attendees, 4,400 exhibiting companies, and 1,000 speakers.

Media opportunities will be vast. More than 6,640 media representatives attended CES 2018, and the conference produced 107,120 media mentions between Jan. 7 and 12. While most trade shows don’t approach CES’s size, they still offer plenty of PR opportunities.

Obtaining media coverage during trade shows is certainly not assured, especially given the number of companies vying for attention. Journalists registered for the CES reportedly receive more than 600 unsolicited media pitches. Winning publicity calls for proper PR planning, organization and follow through.

Media experts offer the following advice for successful trade show PR.

Reaching Out to the Media

PR experts typically recommend requesting interviews with reporters attending trade conferences weeks or even months before the event. Following the adage that the early bird gets the worm, some advise reaching out as soon possible – immediately after conferences release media lists.

Taking a somewhat contrarian view, Marijane Funess at Crenshaw Communications says journalists don’t always schedule interviews in advance, even for conventions as large as the CES. “Reporters never finalize a schedule, there’s always room for adds if your invite is compelling enough,” Funess writes. “Savvy CES teams continually take the temperature of the show and the news climate in general to glean opportunities that can lead to increased interest in a client’s product or story.”

Research journalists and their publications to confirm if your company products are relevant to them. Checking publications’ editorial calendars can reveal story topics that are suitable for your company and products. If trade shows don’t list attendees from media organizations, you can search for past articles on the event. The same publications, and sometimes the same reporter, may be covering the event again.

PR can save time with EventTrak, a trade show media database from Businesswire. In addition to information about reporters and bloggers, it contains coverage of the previous year’s event, a post-event recap report, and the ability to search, browse and export data to create media lists.

Remember journalists and notable bloggers who don’t attend the event for any number of reasons. Intrepid PR teams track down these non-attendees and pursue coverage with those who are appropriate.

The Importance of Press Releases

Press releases remain a viable strategy for gaining media attention at trade shows. However, they must be well written, packaged, and targeted to relevant journalists. Be sure to follow recommended best practices for writing and distributing press releases.

PR pros can distribute multiple releases as the event approaches: for instance, an announcement that the company is exhibiting, then product launch announcements, and a post-event wrap-up. Nowadays, PR pros post news releases on company websites in online corporate newsrooms, often on a web page specifically about the company’s trade show appearance.

Fill it with valuable, relevant content such as photos, fact sheets and marketing materials. Place the website address in all show-related correspondence, press releases, and invitations. Post a link to it from your main website, and make sure you’ll be able to update it quickly and easily. For an example of an online newsroom, visit Samsung’s 2018 CES web page.

Remember to leave your press releases in the designated area of the trade show press room.

Promote Trade Show Appearances on Social Media

Publicize your booth on social media before and during the event. Instead of just promoting your own company, share interesting and useful content to keep followers engaged, such as polls and links to educational resources. Use a social media listening tool to learn what topics interest attendees and join the social media conversations.  “Remember, the key goal to exhibiting is giving attendees what they want. For social media, it’s not all that different,” says Jillian Tempestini, content marketing specialist at Nimlok.

Visual content or visually appealing displays can gain attention at crowded trade shows like CES. Even tech trade and online reporters like visual content – especially videos. Camera crews roam the exhibit halls. The video crews include the trade show’s own team that develops stories for their closed-circuit telecast into hotel rooms.

“Make sure your story is the one they highlight by practicing visual storytelling, and be sure to target local and national broadcast outlets,” writes Lisa Sullivan, head of Ketchum’s Technology Practice.

Large trade shows often produce print and online reports about the event, the sessions and exhibitors. It therefore makes good sense to put a priority on getting coverage in each event’s publication. It’s often possible to arrange a story in advance with the trade show editors or video producers. Stories in the trade show publication or TV network often attract the interest of other publications.

Presentations, Interviews & Press Conferences

Attempt to schedule your company executives to be a speaker or member of a panel discussion. This requires being in touch with conference program organizers long in advance to secure speaker invitations. Inform the attending journalists of the presentation and issue an invitation and possibly an interview with the presenter(s).

The trade show itself usually organizes a schedule of press conferences. If your company has a major new product announcement, it’s best to arrange for a slot in the show’s press conference schedule.

It’s difficult to get journalists to leave the convention center for an off-site news conference. An alternative is to schedule a presentation or special show within your company’s exhibit and invite the press.

Booths and Promotional Items

Giveaways remain the proven gimmick to gain attention, but most every exhibitor gives away trinkets. Instead, invest your money in an exhibit that gives visitors a memorable experience – preferably an interactive experience. If your company does have a give-away, promote it in the press room to entice journalists to visit your exhibit – and keep some in your briefcase or pocket to give away during the meeting.

A PR person should be in or close by the company’s booth at all times. The sales staff in your booth should be alert for people wearing press badges. They should notify the PR person about the presence of a reporter – and the PR person should handle all communications with media representatives.

Develop Contact by Networking

At trade shows, it pays to party. See and be seen is the motto because being seen at an after-hours event can translate into media contacts and coverage, if not immediately, at some point in the future. Major exhibitors often sponsor evening social events for attendees and invite the press. In some cases, an out-of-town trip for press representatives that combines social activities with interviews or demonstrations can produce significant media coverage.

“These events offer opportunities to connect with media in a more concentrated environment – with nibbles and some wine – where they’re actively looking for stories,” advises James Gerber at March Communications. “We find that these shows offer the chance to interact with press who may not have bitten on your initial pitch, or who didn’t have time for a briefing at CES.”

PR trade show efforts don’t end with the close of the show. Following-up after the show with reporters you’ve met can often result in significant placements.

Measure Your PR Results

Although trade shows may offer substantial marketing opportunities, they’re extremely expensive. That means quantifying and measuring the concrete results of trade shows is imperative to sensible budgeting of future marketing and PR expenses and, ultimately, to business success. A fully-integrated media monitoring and measurement service can provide, segment and analyze data from trade show publicity.

Bottom Line: Because large trade shows attract many journalists, they offer the opportunity to gain important media coverage. Implementing a comprehensive trade show PR strategy that includes pitching known press contacts, developing newsworthy press releases, scheduling media interviews for executives, can all pay off in extraordinary media placements.

This post was first published on Dec. 8, 2015, and updated on Dec. 14, 2018.