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Impress the Press

Turn trade shows into promotional opportunities by mastering the media.

For a startup entrepreneur, the idea of catering to thousands of curious attendees at a multiday trade show can be nerve-racking. And among the inquisitive is a group you may not be prepared for even though it's possibly the most important: the press.

Some entrepreneurs simply don't consider the press or "are afraid they'll say the wrong thing," says Linda Musgrove, a trade show aficionado and president of TradeShow Teacher. Musgrove lists a few steps you can take prior to the show to make the most of the press once you're there.

  • Study up on how to interact with the press via books, web articles and websites, or through training programs like the ones Musgrove offers.
  • Visit the trade show's website for resources like pitch-the-editors sessions, networking events and templates.
  • Write a press release to use in e-mail pitches, press kits and at your trade show booth.
  • Get the press list to see which media outlets will be there and target the ones that are specific to your business.
  • Designate a spokesperson. Then coach everyone else on what to say.
  • Know what press badges look like.

With only two months to prepare, Jennifer Bush and Allison Patterson, co-founders of all-natural cookie dough company Ice Box Bakery, pulled off their first trade show in March. "We really tried to focus on making it cohesive," says Bush, 38. The former pastry chefs successfully manned their corner booth at Natural Products Expo West, schmoozing with buyers, chatting up distributors, warming fresh cookies and engaging the press.

Although the women had no training, they had many resources to pull from, including trade show know-how from Bush's entrepreneur husband and PR experience from Patterson's restaurateur husband. In addition, they've both worked in retail, where they learned to manage a crowd. Drawing from resources and experiences is important for entrepreneurs who want to make the most of a trade show, especially for those with limited funds. "We don't have an advertising budget, so our relationship with the press is important," says Patterson, 28. "We need that free media attention."

Getting that attention means actively seeking out and engaging the media, explains Musgrove. "Then focus on benefits and what you can do for their [publications]," she says. When tons of people are vying for your attention, have press kits handy.

For Ice Box Bakery, it came down to "making our booth feel relaxed and approachable," says Bush, who projects 2008 sales of $700,000 for the Boulder, Colorado-based company. "Really, every [contact] is important."

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This article was originally published in the September 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: Impress the Press.

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