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Preparing for a Trade Show

Here's how to generate much-needed buzz about your business before you even set up your booth.

Q: I will be attending a trade show for our industry later this month. Is there anything in particular I can do ahead of time to generate publicity and traffic for our exhibit and company?

A: How many times have you attended a trade show and walked past booths of salespeople just sitting there, watching and smiling, yet not proactively seeking out potential prospects or clients? What do you think happens when a hungry reporter walks by that same booth? If the reporter does start a conversation, chances are he'll get the same telesales pitch as every other warm body that cruised by.

Trade shows aren't meant as an excuse to visit friends, collect hundreds of business cards for your collection and show everyone how nice your booth looks. A well-thought-out publicity approach to a trade show can yield thousands of dollars in free advertising as print space or air time.

Plan your event with publicity in mind, seek media sponsorships, create helpful media kits, make it easy for the media to cover the event and brainstorm story ideas. You have to plan your PR ahead time. Waiting until the show begins may already be too late to capture the media's attention.

Successful publicity-driven companies start their PR planning weeks--and sometimes even months--in advance. Part of this planning involves establishing relationships with the media that cover trade shows. Sending private invitations to your booth can sometimes set you apart from the others. Usually all trade shows have media staff or a PR contact. An important element of your PR planning should be to find out from them who will be covering what. Ask them for specific names and find out which print media, broadcast media and any online sites they represent.

It's also good to search out any story angles the trade show PR staff might be pitching. This shows a good sense of cooperation on your part and saves you the embarrassment of potentially pitching a similar story angle. If one of their angles is compatible with your company, product or service, you can hitchhike on their PR efforts. Contributing newsworthy information works with them as well as other media.

Without question, you must prepare a press release to announce your exhibit. Once again, a newsworthy angle is all editors think about here. You must be different and unique. You must give editors and producers specific reasons why they should visit you over all the other hundreds of exhibitors. Maybe you have a new product to announce, a new member of the management team to introduce or a position that you are taking on an industry issue. These are all newsworthy topics that have a good chance of getting media attention.

Another release idea is announcing that a particular expert from the company will be available for media interviews. Say something like, "Mr. Jones will be available from 2 to 4 p.m. on the first day of the show to explain the methodology used in his research. An FAQ sheet will be available for select media as well as a press kit containing all bio and company information." This indicates to the media that you are well-prepared, have selected them out and are ready to help contribute to their publication or broadcast.

Many companies use celebrities to draw crowds. Announcing celebrity attendance and schedules is done via press releases, posters at the event, private invitations and inclusion in any trade show media. Other ideas for announcements beforehand include the following:

  • Stop by for your free gift.
  • Get your picture taken with.
  • Stop by for your chance to win..
  • Meet our CEO.
  • Guess the number of widgets in the barrel to win.
  • Test drive our product today only.
  • Stop by for free information on the industry's hottest issue.
  • Take the Pepsi challenge.
  • See how we tattooed the competition.

Obtaining attendee lists beforehand can give your PR a quantum leap. Announcements to the list of what you'll be exhibiting will help draw attention to your booth and increase your trade show traffic. This is also effective when following up after the show.

PR is only one part of the total trade show marketing effort, and trade show marketing is only one part of the overall marketing plan. Planning and targeting will make all marketing more effective. Click herefor 10 tips on how to shine at your next trade show.

Alfred J. Lautenslager is an award-winning marketing and PR consultant, direct-mail promotion specialist, principle of marketing consulting firm Marketing Now, and president and owner of The Ink Well, a commercial printing and mailing company in Wheaton, Illinois. Visit his Web sites at http://www.market-for-profits.comand http://www.1-800-inkwell.com, or e-mail him at al@market-for-profits.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

Al Lautenslager is an award-winning marketing and PR consultant and direct-mail promotion specialist. He's also the principle of Market For Profits, a Chicago-based marketing consulting firm. His two latest books, Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days and The Ultimate Guide to Direct Marketing are available at www.entrepreneurpress.com.

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