By Tad Clarke, Editorial Director, MarketingSherpa
I was giving instructions how to cover a trade show to one of our reporters the other day, and it occurred to me that PR pros and marketing directors might like tips on getting press coverage, especially with the big fall show season upon us.
First, you need to remember that you are one of hundreds (or thousands) of vendors trying to get the attention of 20 or 30 reporters and editors. At an industry trade show, these people are the equivalent of The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and they’re overwhelmed with hundreds of press releases and people to talk to.
Here are six steps on how to improve your chances of getting quoted:
1. Pre-show PR activity
Meeting a reporter at a show is about building a personal relationship. You need to treat them like your top client (because in reality, the extra press coverage could bring in that much and more). You also need to feed their ego. Make sure you’ve read at least one article by every reporter you’re pitching; if you do arrange a meeting with your CEO, make sure you put the article in front of him or her, too.
If you turn over your PR person or outside agency a lot, be careful. It's the reporter's view of that PR person more than it is of you or your company. There are PR people we will absolutely take calls from because of who they are and their reputation. If you always flip, you're not gaining anything from the relationship.
If you’ve gotten the press list, so has every other PR person. Make sure you have a real purpose for the meeting. It should be more than just to meet the CEO or to hand over a press kit and say, “Here’s our great new product. Write about it.” Think about who’s needed for this meeting? Is it the CEO or someone in the marketing department who will be the contact for future stories, because if you build a rapport and always come through the reporter will keep coming back for more.
2. Tips for meetings at the show
If you’re lucky enough to land a meeting at the show, prepare an agenda. The reporter thinks there may be enough for a story, so come with the all of the details they’ll need to write it.
Some PR people will schedule a 7 a.m. breakfast briefing. But realistically, who wants to attend that? Think about how busy you are at the show. A good reporter is that busy and more ... interviewing people, attending keynotes and sessions, looking for news on the exhibit floor, filing blogs and stories, attending the parties. Yes, everyone’s exhausted.
Instead of a breakfast meeting, how about a guaranteed no-longer-than-10-minute meeting to plant the seed that you have an exclusive story for their publication and a client ready to talk (and make sure that client will talk). Don’t just hand over the same media kit you give everyone else. Include a special note with these details, plus a few sentences explaining what the product/solution does IN PLAIN ENGLISH -- no PR-speak, no gobbledygook.
Talk a client into attending or have their case study and contact information front and center, along with that easy-to-understand product description. And if you want to truly stand out, fill the press kit with lots of professional photos usable for print.
3. Train your booth staff
Most conference organizers have a badge system so they can identify the people attending. Oftentimes, attendees’ badges are blue, exhibitors red and press green. In the pre-show meeting the night before, coach the sales staff on what people’s badges look like and give them tips on how to respond if a reporter stops by.
Most likely a reporter will ask two questions:
o How is your product different from the 60 other vendors at the show with similar ones?
o What do you think of the conference?
When answering the first question, don’t let them resort to industry jargon and don't have them immediately hand over a media kit. The reporter probably has six of those back in their office.
If your product is difficult to explain, get your sales team to ask for the reporter’s business card so you can follow up at a later date. Most likely they’ll scan the card or toss it into the fishbowl and your chances of follow-up are lost. Prearrange with them to handle these differently: either to fold the business card or write “For PR” in big letters on it.
4. Working the press room
Yes, reporters hang out in the press room. If the show is big enough, a sponsoring company provides computers and Internet access, bagels, coffee and soda. Most press releases get dropped off here.
Do tchotchkes work? Nothing you give away will make a reporter write about you. Ethically, they can’t accept anything of much value or it’ll seem like you paid for the write-up.
However, I’m always on the lookout for pens that write well, not cheap ballpoint ones. I also used a coffee mug from a certain agency for three years before I broke it. And those memory sticks come in handy: you can load an entire press kit (with big pictures) and not waste any paper; once they’re done with it, they can wipe it clean and use it for other things. Just make sure you go back and collect the leftover ones for the next show.
5. Networking, parties and relationship building
With so many attendees blogging sessions and digging up their own exclusive material, reporters have to work even harder to find original content. Make it easy for them and feed them other information you’re hearing, not just about your company or your client. Tell them the real show scuttlebutt, even if it’s off the record. You may not get quoted this time, but they’ll be back next year and the year after that.
Everyone’s supposed to have fun at a party, but treat reporters like VIP. Make sure the people handing out the nametags treat them differently or position someone at the door to watch out for them. Don’t let a reporter just graze and leave. Get them in front of your people who can give them a story lead or tell them the show dirt.
6. Post-show follow-up
With the flurry of show news over and done with, now’s the time to check back with the reporter and make sure they have everything they need to write their client story or bigger trend piece that you worked so hard to arrange. If you promised them anything, make sure you get it to them instead of making them come ask for it.
Also, make sure your booth staff didn’t put a reporter’s contact information into your post-show database so they’ll start getting sales material. Would you send that to your top client?
Relationships from conferences can last a lifetime. I shared a cab with MarketingSherpa President Anne Holland at a show six years ago and look what it led to.
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