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Public relations at a trade show:
A little effort goes a long way

Barry Siskind


Is public relations just for big companies at large shows that have a dedicated PR consultant?

When Steve Jobs or Bill Gates speaks, everyone listens, but don't let the size of their budget discourage you. The media is constantly on the look-out for interesting stories, and not just the ones everyone else is covering. So, being big is not the panacea to PR; being prepared with a well thought-out plan is.

Trade shows are a great place to initiate a PR campaign. Whether it is the major news outlets that will attend large international shows or regional publications, cable or local media at a regional or community show, the media will be there.

One word of caution; there are no guarantees with the media. The best-made plans and promises can be easily derailed when an earth shattering global issue suddenly materializes and captures the headlines. But, with a little planning and execution your chances of landing valuable PR will rise dramatically.

The online encyclopaedia Wikipedia defines public relations as "the practice of managing communication between an organization and its public." PR therefore provides corporations and associations an opportunity to build and maintain rapport with various stakeholders including employees, customers, investors, voters and the general public. There's a lot at stake. Follow these steps and to set your PR efforts on the right path.

    1. Piggyback onto the PR that your show organizer is arranging. At some large shows there might be a media room where the media meets and browses corporate literature. At smaller shows the media may be invited to participate in a press conference, opening ceremonies or hospitality breaks. Whatever the case, talking to your show organizer to learn their media plans will give you insights into ideas that can be initiated in conjunction with the show organizer or on your own.

    2. Massage your message. The media is not interested in spending hours leafing through all of your corporate literature. You need to focus on issues that their readers/viewers will be most interested in learning about. Each media contact may appeal to a different audience so its important to ensure your message is appropriate to the media person you are sending it to. Often they are simply interested in reporting a new product or service.

    3. Create a news release. This one page (typed, double-spaced) document is what the media will read first. If your news release captures their attention they might be motivated to learn more, if your news release falls flat it will be discarded.

    Your news release should be structured to include the following:

      a. The headline. This one line statement should get to the point quickly and stand out from the rest of the copy.

      b. Answer the questions: who, what, where, when and why in the first few paragraphs. Don't try to write the story for the journalist, rather give them enough information for them to make an informed decision as to whether they think your story is worth telling.

      c. Include a photo when possible

      d. Don't forget to include contact information. They need to know who to speak to and where you will be situated in the show.

    4. Create a media kit. This kit will include your news release as well as photographs, company literature and detailed product information. The completed kit can be sent ahead of time to specific journalists, placed in the media room at the show. As well, keep a supply at your booth.

    5. Focus your media contacts. If you can obtain a media list from your show organizer or have developed one on your own, pick those journals, web-sites, newsletters, magazines etc, that attract your specific audience.

    6. Personalize your approach. There's nothing wrong with calling first to let the contact know that you will be sending them some information about a new product or service and that you will be participating in an upcoming show. Then after you have send information to those media personnel that you have chosen, follow up to make sure they received it and to see if you can gain a commitment from them to stop by your booth.

    7. Develop a relationship with the media. Media personnel are like everyone else, they don't want to be pressured or hassled so walk that fine line between good follow-up and harassment carefully. The other issue is to become a source of information. They may ask you questions or for contacts that may have nothing to do with your PR objective. If you can become a source of information, you may not have achieved your short-term goal but a solid relationship has excellent long-term benefits.

    8. Keep vigilant. Train your booth staff to be on the look-out for media as they pass-by your booth. They will be wearing a designated media badge.

A Public Relations campaign is an important tool for most companies and organizations. Trade shows offer an amazing opportunity to sharpen your PR skills and develop relationships with the media. The investment in developing a PR approach is relatively small and the pay-off can be huge.