Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Booth Blunders

Ah, tradeshows. Giant convention centers where products from all over the country migrate once a year (with their eager owners), in an attempt to beguile browsing “decision-makers” with their respective charms. Demos run their cycles. Hands gesture sincerely. Booth babes bat their lashes.
 
Walking by a booth invariably gets this siren call: “Hello there! Can I tell you about (so-and-so) today?” Before you can figure out where the voice is coming from, the speaker’s eyes are laser-focused on your name tag, trying to quickly figure out if you have enough juice to actually buy something. A glimmer of purchasing power.
 
Or maybe he’s a reporter?!
 
Specifically, the tradeshow experience is a slow motion riot in which companies spiff up their booths and their sales pitches in order to convert prospects from being casually interested to actively engaged in dialogue that could result in a closed sale. “Getting lots of leads” has long been the operative goal at such events (as well as a bag full of fun give-aways for little Billy and Suzie).
 
But most serious companies understand that tradeshows aren’t just for selling. Done correctly, a company can build terrific editorial momentum at tradeshows and its brand can be greatly enhanced by a logical, well-executed Public Relations strategy.
 
Problem is, most companies (and their PR Firms) have the strategy all wrong. And it’s not necessarily their fault: the old, time-tested techniques for generating editorial interest at tradeshows have simply become outdated and ineffective today. Sort of like a typewriter. Or a slingshot.
 
Don’t Make the Big Announcement at the Show
 
Time and time again companies of all sizes waste perfectly good news at trade shows. The thinking is that “making a splash” at the trade show with a big announcement will lead to increased buzz at the booth, draw prospects to the noise and help close deals.
 
But it doesn’t work that way, whereas 20 years ago this strategy made sense. After all, news didn’t travel as fast as it does today. Reporters didn’t have the luxury of immediately getting all of the information they needed about a company. They had to show up at events such as trade shows to get “the scoop” on the exhibitors.
 
And though the realities have changed, most companies’ thinking about tradeshow PR remains back in the 70s, when John Travolta’s sky-pointing disco gyrations were accepted as “the way people dance.” Try that routine today and you’ll discover “the way people aggressively get thrown out of nightclubs.”
 
Today, many companies continue to announce their “biggest news of the year” at the trade show, but reporters aren’t saddled with the communications difficulties of years past. And because they don’t need to talk to everyone to get their news (the Internet is a trusty tool, after all), reporters generally prefer to spend their time at trade shows digging around for that one interesting nugget of information that will make their respective stories different than those of their peers. And, sorry to be blunt, folks, but a press release at your booth isn’t that nugget.
 
Which is why, instead of  announcing your best news at a trade show, you should strongly consider making the announcement one week before the event – after briefing all of the relevant analysts and reporters. That way, prospects will have read actual news stories about your company by the time the show starts, providing them with a frame of reference that makes your booth infinitely more approachable:
 
I read about these guys last week. I should go check them out for myself. See what’s up.
 
And instead of having a boring stack of press releases sitting on a table at your booth (like every other company), you can have stacks of news articles that have recently been written about your company’s exciting new product. After all, a news release that your company wrote is far less credible than a comprehensive article written by an objective, third party. Just ask your prospects.
 
After you’ve established they’ve got juice, of course.


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