Trade Shows Lost & Found

Today, I think most clients in most industries would agree the trade show is about PR – selling happens elsewhere.  We’ve seen clients pull out of a variety of shows in recent years and for good reason.  But the right approach around the right show can still prove valuable.  It takes a different approach, one that’s less and less about what happens on the show floor.

The big outlets typically have their stories researched and written – and often out – before the curtain goes up, like The Associated Press’ coverage of Toy Fair earlier this month.  Helping press and bloggers build their story remotely, weeks in advance of the show, is key to being part of feature coverage and the show buzz.

At CES, which is an extremely tough show for media and bloggers to traverse, you can’t count on everyone making it to your booth.  The preview events held the days leading up to CES are a hit with media and add minimal cost (and some let you participate without being an official exhibitor).  Mini-events within the main event, such as the “Silvers Summit” at CES, are another way to break through, putting the product story in context of a larger trend.  Check out USA Today’s CES story that ran on Day 1 and featured some Silvers Summit exhibitors.

Other shows, like Housewares (next month in Chicago), have seen media attendance steadily dwindle.  If media are going, there are fewer of them having to cover more ground.  That can make freelance relationships very valuable, as well as in-persons with press not traveling to the show.

Another trade show challenge?  Timing.  Take Toy Fairfor example.  Manufacturers debut the “hot holiday toys” for the coming season just six weeks after last holiday season and, in most cases, months before the new toys are on shelf.  How useful is February-timed coverage of a product that’s not releasing until August?  Sure, it can help to prime the pump.  But you’ll need an encore.  If budget allows, do more than mine the leads coming out of the show.  Time your biggest PR activity away from the show clutter and closer to your product’s release – when the resulting coverage will be truly meaningful for sales.

It’s easy to get swept up in the hype around trade shows.  But a trade show should be seen for what it is and not more – part of a comprehensive PR strategy, not THE strategy.