First PR Alliance is made up of over 10 international PR firms with deep experience in managing trade show PR on behalf of B2B tech clients. Along the way, we have all seen our fair share of companies that failed to plan for their trade show media outreach, or ones that simply waited until the last minute. The results are almost always disappointing because they frequently miss out on valuable media coverage at a trade show attended by customers, prospects and influencers alike.
Trade shows that are often the biggest single marketing investment many B2B tech companies make each year. Not maximizing brand awareness through media outreach amounts to a massive missed opportunity.
For those B2B tech companies looking to really improve their brand buzz in 2020, you would be wise to avoid this list of the top 5 mistakes companies make with their international trade show PR.
1. Poor or no trade show PR planning
B2B tech companies compete head to head at trade shows for the attention of the media. For smaller companies that don’t have a dominant position in the industry, it’s especially hard to get a healthy share of media coverage. In order to win at the international trade show media game, you have to start planning as many as nine months out from the event. Plus, the larger your company is the more moving parts there are in the form of stakeholders, resources, and budgets. Smaller international tech SMBs, on the other hand, can move far more quickly and usually require far fewer resources to implement an international trade show media strategy. Just because you are an SMB doesn’t mean you can wait until the last minute, however. Just keep in mind that a trade show PR planning timeline should be tied to your slowest resource or stakeholder, which in many cases is product marketing given that product development is notoriously hard to pin down.
The different areas of an international trade show PR plan often vary from company to company but almost always involve these kinds of stakeholders:
- Product marketing
- Digital marketing
- Outside PR firm
- Outside booth design firm
The key is to hold meetings where every stakeholder attends; granted, it’s not realistic that somebody from the C-Suite attends every meeting but a proxy should be present whenever possible. After all, one of the important goals is to ensure the plan is thorough, on message, and timely for the entire organization.
To properly plan you will need to create a planning document. The advantage of a planning document is that you ensure visibility and alignment across an organization. To be visible, try to share it using Google Office or Microsoft Office 365 / Sharepoint. You can even give key stakeholders view-only access and guard editorial rights among a small group of marketing and communications staff. Even if somebody makes an unauthorized change, most online documents make it easy to review and roll back any unapproved edits.
Your international trade show plan should be organized in a way that shows the functional sections similar to these below:
- Trade show PR strategy
- Messaging and key talking points for spokespersons
- Communications timeline (list the timing of announcements and other important deadlines like panel and paper submissions)
- Spokesperson availability and their associated blocks of time
- Contact information of outside PR firm
2. Not investing enough in trade show PR
This may seem obvious but you would be amazed at how many companies either fail to budget for their trade show PR costs or completely under-invest, little realizing that the costs have a way of adding up over time. Underfunding the PR for a trade show comes with the added risk of not having enough support before and at the event and therefore missing out on valuable media coverage.
There is no fast-and-easy way to make a PR budget. If you have been to trade shows in the past, start by referencing those past expenses. Do keep in mind, however, that it’s possible you may have under-invested in the past, so those expenses may not be the most accurate measuring stick to use. Stil, it provides a good starting point.
Here is a fairly high-level reference on budgeting for your international tech PR trade show plan:
- Travel and lodging for any of your company PR support.
- 3rd party PR firm, which includes any travel and lodging for event support.
- Press releases distributed on the wire (by the way, cost can run up to $3,000 per wire in the US alone depending upon the length of release, additional visuals you want to include, size of geographic distribution; you may have to budget for more if you want to cover all of Europe or several international markets).
- Communications collateral to share with media in the form of print or USB flash drives.
- Entertaining media at booth or off-site location.
3. Not setting SMART goals
Just about every B2B tech company plans for measurable outcomes at international trade shows (e.g., new contacts, leads, sales orders). Not nearly as many do the same for PR outcomes. Failing to do so can impact the overall quantity and quality of media coverage you end up receiving.
Planning for PR outcomes need not involve signing up for lead generation objectives. Still, there are many goals that actually do make sense for international trade show PR.
For those not familiar, SMART goals stand for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. In other words, SMART goals should address your company’s primary goals at an international trade show, which at the organizational level often include growing or reinforcing brand awareness.
Here are some examples of SMART goals for a trade show PR plan:
- Obtain 10 articles in a mix of industry and business media outlets
- Arrange 2 interviews with influential industry analysts
- Hold at least 7 on-site booth interviews with industry journalists
- Drive x amount or X percentage increase in website traffic to a dedicated landing page during the trade show
The more you define what your objectives are for an international trade show, the easier it gets to chart a course toward accomplishing them and achieving measurable strategic results.
4. Poor or no integrated communications
Sadly there are some B2B tech companies that either operate in silos or simply fail to coordinate efforts across all marketing channels. This lapse in coordination blunts the reach and influence of an international trade show investment, hampering the entire company’s mission to build its brand and drive new leads.
To keep that from happening, it’s best to organize all marketing channels and their associated owners during planning (as discussed above). The aim here is to make sure your entire company is in alignment regarding what the SMART goals are for the trade show not only at the organizational level but also specifically for communications and marketing. This will also make sure that the strategic messaging is consistent across all marketing channels as well as on the trade show floor by sales representatives.
Here are the key marketing channels to include:
- Social media
- Email marketing
- Digital marketing (e.g., PPC marketing, website content, blog)
- Product marketing (sales enablement)
- Other marketing channels (e.g., internal or external-facing corporate podcast, webinars)
You must make sure that all relevant channels stay informed of the trade show messaging, which includes any planned announcements, events, panels and booth demos. Taking a shared, coordinated approach will ensure you achieve some of the most aggressive SMART goals your company sets for a trade show.
5. Zero media follow-up
When you plan for and attend an international trade show the output of resources, time and money is considerable. The cost alone can exceed $100,000 (US) as you begin to add up travel, lodging, sales collateral, booth costs, 3rd party PR firms, entertainment, and more. With so much hanging in the balance, you might be surprised to learn how tempting it is for some tech companies to not follow-up with media to make sure they follow-through on their promised coverage.
The fact of the matter is that when everybody returns home, especially from an international trade show, they are often completely exhausted. The result can be that the marketing and PR team may end up taking a break and missing some final, last-minute opportunities for media coverage. Many races are won and lost in the final stretch.
The better approach is to conduct a post-event conference call between major key stakeholders (marketing, internal communications, 3rd party PR firm, C-suite if needed, spokespersons, etc.) to make sure all potential media opportunities are immediately fulfilled. After all, many media outlets cover an event as late as 1-2 weeks after the close. What’s more, post-event articles are some of the most effective ones. Why? There is usually a news lull following a trade show and any article that gets published in that lull tends to stand out.
6. Failure to meet and report on trade show results
Holding a recap meeting with as many key stakeholders as possible helps you learn what went right and wrong. Those lessons then help you improve for next year’s trade show.
It’s a good idea to put together a presentation deck that shows your trade show messaging strategy, planned SMART goals and media placement results. Again, it’s take-aways from these kinds of meetings that help you do a better job next year. Trade shows, after all, are highly dynamic and subject to change as the competition makes its moves and media get caught up in the event’s ebb-and-flow. Unexpected things that happened at this trade show could foreshadow what may come at the next one.
Finally, a recap presentation will help your PR team show just how well it met the SMART goals set for the international trade show. It will serve to reinforce the importance of investing in PR among key stakeholder groups like the C-suite, product marketing and sales.