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Tradeshow Trauma: Why “booth traffic was slow” is a lame excuse and how to prepare for conference success

As a marketing and PR professional who has spent countless hours in tradeshow booths and walked more than 20,000 steps at the HIMSS conference while wearing heels, I’ve experienced both the glory and the defeat of being an exhibitor. And while there is no better feeling than packing up your boxes, tearing down the booth and heading home after a job well done, there is also no greater pain than realizing that your company’s precious time and resources were virtually wasted because your conference strategy fell short.

After every tradeshow, it’s common to speak with exhibitors who complain that “booth traffic was slow” and cite that reason as the root of their conference failure. But let’s be honest — that’s a lame excuse. It’s the easy way out to blame poor performance at the show on exhibit hall organizers rather than reflecting on how your team may be at fault, or at least largely contributed to the problem.

In fact, upon much-needed reflection, those complainers would see that they are likely committing the cardinal sin of tradeshow marketing. They’re only focused on the conference.  They’re not focused on the holistic strategy that enables the smartest, more successful companies to succeed at conferences again and again and again.

To avoid this tradeshow trauma and emerge triumphant in 2018, it’s critical for companies to have a three-pronged approach that includes not just a conference strategy where you show up and wait, but also and even more importantly a pre-conference strategy and a post-conference strategy.

Here are 4 insider secrets to help you get started:

#1 Never rely on booth traffic 

Sure, booth traffic is nice and we all want it but it’s even better to drive traffic to your booth in advance. As savvy marketing professionals know, the best tradeshow marketing strategies start early and establish a regular cadence of communication. Most companies find that implementing a targeted email campaign starting 6 weeks in advance of the show is ideal but some may find that 8 weeks or 4 weeks works best for their audience.

These emails should be geared to both sales prospects to schedule meetings or demos and current clients to have a face-to-face touchpoint and determine cross-sale opportunities. As always, the top-performing emails are brief and targeted to attendees by role and job setting. It’s also best to have a form where attendees can schedule time and then receive a confirmation with a calendar invite. Why is that so important? It gets you on attendees’ calendars before they arrive at the show and are overwhelmed. Also, then your team can send them reminders about the scheduled slot or reach out if they don’t arrive as planned.

#2 Winning is great but winning isn’t everything

Pre-conference email campaigns can also invite attendees to activities in the booth such as speaking events or games instead of just meetings and demos. They can also offer attendees “a chance to win” and highlight big prizes, but they must not rely on the allure of a gimmick alone. There are few too many promotions for your giveaway to break through the noise. A pre-conference strategy that shares quality content, in addition to touting “a trip for 100 around the world” is the safest, most effective way to not only illustrate thought leadership but also to create brand awareness of your company as leader and innovator that offers far more than just a chance to win – but rather real ROI.

#3 Think like an attendee

Spoiler alert for those many hours spent in the booth. Nobody wants your marketing brochure! It will end up in the next trash can even if they take it, and if it makes it back to their room, it will end up in the hotel trash can. They also really don’t want a folder with multiple product one-pagers and a recent press release about your new product. Please note that this realization also spares your marketing team and admin hours of folder stuffing. Yes, you’re welcome.

The big idea here is to remember why attendees are at the conference. Most attendees are there to learn, not to purchase your “ground-breaking, best in class, fully integrated solution.” So, give them what they want like client case studies with real-world insights and thought leadership that demonstrates your knowledge and unique perspective. That’s the true value proposition that won’t get throw in the trash.

#4 Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up 

It’s great to have a successful show, but it’s what companies do afterwards that matters most. It’s all about the follow-up communications, which should include a series of e-blasts, with the first prepared ahead of time and sent within 1-2 days of show close. The post-show e-blast should provide an opportunity to continue to engage with your company by downloading a new piece of content, registering for a webinar, or scheduling a full product demo for their broader team. However, the e-blast is not enough. To see results, it must be complimented by personalized follow-up from the sales team where there is even a small percentage chance of generating new pipeline. Without this timely and dedicated post-show communications, it’s impossible to reap the benefits of your hard work pre-show and at the show.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how many people attend the tradeshow. Only that the right people make it to your booth.

Instead of leaving success to chance, put together a three-prong plan that will tip the odds in your favor. It sure beats coming up with lame excuses later.

 

Should You Bet It All on a Trade Show Launch?

When it comes to product launches, many companies hang their hat on making a big splash at the biggest trade show in their industry. And then they are disappointed.

For those targeting the healthcare IT market, that usually means HIMSS. For those targeting providers, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) show is often cited as a great launching pad.

For payers, it’s the Association of Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) Institute & Expo. For a life science/pharma audience, eyeforpharma Barcelona is a perennial favorite due to the heavy pharma presence in Europe.

But as Caterina Lui of PR Newswire points out on the Beyond PR blog, launching during a big show is not always ideal. And in another Beyond PR post, she provides excellent insights on whether your solution is even truly ready to launch.

One of the biggest drawbacks to launching at such large industry trade shows and conferences is the sheer number of companies who are planning to do likewise. This becomes an even more pronounced challenge if your company is launching a minor upgrade to its platform or app, or if your company is a newcomer or relative unknown in the market.

In both cases, a launch as much as a month or even two months before a trade show can help build momentum going into the show, instead of being crowded out by all the PR noise generated during the show. It allows you a greater opportunity to secure quality time with reporters whose conference schedules (covering educational sessions, filing stories, doing social media posts, etc.) are pretty crammed during the conference. It also allows you to brief analysts at the top firms ahead of the launch.

Here are some other best practices for trade show launches from my Amendola colleagues:

Lisa Chernikoff, Account Director – In the best-case scenario for a product launch at a trade show, you can not only include results and ROI from a beta customer or pilot site in the press release, but also have that client available for an interview at the show (or before or after). Clients speaking about their experience with the product is much more beneficial than company execs talking about features and functionality.

Also, make sure that the new product info highlights not only what it is, but also why it really matters for the target audience. What are the larger implications for the market? How does it relate to industry trends and issues?

Chad Van Alstin, Content & Media Relations Manager – As a former editor, I always found it challenging to cover product launches at trade shows without some kind of prior knowledge. Simply telling me a company was going to announce a product pretty much melded together with all the other launches after a while.

There has to be some kind of teaser or hook – a spoiler that many companies are often hesitant to give away ahead of the show – that is released to the media a week or two in advance. Otherwise, it all just becomes noise after a while, especially with a huge show like HIMSS. I think too many companies rely on the fact that editors will simply want to cover whatever it is the company is doing – but in a market with so many new names added to a long list every year, that’s just never the case. You have to spoil things a little bit in order to drum up interest.

Amy Koehlmoos, Senior Account Director – Leverage the power of social media – create a Twitter campaign around the product launch and use the show’s #hashtag to reach attendees. As with any campaign, frequency is key, but be sure to follow best practices and include plenty of non-promotional tweets to maintain an optimal content mix.

Rich media (images, videos and graphics) will help your tweets stand out above the noise, and don’t be afraid to get creative. People are much more likely to share a clever meme than a picture of a widget.

Stephanie Janard, Senior Writer — If you’re launching a new software solution, there’s no hard and fast rule that says you have to actually demo it. In this era of value-based care, why not stage a demo that shows how life can be better as a result of using your newly launched software or app? Likewise, if you have a tangible, physical product to demo, make a real show of it – preferably with a real-life example. If you can get champion customers on the act, all the better.

So there you have it from the A-Team experts (and PR Newswire). Should you bet it all on a trade show launch or not? It may be a crapshoot, but make sure you evaluate all your options both at the show and in other timeframes before committing your entire marketing budget to the effort. And please share your thoughts below on what you have seen that works well for a product launch – either at, before or after a trade show.

When you get a great opportunity, it's time to milk the PR machine.

More than One Way to Milk the PR Machine

After 14 months, dozens of emails, numerous brainstorming sessions – not to mention several bottles of Tums – my PR team was excited to have our client profiled by Forbes. And then, just like the careful-what-you-wish-for dot-com Super Bowl ad, very quickly the number of article views grew – at last count, it was up to 6,800 online views, per the ticker on the Forbes site for that article. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to milk the PR machine.

In a call with our client after the Forbes article hit, we explored what the client could do to leverage this hard-earned placement. Nonplussed, the CMO turned to her social media director, who replied that the Forbes article did not align immediately with the calendar of themes they were planning in their integrated digital marketing plan.

It is amazing, and extremely frustrating for all parties involved, how often this takes place – a great placement finally hits the web or print edition, and then it gets lost in the ether-nether digital filing cabinet, never to be seen again.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, we encourage our clients to develop integrated digital campaigns that leverage all of the various content assets being developed. But some things cannot be anticipated, and one of those things is when the national media will decide to run a story on your company. Don’t let it go to waste just because the calendar doesn’t have a placeholder for it.

To avoid such painful conversations from taking place in the future, here are a few tips for optimizing your media coverage for sales, marketing and lead generation – regardless of what campaign you are currently working on.

Leveraging earned article placements

When a quality bylined article placement, award or other newsworthy item hits – expected or not expected – there are several channels you can leverage to compound the interest among your target audiences.

One of the most effective ways is to immediately review the coverage and then list it on your company’s and executives’ Linked In profiles under publications. Over time, the list of articles will grow – this is important because these proof points can be used for award nominations, speaking abstracts, and effectively demonstrating your company’s and executives’ track record, all made quickly available by clicking on a simple hyperlink on a LinkedIn profile.

Your sales team should also get in on the act and proactively promote the article placements, blog posts, awards, speaker nominations and other PR activities. This is to their advantage, as it helps soften the sales cycle by positioning your company and executives as industry thought leaders both for prospects and existing customers.

One way to quickly accomplish this is to draft an email “wrapper” for the sales team that they can then distribute to their contacts through sales force automation tools, such as SalesForce.com. (Your PR firm can help with this.)

And last but certainly not least, be sure to display your PR hits on your web site, adjacent to the online pressroom. We advise clients to keep media coverage separate from company press releases by calling it “XYZ Company in the News” or “Media Coverage of XYZ”. If you get lots of hits and this becomes too much of a burden (a nice problem to have!), there are electronic services available that will automate the newsfeed selection and posting process for you.

Leveraging speaking engagements

So you’ve been accepted to speak at an industry conference. What’s next? Don’t wait until the conference is over to harness the power of social media. Have the speaker and your company Tweet about what an honor and thrill it is, ask if anyone else is going and invite them to attend your session.

Here are a few more practical ideas on promoting your conference workshop or concurrent session:

  • Arrange for a meet-the-speaker hour at your booth following your presentation.
  • Send e-blasts to your customers and prospects with details about your session. Even if they don’t attend the conference, it’s good for your image to make them aware that you were selected.
  • Take the extra step to print flyers to hand to people when they stop by your booth.

These are just a few ideas for milking the PR machine. Have you seen other ideas that have worked well?

Attendees pay close attention at the Aprima User Group Conference

7 Tips for Leveraging PR Opportunities at your User Group Conference

Hosting a user group conference is a huge investment, both in terms of money and manpower. Depending on the size of the event, the up-front planning can take several months and involves an extensive number of hours on the part of the marketing team, technical presenters, and executives.

Broadly speaking, the primary objective of most user conferences is to provide customers with a forum for extending the value of a company’s products. Most conferences include a mix of general sessions and break-out sessions by topic. Some of the content may be broad and non-specific, while other presentations go a bit more “under the hood” and target advanced users.

The host company will typically introduce updates to existing products, as well as new offerings. Certain sessions may highlight regulatory changes impacting product development and use. Also popular are “best-practices” sessions that feature innovative ways customers are using the company’s solutions to achieve great results.

User conferences provide an excellent opportunity for networking. Both customers and employees enjoy making a face-to-face connection with people they’ve built a relationship with over the phone or exchanging emails. Companies that have hosted annual conferences for many years know that the traditional educational sessions are only one part of the draw for users who return year after year.

For many attendees, the brain share that occurs outside of sessions is even more valuable than the presentations themselves. In fact, at every conference you can find a few participants who take their networking so seriously that they can be found chatting until wee hours of the morning – most often in the hotel bar.

Obviously when your company hosts a user conference, the biggest beneficiaries of your efforts should be your customers. However, user conferences can also be a goldmine in terms of PR opportunities. User conferences can reveal a wealth of customer success stories that can be communicated via a variety of mediums throughout the next year. They provide an opportunity to identify potential candidates for future media interviews or individuals that are willing to share a great ROI story for a case study.

A user conference is an ideal time for the hosting company to advance its PR initiatives. User group attendees tend to be the company’s happier customers and support the company’s long term success.  If you are hosting a user group meeting but are not sure how best to leverage your PR opportunities, here are 7 tips to get you started:

  • Capture client testimonials on video. Every user has a story – you just need to ask them. Request five minutes from customers to share on video how they use your product or service, why they partnered with your company, or their impression of your support operations. After securing the appropriate permission in writing, post the testimonials on your corporate website; summarize their story for social media fodder; and/or, create a post for your corporate blog. In addition, take your client’s message and use it as the basis for a larger case study. Catalog the stories for future media pitches so you have a ready source when suitable opportunities arise.

While hiring a professional videographer is ideal – especially if you want to post videos to your site – using a personal video recorder or even a smartphone gives you the ability to document customers’ stories in their own words.

  • Record important keynote presenters on video. Especially those who are recognized in the industry. Link the videos to YouTube or Vimeo and forward them to journalists to encourage their coverage of the event. To that end, if the presentation format provides an opportunity to ask questions of the speakers, go for inquiries that may be a bit controversial or at least newsy in order to pique the interest of media.
  • Invite the media. Assuming you are confident that your clients are reasonably happy and would respond positively to media inquiries, invite journalists to cover the event to amplify your company message. Offer to provide journalists with behind-the-scenes access, including exclusive interviews with customers, executives, or keynote speakers. Keep in mind that journalists tend to have limited travel budgets and may be unwilling to accept an offer for travel reimbursement. However, consider adding an industry journalist to a panel to share his or her insights, or, to provide attendees with insider tips for dealing with the media. Journalists will likely be flattered by the invite, and, because they are speaking, their publication will likely allow them to be reimbursed for travel.
  • Invite industry analysts. Industry analysts typically have more flexible budgets than journalists and may welcome the opportunity to speak directly to your end users. Again, this is only a good option if you feel comfortable that majority of your customers will offer positive feedback.
  • Take photos. Humanize your brand by taking plenty of photos of people interacting, having fun, and participating in educational and networking activities. Post the images to social media during the event and beyond.
  • Create a series of blog posts about the conference. Leverage the great content from keynote presentations and breakout sessions to create blog posts that provide value to readers long after the conference. An easy way to start is to write a summary of the event, or perhaps a craft a post that includes a catchy title and unique perspective (“10 Moments that made us LOL during Our User Conference”).
  • Do something newsworthy. Ask attendees to participate in a survey, either about a timely industry topic (“Has your practice experienced a data breach of patient records?”) or a hot news story (“Which presidential candidate will be best for healthcare?”). Publish a press release and use social media to communicate the results (while also building greater awareness of your company and your meeting.) Other newsworthy suggestions include setting a world record (the most potato chips eaten simultaneously) or participating in a hands-on charity event (building bikes for kids).

A company user conference is a major investment that also provides an excellent opportunity to build goodwill with customers. And while clients are enjoying all the educational and networking opportunities, don’t forget to leverage all the PR opportunities!

Photo credit: 2016 Aprima User Group Conference

Planning Your 2016 Trade Show Strategy

By now your marketing/trade show budget dollars are set.  You may need to be smart with how those dollars are spent, especially if you have more important shows to cover than you have budget to exhibit at them. There are several ways to sell and/or network with prospects without investing in expensive booths and extensive staffing:

  • Co-locate in a partner booth. Not only does this save money but it may also provide visibility by leveraging your partner’s brand identity.
  • Host a reception for clients and prospects the day prior to the event or on an evening during the show.
  • Schedule an invite-only dinner for media/analysts. I only suggest this if you have something significant to share.
  • Leverage social media opportunities such as live tweets from the show even if the company’s show presence is minimal – or virtual.
  • Promote news announcement(s) though PR and social channels and announce just prior to or leading up to the show.
  • Conduct a Focus Group with customers/prospects and gather their feedback on important topics.
  • Capture video customer testimonials at the show that you can showcase on your website, in PowerPoint presentations and promote through digital channels.
  • If you were accepted to speak at the show or are leading a panel presentation, promote the news in advance to clients, prospects and industry participants who may want to listen to your words of wisdom.
  • Attend networking events. I suggest vetting the many options ahead of time so you can maximize your time at the show and attend the events that make the most sense.
  • Build on your relationships. Trade shows are an ideal venue to meet new people but it’s also a time to build on existing relationships. There’s nothing like catching up over coffee to reinvigorate a long-distance relationship. Be sure to mine your contacts to reconnect with or get to know better those who’ll be attending.

And if you do invest in a booth:

  • Ensure buzz-worthy promotions that draw attendees to the booth (consider catchy props, contests, games, etc.).
  • Develop timely, topical story angles/pitching topics at least 6-months in advance to build momentum leading up to the show.
  • Execute a strategic social media campaign that has the frequency needed to rise above the noise and leverages a well-connected digital influencer to expand your reach.
  • Leverage multiple customer touchpoints to reach your audience; you can’t rely on foot traffic alone.
  • Coordinate media/analyst interviews and follow up post-show.

Whether you invest in a booth or just have a presence at a show remember it is an ideal opportunity to garner media attention. If you are launching a major news announcement, this is a prime time to send a press release in advance of the show to pique interest among media and analysts who are often in attendance at key shows and are often available to meet in person. After the show, make sure you follow-up and leverage any media opportunities.

Here’s wishing you much success for a prosperous and fun 2016 trade show experience.

 

Amendola’s “PR in a Box”

Amendola’s portfolio of event PR and marketing services help our clients execute successful media campaigns at HIMSS. Our most popular services listed below comprise a complete and effective package for promoting your company at HIMSS—but you can pick and choose and customize your own “PR in a Box,” too!

  • Theme development, trade show booth assistance and messaging
  • Buzz-worthy promotions that draw attendees to the booth (consider catchy props, contests, games, etc.)
  • Strategic social media campaigns with the frequency needed to rise above the noise and that leverages a well-connected digital influencer to expand your reach
  • Create multiple customer touchpoints to reach your audience—because you can’t rely on foot traffic alone!
  • Schedule an invite-only dinner event for media/analysts
  • Conduct a Focus Group with customers/prospects
  • Capture video customer testimonials (ask about our inclusive video + editing package)
  • Event reporting—our senior writers can cover your presence at HIMSS and collect a treasure trove of information for your future PR and content marketing initiatives

For pricing, contact Jodi Amendola at jamendola@acmarketingpr.com or 602-614-3182.