Turning Three Days into a Year’s Worth of Sales: How to Maximize Your Trade Show ROI

by Charles Epstein

A typical trade show offers a brief three-day window to capture attention. After months of planning, the show comes and goes in the blink of an eye. In the end, Sales and Marketing may have little to show for it but a stack of leads that may, in fact, lead nowhere. Focusing trade show efforts solely on customer acquisition is bound to result in disappointment.

Integrating a slate of public relations (PR) activities — from securing placement in an industry pub that will be distributed at the show to preparing press kits — can result in third-party validation that will make an impression on prospects before, during, and after they have left the trade show floor.

Creating and Executing a Strategy

The key to a successful PR campaign rests on the ability to generate a steady stream of integrated activities, which will deliver better and more ongoing results. In short, you need to identify blocks of editorial, advertising, and trade show exhibition opportunities that get your company and its message in front of focused audiences consistently over a sustained period — typically beginning at least three months prior to the trade show. The following offers an example of the key stages of an integrated program:

● Identify an editorial opportunity with a publication that is slated for distribution at the trade show (in addition to its standard distribution) and secure your company, product, or service as part of a feature article in that issue. Keep in mind that publications may assign editorial content at least three months in advance of the issue date.

Place a three-month ad buy to coincide with the feature article/issue. Listings in print and online buyer’s guides provide another avenue for getting your name in front of prospects.

Distribute a media advisory at least two weeks prior to the show offering a “sneak preview” of any key announcements that will be made. Perhaps your company is launching a new product, announcing a service enhancement, or partnering with a new distributor. These advisories present an ideal opportunity to secure appointments at the show for product demos or interviews.

Publicize the fact that if someone from your company is a featured speaker at the conference associated with the trade show. Get the word out in an e-mail blast to attending media representatives at least one month in advance. Think of the media as an extension of your customer base. Make sure you have hard copies of the presentation on hand at the show along with contact information for the speaker(s).

● Prepare a press kit for distribution at the show. Typically, a press kit will include a company backgrounder, product information, news clippings, and case studies. Most important, the press kit should include a formal press release with an exclusive dateline for the trade show. Make sure you leave an ample supply of press kits in the media/press room on the opening day of the show. These rooms literally serve as sanctuaries for media representatives looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the trade show floor. Oftentimes, the media will head to the press room at the start of a show pick up exhibitor information and plan which vendors they want to visit on the trade show floor. So, make sure your company’s booth number is prominently displayed on the kit — make it easy for the media rep to find you on the floor!

● Send personalized follow-up e-mails to prospects no later than two to three weeks after the show. The e-mail can excerpt your bylined article and/or case study that appeared in the trade publication and include a message that reinforces your value proposition.

Company Branding: The Giveaway that Keeps on Giving

No trade show strategy is complete without the ubiquitous giveaway. Who can resist a free coffee mug or t-shirt? I can recall at least two occasions where I was almost mowed down by temporarily deranged senior executives lunging for a free t-shirt. However, few branded give aways are thoughtfully woven into — or support — an overarching PR and marketing strategy. Ideally, the giveaway brings in traffic and has a life beyond the show. One of our most successful giveaways involved a set of toy antlers — an image that was carried through every piece of our client’s marketing and PR collateral leading up to the show. Not only were the antlers quickly snapped up, attendees actually wore them as they made their way across the show floor. And because they were the centerpiece of the company’s marketing campaign, they were immediately identifiable and linked back to the company. Two years later, the antlers continue to be a popular giveaway at trade shows around the world.

(Consistency + Repetition) x Third-Party Validation = Sales

There’s an adage that sales are made one handshake at a time. Although times have changed, sales success has and will likely always be measured one customer at a time — regardless of the product or service, buyer (consumer or B2B), or channel (face-to-face or Internet). Marketing and PR, however, are an entirely different story — they are not one-hit wonders. For example, cashing in on an editorial opportunity and getting a mention in a trade pub article is not, in and of itself, likely to make the phones ring and the front office jump. Effective marketing and PR relies on a strategy that delivers a consistent message to a targeted audience across a variety of channels over a sustained period. These channels — i.e., national, trade, and vertical market publications — can also provide a critical element — third-party validation from an objective source. For example, a case study that highlights how your product or service helped a customer succeed in its market will resonate louder and stronger among prospects than any other message — more so when it’s found in the editorial pages of a respected industry publication.

Too many companies take a hit or miss approach when it comes to their overaching sales and marketing strategy; so too with their trade show initiatives. Exhibiting at a trade show can be costly and certainly disruptive as it requires the relocation of critical resources, i.e., senior sales people who would otherwise be in the office coordinating the sales team, or on important sales calls. So in order to maximize your return on your trade show investment , you need to build around it a strategy that integrates PR to deliver your message consistently and effectively to your targeted audience — at each “customer touch point” — well before the show and well after the show has ended. For companies large and small and across all industries, an integrated approach is the surest way of maximizing sales and marketing ROI .

About the Author

Charles Epstein is the President and Founder of BackBone, Inc., a public relations, marketing communications, and business development firm. He is a widely cited authority on business communications and mass media; his writing on these topics have appeared in a host of prominent national business, trade, and general publications. When he is not consulting with clients and developing marketing and PR strategies, he is co-host and producer of Work in Progress, a podcast on “work. life and everything in between,” produced in conjunction with WorldatWork.

Tech, Workforce and Healthcare PR, marketing communications, bus development.

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