Harnessing the unique benefits of b-to-b trade shows

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Despite a climate of tight resources and slashed budgets, businesses can still capitalize on marketing and sales investments through trade shows. However, the most important actions happen months before you set foot on the show floor. Careful preshow planning will allow marketers to maximize lead generation, as well as educate target audiences and recruit distributors. By following a few simple rules, you can boost your trade show ROI. Begin with developing a detailed calendar filled with key industry events for the year as well as crucial deadlines for submitting materials. By searching industry association websites, trade journals and publisher websites, you'll be able to pinpoint the trade shows that will yield the best returns. Next, determine the key messages your company wants to share with the trade show audience, then build initiatives to deliver them effectively. For example, if your company will be launching a new product in the upcoming year, identify the trade shows that will put your introduction in the brightest spotlight for your target audience. For maximum exposure to your company's target segment, it is critical to conduct customer and prospect outreach well in advance of the show. This includes emails and e-newsletters to inform customers and prospects about show attendance, product launches, speaking opportunities your company may have, the location of your company's booth and what you plan to show. In addition, don't forget to reach out to the media that will be in attendance. The best way to draw media attention to your company is with something new to the market, such as a product launch, a new approach to an old problem or an original twist on an old product. Send out a separate, concise media alert as a teaser for the media to visit your company's booth and secure interviews. In addition, press releases further detail what you will be showcasing at your booth. Connecting with key editors will drive your messaging beyond your existing and potential customer base, reaching prospects you didn't know existed. Because editors' calendars fill up quickly, it's essential to secure appointments with the media in advance of the show. These include press conferences, one-on-one interviews, roundtable discussions, sponsorships and speaking engagements. These all supplement event participation by giving in-depth exposure and more interaction with key targets. A press conference communicates key messages to a group of journalists at the same time, while one-on-one interviews deliver to a more tightly focused media group. Yet, both require early planning to coordinate with a careful selection of editors. A strong news angle—with invitations sent out at least three weeks in advance of the show—is vital to secure optimal attendance. Additionally, speaking opportunities, including panel discussions, case study presentations and sessions on industry trends also add to a company's exposure and visibility, whether or not the company is actually exhibiting at the show. Make sure to film your company's speaking opportunities and tape customer event footage, as these can be used in post-show promotional efforts, further increasing your ROI. It's vital to coordinate a media briefing with your sales team to go over key messages, as well as the process for booth tours and interviews. Editors can ask a variety of questions, so make sure to clearly define the necessary details that your team must cover, as well as anything confidential that cannot be shared with the media, such as pricing and company financial information. Provide your team with simple responses or a plan for what to do in such a situation. Additionally, it's critical to plan strategically how to entice attendees into the booth. Incentives are a great way to attract attention and can include an exclusive “first look” at a new product or a special giveaway, like an iPod or iPad. It doesn't matter how you get involved in harnessing the unique power of a trade show—just be sure you do. Your sales numbers will thank you for it. Vijaya Singh-Dhillon is managing director at ABI Marketing Public Relations ( She can be reached at [email protected]
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