Time to take Trade Shows out of Room 101 and Back into the Successful B2B Hi-Tech Mix

Think back to when Liverpool was at the top of its game and the Trade Show was king. A while back, yeah I know, but not that long ago.

Time was, we trooped every week or so up to the Olympias and the NECs, staggering back with our free branded rucksacks, t-shirts and hundreds of pamphlets and glossy brochures. For quite a spell, the big expo – dominated by CeBIT and ComDex in our industry – was where vendors, the buyers and the press came together.

And then… we just stopped. It’s easy to see one big driver of that; the Internet, which meant physical face time was no longer the only way for the three parts of the community to interface.

So last ten years or so, trade events got pushed back to the bottom of the B2B marketing and communications deck. Brands didn’t want to take their best sales people out for three days, nor did they want to hire the space or pay for the show furniture and collateral. And there was a recession or two in there as well that also meant customers couldn’t justify as much time out the office, either.

To be honest, the last one I was at with a client in the Noughties I got sold to more manning the stand than I got to talk to prospects – and the prospects that did drift by were students bussed in to fill the numbers. So we took them almost completely out of the PR mix for our clients here at Sarum.

But I have had my eyes opened, and happy to say I’m doing a full 360 on this!

 Events – done right – really do matter again.

I’ve just been to two really great, well curated, events that have restored my faith in the mechanism after all these long years.

What links the two – Future of the Contact Centre run by Engage Business Media and the British Legal Technology Forum run by NetLaw Media– is great organisation and focus, which I want to call out to.

But what they also showed me is that, done properly, events can still deliver the brand awareness and opportunities for PR that we can all seize on.

So what was great about these events? One, they were organised and run by professional, small teams with real knowledge of and interest in the topic covered. The Contact Centre one is helped by the fact it’s run by the guys at Engage, who have genuine, long-term visibility of the sector and its concerns, too. By being controlled by people with knowledge of what the community actually wants discussed, very high quality gates are ensured for presentations and the like.

Two, they are light touch in terms of time and delegates. This isn’t about stuffing Hall 3 at Olympia with as many paying exhibitors as you can and making out like bandits with their cash, it’s about delivery – there’s a real contract here with delegates and exhibitors; we know this stuff, so we won’t waste your time; come to our event and it’ll honestly be worth your while.

That kind of commitment leads to customers trusting their day out of the office will be worth it, and commercial partners who get something back. And it’s great for the organiser’s bottom line, too; at Future of the Contact Centre, you’re talking about 30% on the spot renewals for next year, it’s that good a product for those who back it.

I could go on but I’m not in the events business. Here instead is what I learned about what businesses can get from a great modern trade show.

  • Plan your campaign carefully Don’t assume the right people will rock up on the day. They won’t; it’s not 1991. Diary out the event and build a comms programme round it, working with Twitter and the event’s hashtags and resources in advance, but also on the day – I recommend a dedicated team member whose job isn’t to square up the fliers on the stand, but to Tweet out during the day what’s happening and communicate the excitement and draw people to the stand.
  • The boys are back in town Press that won’t go to a trade show because they think it’ll be a waste of time will meet (by phone, Skype or coffee) to talk with your heavy hitter over to do the keynote. Victory these days is securing that interaction, not getting them on the Tube to the event any more, so look for as much outreach around, but not necessarily tied directly to, the event as you can.
  • A lot more than a free lollipop A lot can happen at a stand or an expo now that is content-friendly. Customers may be there that you just never see otherwise, as are company players, analysts, press, respected influencers. Seize your chance and get out your video camera – At the Contact Centre event, our client VoiceSage was able to garner significant face to face interview time with all such, which we shall be using for content like blogs and much more, while at the Legal show our customer Repstor got significant mileage out of a product launch with a top law firm Eversheds Sutherland which we are already doing lots with. In years gone by, your job might have been to walk the client back and forth to the press office to meet five journos; these days, your job is to grab a compelling 30 seconds on tape with stakeholders you only see on Skype, which you will get to use over and over (including as ways to talk to journalists).

I’m happy my clients went to these shows, and I am happy with what we got – and will get – for them in terms of collateral and coverage. So I am convinced that with good planning and social support Carina’s Lifetime Show Ban can be relaxed – and I would recommend other teams look at this neglected channel with new eyes, too.

That’s quite enough changing of minds for one day. Hope your next show goes well.

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Founder of Digital PR & Brand Journalism agency, Sarum

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