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Engaging the Press
ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
Q.
I attend most of my firm's trade shows to personally handle the press. But when I'm not on site, how best can I train staffers to engage with members of the media?

A.
Preparedness is key, especially if your staffers have never dealt with the media. In fact, some staffers completely ignore attendees with press badges. Most seem entirely flummoxed when journalists introduce themselves and are unsure whether they're authorized to answer questions. Others are so chatty that they may unintentionally leak information that is not yet public. So it's crucial to have a plan in place and share it with your entire booth staff so they know how to interact with media reps.

For example, should staffers zip their lips and direct journalists to a company spokesperson? Should they allow press reps to take photos? And if not, how should they politely communicate your no-photos policy? What if an editor wants to shoot video or interview someone on camera? Is that allowed? Decide what actions you want staffers to take, and make sure everyone's on the same page.

Of course, you can always stipulate that staffers direct members of the media to a designated press liaison within your exhibit if you can't be on the show floor. This is especially helpful if your booth staff comprises salespeople on the hunt for buyers, as their instincts may be to give any attendee with a journalist's badge the cold shoulder, which could result in a missed opportunity – or leave a bad taste in press reps' mouths that will likely impede your company's future media-relations efforts.

If you expect your staffers to intera
ct with journalists, use the following media-training basics to help facilitate conversations that meet press reps' needs but avoid oversharing or diving into off-the-table topics.


➤  Prepare and practice a company- or product-specific elevator speech. This can be as short as one sentence but shouldn't be longer than three. Focus on what your company or product does, what makes it special, and why anybody should care.

➤  Anticipate questions that may be asked by media reps and rehearse appropriate answers. Having prepared answers is especially wise if your company has recently received any negative press that you're worried might come up at the show.

➤  Prepare polished sound bites, i.e., key messages that can be woven into answers given to a media contact. A well-crafted sound bite with a statistic, data nugget, or clever turn of phrase often means a direct quote in a resulting article that says exactly what you want it to.

➤  Don't be afraid to say "We will get back to you on that" if you don't have the answer to a question. But then be certain that someone at the company actually follows up in a timely manner.

➤  Always assume that anything you say is fair game, and never repeat a negative implication or statement as part of your response. If a reporter asks, "Didn't the previous product model have a lot of problems that led to low customer satisfaction?," don't acknowledge past failures. Rather, focus on positive and forward-thinking messages such as, "We continuously strive to achieve the highest quality possible" or "Our engineering team is working hard to make the new widget a clear leader in its class."
— EXHIBITOR staff
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Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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