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Eight Steps to Optimize Media Outreach
Ensure your newsworthy show-floor activities get the press attention they deserve by following these tips from a trio of media-relations experts. By Lena Valenty
If you're like many exhibitors, you are probably ignoring an influential segment of your target audience: journalists. While prospects and clients deserve most of your attention and are assumably the main reason you exhibit at trade shows, engagement often starts and ends with the sales cycle. Establishing a relationship with members of the press, however, can lead to increased exposure before and after the show, from social-media posts spreading the word about an interesting exhibit promotion to feature articles detailing a new product and blogs that include interviews with your company's CEO. And the best part is that this sort of attention requires minimal monetary investment.

With a little foresight, you can add tactics and activities to your exhibit program that strategically target members of the press. If the thought of including more items on your existing to-do list causes night terrors, take a deep breath. We sat down with three media-relations experts and identified eight tips for courting these important influencers.


1. Find Your Audience
The first step in informing the media about your company's presence at an upcoming trade show is not as simple as crafting a generic "Come visit us at booth 555" email and hitting "send." First, you need to establish a contact list of writers and editors who represent publications that are of interest to your target audience and who are likely to attend the show.

Some show-management teams will share a list of preregistered press reps with exhibitors upon request, giving you a major head start. But if show management isn't so helpful, you'll have to do some research to find out which publications will be in attendance. And according to Marilyn Kroner, principal of Kroner Communications, a marketing-communications firm based in Boulder, CO, you'll want to begin that process several weeks before the event. This can encompass little more than entering the show name into Google to see what magazines, websites, blogs, etc. covered last year's event and creating a short list of those media outlets.

If you are already familiar with the trade publications serving your industry, visit their websites and reach out to their editors and writers to see if anyone from these companies will be on site. Assuming someone is attending, find out the name and contact information of the registered representative so that you can get in touch with him or her directly before, during, and after the show. If, however, you don't know which media outlets to target, query your sales reps – or even a few VIP customers – to determine which industry magazines or blogs they frequently read and trust. Then add those publications to your list of targeted press outlets.



2. Vet Your Contact List
Depending on the specificity of your product and how narrow your market niche is, you may not want to include every attending journalist on your initial contact list. Sure, you can cast a wide net, send them press releases or include them in an e-blast, and hope for the best. But according to Susan Brauer, owner of Brauer Consulting Group LLC in Minneapolis, just because a journalist is attending an event at which you're exhibiting doesn't necessarily mean he or she deserves much of your attention.

If you surveyed sales reps or current customers on what media outlets are of interest to your audience, begin the vetting process by cross-checking that list of publications with your tally of outlets that covered the show last year – or the media preregistration directory sourced from show management. If you note any writers or editors representing your targeted media outlets, those are the people you most want to connect with and the ones that likely deserve a little bit of legwork on your part before reaching out.



Seven Deadly Sins
Today's media-relations strategies are a far cry from what they were before email, social media, and Millennials entered the equation. So to help you adapt to the modern milieu, Erienne Muldoon of Virtual Press Office (a PR Newswire company) shares the seven deadly sins of media relations in our current digital age.

1. Catering to Google:
Many press releases seem written to appeal more to Google's algorithms than journalists' needs. Search-engine optimization is important, but don't sacrifice substance for searchability.

2. Going Old School:
It's great to have hard-copy press kits available, but always offer a digital version as well.

3. Failing to Focus: Don't include an excessive number of links or news items in a single press release or email. One message with one link is best, because if writers need to pore over your copy to find the nuggets relevant to them, you're not likely to make it into their publications.

4. Sending Dead Links: Ensure any links in your press releases work and will continue to function long after the show. Also make certain all links are to mobile-enabled websites.

5. Being Camera Shy: Having high-res images and videos ready helps journalists satisfy the multimedia requirements many publications have. Without those assets, you're forcing the writer to work harder to give your company coverage.

6. Playing Hide and Seek: If journalists can't reach you, they can't write about you. So be sure to include direct contact information for media inquiries on your website's press or "Contact Us" page.

7. Crying Wolf: If you issue a press release every time a client signs a contract, you're going to become white noise. So make sure you have something important to say before you click "send."
3. Customize Your Message
With your streamlined press list in hand, the next step is to figure out what you want to say to members of the media, as it will likely differ from your message to clients and prospects. "You must entice journalists, and you need to do it concisely because they don't have the time to dig through a pile of information to understand how your company and its products apply to their readership," Kroner says. "The right messaging is critical to successful interviews before, during, and after the show. So your initial email should include clear positioning, product differentiation, and something of interest to that publication's readership." In other words, while there's a time and place for traditional press releases, you're just going through the motions if all you do is send the exact same missive to every media outlet on your list and call it a day. A targeted press strategy requires a far more personal and nuanced approach.

Before reaching out, familiarize yourself with each publication. Know which column or writer you're targeting. If you hope to score an inclusion in a magazine's weekly new-products roundup, be able to reference that column by name. It can also help to mention content a media outlet has published in the past. For example, "I really enjoyed the feature you recently did on technology. Since my company is a leader in virtual reality, I'd love to meet up at the show and learn how I might be able to help you develop future content." If it's obvious that you know the publication and are at least vaguely familiar with its content, the writer or editor will be more receptive to your message. And according to sources, if you haven't done your homework, it's glaringly obvious – and highly annoying – to experienced writers and editors.

"It's not just about having a list of media outlets; it's about what an exhibitor does with that information," says Robyn Davis, trade show strategy specialist and owner of When I Need Help (WINH). "How much thought and creativity you pour into your communications with press reps will determine whether you can squeeze every drop of potential value out of each opportunity." It takes a bit of work on the front end, but by devoting the time to learn more about the media outlets sending journalists to a particular show, you can ultimately gain insight into what their readers are interested in – and those readers could very well be potential customers.



4. Issue Your Release
Should you decide to reach out to the masses in addition to the writers and editors on your targeted list, the best way to do so is via an e-blast or press release. Ideally, the missive will focus on new products or innovations that your company will be featuring at the show and why they're relevant to the industry. When in doubt, stick to the five W's: who, what, where, when, and why. If your company doesn't have a key announcement, e.g., a new-product launch, focus on any conference sessions at which someone from your company is speaking, promotional giveaways or drawings you're hosting, and so on. Compose a media advisory with this information and distribute it to each journalist on your list prior to the show.

Any press releases you send via email or in a press kit should also be distributed through newswire services such as www.prnewswire.com or www.businesswire.com. Newswires will likely have the best reach, but if the cost of their distribution is not in your budget (prices range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the geographical distribution, number of words in the release, etc.), consider using inexpensive or free distribution sites such as WebWire (www.webwire.com) or Pitch Engine (www.pitchengine.com).

Pitch Engine, for example, allows users to create online press releases, media advisories, announcements, etc. and then share the information through a number of social-media sites, including LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, all for a nominal fee. These sites will at least result in some online postings and potential pickups. And by placing hyperlinks within the release that direct readers to an appropriate page on your website or a show-specific microsite, you can easily track the resulting traffic.

You may also want to send electronic or hard-copy press releases – or even full-blown press kits – to highly targeted members of the media prior to the show, particularly if you'll be announcing an important product at the event that is likely to receive media attention. You can stipulate that these releases are under an embargo (meaning journalists are not be allowed to make the information public until a certain date) or only send them to journalists who are willing to comply with a temporary nondisclosure agreement. As soon as the product announcement is made or the embargo date arrives, the agreement expires, and the media can release their articles immediately – resulting in a nice little scoop for them and quicker coverage for you.



5. Draw Attention on Twitter
For many journalists, cold calls and emailed press releases are being usurped by tweets and Instagram posts. If your targeted media outlets – and perhaps their writers and editors – have robust social-media accounts, it's likely that this is a viable channel through which to reach them.

"Many journalists use Twitter to share content, but statistics show that they don't often use it to find content," Davis says. "So to successfully use Twitter to connect with journalists, shift your focus from promoting your company to drawing media reps' attention." Instead of posting press releases and tagging journalists, she suggests following them and replying to any relevant posts. In her words, "Reveal your company's expertise or unique point of view through casual but well-crafted and timely conversation." For instance, if a writer at a targeted publication tweets a link to a recent industry white paper that pertains to your firm's wheelhouse, respond to the post, thank him or her for sharing the news, and offer a brief summary of how one of your executives feels about the paper's main takeaway.

Brauer suggests a slightly more structured approach. "When using social media to promote your presence, put together a calendar with topic ideas, dates, links, etc. that you can use to create buzz leading up to the show," she says. "Don't just post self-serving content that says things like 'Look how great we are' or 'Come see us at booth #1234.' Instead, position your company as a thought leader by sharing content that might be of interest to media reps and their readers."



Get The Deets
Today's media-relations strategies are a far cry from what they were before email, social media, and Millennials entered the equation. So to help you adapt to the modern milieu, Erienne Muldoon of Virtual Press Office (a PR Newswire company) shares the seven deadly sins of media relations in our current digital age.

Hey Press (www.hey.press)
Aimed at startups, Hey Press is a free service in which users can search for relevant journalists by keyword, e.g., "manufacturing," "home audio," etc. Search results include journalists' names, publications, recent articles, and social-media handles.

Just Reach Out (www.justreachout.io)
Signing up is free, but more robust features, such as video tutorials and on-demand pitch-writing help, will cost you $199 to $699 per month. In addition to providing contacts, the site searches Reddit and Quora for trending topics relevant to your industry, giving you an opportunity to chime in and position your company as a thought leader.

Muck Rack (www.muckrack.com)
A full-service media and communications platform, Muck Rack is for larger companies and budgets. It includes portals for marketers seeking journalists to pitch to as well as journalists and bloggers looking to increase their portfolios. It also offers real-time monitoring of what's being said about your company in mainstream outlets and on social media.

Cision (www.cision.com)
This option allows you to search nearly 1 billion journalist and social-media influencer profiles and create a "briefing book" with such information as editorial needs, pitching preferences, and contact methods. The site also produces guides and resources for tracking media metrics and writing press releases.


6. Set Your Agenda
Distributing press releases, maintaining email contact with targeted journalists, and having a social-media presence are all part of a strategy to get members of the media to your exhibit. It's unlikely the press will request interviews or private tours of your booth out of the blue – unless there is already a lot of buzz about your product or company. So be proactive and start booking media appointments several weeks before the show. Depending on the number of contacts you plan to pitch, you may call or email, but whatever communication method you choose, include a compelling reason for the media rep to meet with you by pointing out any company or product announcements you are making related to the show.

But before you slate these all-important press meetings, consider where you want to host them. If you don't have a quiet, semiprivate area in your exhibit, another option is to arrange meetings in the show's press room, which most shows will allow. Off-site meetings at a restaurant over breakfast or lunch are often welcome alternatives, as they can be scheduled around the exhibit-hall hours, which reduces the risk of time conflicts and missed appointments. Davis suggests connecting over coffee or a meal because it allows more one-on-one time without the distraction of the show floor. Plus the offer of a bite to eat or a latte can be an added incentive to meet.

When it comes to picking up the check, it never hurts to offer to treat the rep to a meal or some refreshment. However, some outlets have strict rules about journalists accepting anything that could be considered a gift, so your generosity may be declined.


7. Keep Your Appointments
Whether you arrange in-booth meetings or plan to connect over coffee or lunch, be succinct in communicating your content, make it applicable to that publication's readers, and don't keep anyone waiting. Having said that, be prepared for no-shows and rescheduling. If media reps are running behind schedule, do your best to accommodate them. To prevent appointments from running into one another, Kroner suggests adding "flex time" to your schedule – such as a 20-minute window between interviews – to allow for late arrivals as well as impromptu meetings.

Also familiarize yourself with the schedules of your company's top brass attending the event. "Determine which of your executives will be available for press meetings during the show, learn their schedules, and make sure they commit to keeping certain times open for interviews," Kroner says. She also cautions exhibitors to be sure they have the right executives available for the writers and editors with which they're meeting. For example, if you are in the technology industry and the publication is highly technical, you might want to include your vice president of engineering. If it's a business publication, consider inviting your CEO or CFO to participate in the interview.

For targeted outlets, reach out in advance to determine writers' and editors' specific wants, needs, interview requests, and story angles. Doing so can ensure you have any requested materials at the ready as well as the appropriate individuals on hand to answer questions. This approach also gives you the time and framework to work with your marketing and/or communications teams to hone your message and prepare any company reps with relevant sound bites.



8. Follow Up With Guests
Just because the show is over doesn't mean you should discontinue your press-relations efforts. Follow up with every journalist who stopped by your booth at the show, even if he or she didn't do a sit-down interview. Thank writers and editors for their time, provide any images or information requested during your meetings, and offer to arrange post-show conversations if necessary. You want to beat them to the punch in terms of keeping the conversation going and demonstrate that you're accessible and willing to help them produce any future articles.

That said, Kroner advises against becoming a squeaky wheel. "There's definitely a fine line between being helpful and being obnoxious," she cautions. "You don't want to smother them with your attentiveness, but you do want to make yourself available in case they need information or want to conduct a follow-up interview." Position one of your company's product specialists, researchers, or execs as an expert in a particular area and offer him or her as a source. This often opens the door for more product- or company-specific coverage. The key is not to hound media reps, but rather to open the lines of communication and keep your firm top of mind until the next big industry event rolls around.

If your efforts fail to result in any coverage after the show, don't despair. The fact that you arranged any on- or off-floor meetings with members of the press is a feat in and of itself. Mention these interactions in your post-show report to upper management, and know that you've laid the foundation for future articles and media attention.



Off-Floor Options
Press relations at a trade show aren't just about what happens in the exhibit hall. Below are several ways your company can connect with journalists off the show floor.

Conference Sessions: If your company is hosting a learning session, inviting the press can provide more exposure for your firm and demonstrate its involvement in industry education. You can also issue a press release announcing the session or spread the word via social-media channels to alert attendees and position your company as a thought leader worthy of being on industry reps' radars.

Press Rooms: While many shows have done away with elaborate press rooms, most provide at least an area where writers and editors can work. And more often than not, show organizers allow exhibiting companies to stock that room with press kits free of charge. Having a few company brochures, copies of your latest press release, product data sheets for any new items being displayed at the show, or business cards with contact information for your company's spokesperson can be a great way to get the attention of a press rep who signed up for the show late and therefore was never on your list to begin with – or to remind press reps of their prescheduled meetings with you. Also, some events allow exhibitors to sponsor breakfasts, lunches, and coffee stations in the press room, which will give your company additional exposure.

Awards Programs: Most shows organize awards programs honoring the best new products being presented to the industry. If you win, your company will likely receive additional exposure during and after the event. So check the show's website for information on any awards programs your company could enter. If there aren't any offered, talk to show management about adding an at-show competition for its exhibitors. "An award-winning product will be award winning until the end of its life, so that win can be leveraged for years," Kroner says.

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