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The Best PR Recipes Include Spice, Beef, and an Unexpected Ingredient
by Carin Warner

 
   
 
   

I am often asked, where’s the best place to eat in Boston?

My choice is a French restaurant near Copley Square that Paris’ top chefs frequent when they visit Massachusetts. The restaurant is small and unpretentious, but a meal there launches you straight to heaven. Even a bowl of soup is a treat because every spice and condiment within it stands out keenly and exquisitely, and the combination of ingredients blends into a perfect and sumptuous whole.

It’s that combination that I think of when considering the integration of trade shows with public relations activities, and the importance of leveraging their combined power in highly competitive markets. The unparalleled impact of face-to-face brand experiences offered through trade shows — added to the prestige of achieving favorable pre- and post-show mentions from top-tier journalists — packs a powerful punch. A recent survey by Showtime Enterprises indicates that 80 percent of three-dimensional marketers are responsible for multi-million-dollar programs, with one of their largest line items being trade shows. This means that shows are increasingly jammed with competing brands, and rising above the message clutter requires the perfect combination of a tightly integrated public relations and trade show plan.

I define public relations as a set of strategies and tactics for reaching the right stakeholders at the right time with credible and compelling messages that support brand positioning and make the brand newsworthy. The credible and compelling messages are especially important today because media, analysts and investors are wary of companies whose hype dwarfs their substance. Public relations strategies are particularly well-suited for demonstrating that there are many brands whose added value and staying power make them worth watching — and exploring at crowded shows.

Now on to the main question, how do you link trade show marketing with public relations for best results? Public relations professionals have access to a giant cookbook of strategies and tactics — ranging from product launch releases to media and analyst briefings to press kits to show sponsorships. Trade show marketers seeking to leverage these tactics to distinguish their brands should keep the following ingredients and supplies on hand:

Chili Pepper

Journalists often complain that the press releases, press kits and other written materials they receive at trade shows are boring, bland and impossible to understand. The first step for engaging journalists before, during and after shows is to add bite and spice to written materials, and to make sure that readers don’t have to struggle to ferret out their meaning and impact. Minimize technical jargon, and use creative, snappy headlines to draw journalists’ attention to press release copy.

Beef

Product announcements need an external context to engage customers, media, investors and research firms. Think beyond the story you want to tell — and instead, consider the needs of these stakeholders. They will want to know, “Where’s the beef? Why should we care about your story? What difference will it make to our work lives, our personal lives, or the lives of our readers and viewers?”

Horseradish

Add a strong ingredient to your public relations outreach that will make targeted media take notice. Consider, for instance, conducting a national survey on high-level issues and trends of interest to your marketplace, and releasing the results during an important show. Associating your brand with the results of a professionally executed survey cements the perception that your company understands and can meet the needs of its customers. Surveys tend to receive generous press coverage if the results are reliable, valid and substantive.

Food Styling

Think about the issues or trends that are currently engaging the media, and use trade show briefings to demonstrate your company’s well-founded “insider viewpoint” on these topics. If you can leverage media meetings to position your company as an indispensable or provocative source on hot issues, you’ll develop editorial relationships that lead to ongoing mentions of your brand.

Celebrity Wall Photos

Just as photos of well-known patrons show customers that a restaurant has panache, client listings and case studies show the media and analysts that your brand is worth following. Although many customers justifiably request anonymity, capitalize on the interest of those who seek the limelight — through joint briefings or announcements at conferences, for example. A focus on your customers will help your brand, too.

An Attentive Waiter

Conference-oriented public relations programs offer an exceptional opportunity to be attentive to key media and constituencies, and return from shows with ideas for making emotional connections with them. Using the opportunity to meet face-to-face with these important audiences cannot be underestimated.

Several years ago, a manufacturer we were doing public relations for took this lesson to heart. The company was about to introduce a line of children’s clothes when it heard from stakeholders that the market was too saturated to embrace its new brand “as is.” We recommended that they launch a non-profit children’s foundation as it introduced its clothing line — quickly achieving solid marketplace positioning by identifying its brand with an important social concern. Had the company not been attentive to its constituents, its launch could have fallen flat — and corporate executives would not have enjoyed philanthropy’s unexpected rewards.

That leads to my final point. Following traditional recipes from a public relations cookbook will not always provide added value to trade show marketing. All good recipes must be constantly updated with the freshest ingredients available. However, the best recipes will always offer a feast for stakeholders’ and journalists’ eyes and ears — engaging them with content that has zip and zest, keeping them interested by hitting their “hot buttons,” and compelling them to write or buy when the unexpected happens. What’s important is not duplicating recipes from show to show, but convincing the media that among 100 or 1,000 exhibiting brands, yours is and will remain worthy of their attention.


     
   
     
   

The Author

 

Carin Warner is president of Warner Communications of Manchester, MA (warnerpr.com), a full-service public relations agency specializing in brand image development, corporate and product publicity, and corporate identity programs. She can be reached at 978-526-1960 or at carin@warnerpr.com.

     
   
     
   
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Copyright 2002 by Carin Warner. All rights reserved.

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