I almost never go to a conference or trade show as anything other than a speaker or press.
And I prefer going as press.
I get great access to all the exhibitors so I can quickly learn a lot about the companies. I write a lot, here and other places, so I’m always looking for interesting content. Being press at a trade show gets me that content.
As part of the press I get an interesting perspective of how different companies deal with the press. It’s difficult for exhibitors to understand that perspective because you’ve probably never approached 100 booths in a 3 day period as the press like I did this week.
I want to share with you the different ways companies engaged with me and my impression of that. I want to do this so that it might influence you the next time you do a trade show and you are approached by the press.
What I can tell you is that there are companies that really get it and there are companies that really don’t get it. And the size of the company does not matter. I’ve experienced good and bad interactions across the board.
Here are a couple stories of the people that didn’t get it:
Probably the most memorable interaction was that I went up to a booth, the marketing director was right there. She wan’t talking to anyone. She wasn’t on the phone. She just looked tired. I told her I was with the press and that I was doing a story on the use of Web marketing in the machining industry. She asked me if I could come back tomorrow.
I told her sure.
But there was no way that was going to happen. There were 1,800 exhibitors occupying 1.2 million net square feet of exhibit space. I only got to approach probably 100 companies. There was no way I was coming back to her section of the trade show.
As I moved through the trade show, I also repeatedly was told that I needed to talk to the marketing director “but they aren’t here right now.” The marketing director is moving around constantly. Again, I was told to come back.
If there is one frustrating thing about being the press, it’s that. I was once at a trade show where Dish satellite service was exhibiting. I wasn’t going to write a story on them. I just was curious about them from a personal perspective. No one was allowed to talk to me other than the public relations director. And, of course, they weren’t around. I just wanted to know if Dish internet service would be useful for me in my home.
Here’s why this is such a huge failure: The press is an extension of your public relations team. Or maybe is your public relations team if you are smaller. The press will amplify your message outside of the walls of the trade show. They will write your story and get it published. You don’t have to do anything other than talk to them for 5 minutes.
I want to be as clear about this as possible: Don’t dis the press!
You are just throwing away money.
Now, let me tell you about the good interactions:
The best interactions happen with the largest companies. I would rather go up to a massive booth with tons of potential customers swarming around it than a small 10×10 booth with low quality signs in the back of the show that no one is talking to. Why? Because I know the big company is going to stop everything to talk to me.
I am offered coffee, beer, food. I’m taken to private meeting rooms inside the booth. (Those are cool, btw. You wouldn’t know they are there. They’re like that hidden room behind the fireplace that you can only get to if you know which book to pull out.)
I’m asked to sit down. I’m instantly talking to the global director of PR or marketing.
I once went to a booth and the people were so nervous I was there you could hear the shaking in their voice.
They are excited to see me. They make sure I have all their contact information and they always let me know to please feel free to contact them if I have any other questions.
Those are the most impressive interactions.
But it’s not the fancy trappings that get me excited. It’s the willingness and eagerness to talk to me.
There were several small companies that were great.
I had a very memorable interaction with this group of fun, personable sales people at this one company. They were hilarious and nice. I love going to booths like that.
And here’s the thing: when you talk to 100 companies you are going to remember only a portion of them. You are going to remember the bad ones and the good ones.
I’m not usually treated so poorly that I’m inclined to write a story about that. But I assure you nothing is going to be written about them at all.
And I wasn’t looking for only the most advanced uses of Web marketing. I wanted the full story.
I talked at length with this very interesting man. He was exactly 30 years old. He uses Facebook personally. But he sees no use what-so-ever for it in a B2B setting. He was passionate about it. I loved talking with him too. I feel that he probably represents the majority of the machining industry. So his story is very important.
So, here are some quick tips about dealing with the press:
- I know you would prefer that we would schedule meetings with you. Unfortunately that doesn’t usually happen in my case. I’m trying to get to as many companies as possible. So I’m going to drop by. But don’t let me go!
- If you get a person from the press that drops by the booth and your marketing or PR director isn’t there, have a plan! Figure out before the show how you are going to handle that. There should always be someone at the booth who is capable of talking to the press.
- Don’t tell the press to come back. They are not coming back, especially at a large show. They’ll probably just go to your competitors for the story.
- If your primary press contact is already talking to a potential customer you are going to have to gamble. If your person is talking with a big, existing customer I would let them finish that conversation. Let the press person know that’s the case. They totally will understand. But if the person they are talking to doesn’t appear to be a big opportunity see if you can switch out your press contact with someone else to help that prospect. Don’t let the press go away empty handed.
- Be a decent human being. I can tell you that people can be plain rude to the press. I had one particular experience this week that was just down-right shocking. You are risking a lot there. With Twitter it is very easy for the press person to quickly rip off a tweet about your company and the way they were treated. Making the press (or anyone these days) angry by the way you treat them is playing with fire.
I’ve been an exhibitor at trade shows as well. Getting the press to actually show up at your booth is usually a really rare thing. Don’t let the opportunity go! It’s your big chance to significantly magnify the value of your presence at a trade show.