How to Make the Most of Your Time at a Trade Show

By Matter

The very mention of a trade show can strike fear (or at least anxiety) in many. Maybe you have painful memories of loading hundreds of USBs, got a bunch of paper cuts wielding brochures, or crushed your fingers in a poorly assembled pop-up banner– if throngs of people and convention centers aren’t really your thing, I totally get it. That being said, attendance at trade shows can be crucial for companies of all sizes and all industries. They can provide the unique opportunity for companies to engage with multiple audiences under one roof– including customers, potential partners, and most importantly (to us PR folk), press. Participating in a trade show isn’t a commitment that should be entered into lightly, as it will likely involve a substantial investment– both monetarily and of your team’s time.

Read on for the questions that you should ask yourself ahead of time to ensure that you make the most of your time on the showroom floor.

Why are you going? No matter how small your industry, there is likely at least one trade show (and sometimes many) that serves it. When determining what shows to attend, it’s important to think about your overall objectives. Are you attending to attract media attention, or are you more interested in engaging with customers and making sales? Different shows cater to different audiences, so pick the one that most closely aligns with your company’s goals. Having a clear vision of what success means going into the show will also help determine how you approach positioning yourself there– from what kind of on-site presence you plan to have, to what announcements you’ll be making.

Which leads us to the next question, what are you sharing? Especially if you are looking to engage with media and receive press coverage at the show, it’s an excellent time to share an announcement. This will give media a reason to pay attention and book booth appointments providing a platform for larger conversations. However, you should prepare for the fact that *everyone* will be announcing news, so do whatever you can to make sure that’s truly buzz-worthy. For Matter client HARMAN (the company behind brands like JBL, AKG and Harman Kardon), CES is their biggest trade show of the year. In preparation for this, they strategically bundle their new product announcements for the next six months, and announce them all at the show. By using this approach, they have always enjoyed a surge of coverage coming out of the show, and typically 100+ media appointments on-site that set the stage for positive press throughout the year.

What kind of presence should you have? Another strategy that has served HARMAN well when approaching CES is picking a prime location. What might be surprising, however, is that they don’t actually exhibit on the CES showroom floor. Instead of joining the crowds at the Las Vegas Convention Center, HARMAN takes over an entire ballroom at a nearby casino to showcase their latest and greatest in an immersive demo setting. This isn’t the best path for everyone– thankfully HARMAN has the brand recognition needed to lure journalists away from the LVCC– but it works for them and facilitates a more hands-on experience for press that yields product review coverage for months to come.The lesson here? Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box to reach your most important targets. If closing deals or wooing new partners is your primary objective, maybe hosting a happy hour at a nearby restaurant is the way to go. You don’t have to limit yourself to a 4 x 6 booth to be seen at the show.

So, armed with this advice, you have successfully crushed your trade show (congrats!). It’s important to remember that your work isn’t done as soon as you’ve boxed up your booth. You’ve made some great relationships at the show– don’t let them wither on the vine. Make sure that you’re following up with press after the show to keep your company top of mind, and bring that coverage over the finish line.