PR Real Talk: Trade Show Execution – What's Working, What's Not?

By Matter

Today, we’re talking about industry trade shows. From the months of preparation to the perfect storm that is: HIMSS, CES, RSA, etc., a lot of time, effort and money goes into creating a successful trade show experience for both your team and your clients. As communication professionals, it’s our job to help our clients develop meaningful relationships with media and analysts, at and around these events. Despite the many advances in digital communications, trade shows remain very important opportunities for that oh so valuable face time that journalists love so very much.

Trade shows have become one of the cornerstones of any successful PR program. Chances are pretty good that any PR vet you talk to will have some heroic battle story about the time they did 78 briefings at CES, or HIMSS, or wherever. Because trade shows have been integral to PR for so long, they suffer from a very real threat of the – “because that’s how we’ve always done it syndrome.”  Good public relations requires evolution and the ongoing questioning of everything. Are we releasing the most interesting announcement we can at this show? Does our presence at the show have value in the eyes of the media and industry at large?

A few Matter Communications folks had the opportunity to attend and view a live Twitter chat (#HITMC) last week week led by John Lynn, a well-known and highly respected healthcare journalist and entrepreneur. Co-hosted alongside a communications agency based in Georgia, John discussed what works when meeting with media, tips for engaging editors, and thoughts around press releases at HIMSS. While the chat was healthcare-focused, many of the points brought up can be applied to a wide variety (if not all) of our clients, particularly those that attend the largest trade shows and face the goring challenge of breaking through the noise and finding value.


One topic that raised a few key takeaways is around the continuous battle of the press release. A continuous stable (or base) of each client announcement that has rendered suspicion over the years. Is it really dead? A majority of the PR pros at Matter and across the industry will agree that no, the press release hasn’t died. While the press release is still alive and well, it is not the same tool that it once was, thus our approach may need to be reevaluated. A few of the participants of the #HITMC chat noted that sending out press releases are best done at least one or two weeks prior to HIMSS (or other major conferences), versus right before. This allows the reporter to read and fully digest the material, and provides them an extended time to be able to ask questions prior to meeting your client at the show. Other participants raved about the type of content we are feeding them within our press releases; making it relevant, interesting and NEW. Here are a few examples:


Another topic that arose during the chat, and one we’re well aware of, is the media’s insatiable appetite for data. We always ask for it from clients, as reporters really do value hard and fast numbers that support or bolster the stories we are telling on behalf of our clients. Third party validation and data are undoubtedly one of the key ingredients to make our clients stand out amongst their competitors.

During the next conversation with your client, and if it aligns with your current campaign and overall messaging, ask your client if he/she has any updated case studies or data they have gathered internally. If not, maybe that brings up another conversation about conducting a survey to gather that data. Aside from becoming great pitching fodder for your team, data can lend itself to other assets we love as PR pros such as infographics, info-stamps and even gifographics. Data can provide that extra level of expertise your client is always looking to portray to its customers, industry influencers and the media.


When it comes to large conferences, there are always lessons to be learned as you come out of the show. As trusted partners to your clients, it is important to understand and recognize when you need to revisit a certain tactic or approach when planning for conferences large or small. Always be on the lookout for industry intel on what the media wants and how well your proposed strategies and tactics are working. When it comes to PR planning and development the need for evolution is the only constant. To set yourself apart and to really be seen by your clients as a trusted advisor, keep an eye out for the next Twitter chat or take an opportunity to simply ask a journalist what they want. This desire to understand your audience and the state of your industry will help you to set yourself apart from the PR flacks at the trade show, who continue to simply do the same things they’ve always done.

What other tips do you have when developing a trade show plan? Share yours below!