Now that summer is in full swing, I can reflect on the first half of the year leading up to my first NeoCon experience, the biggest and most important commercial interiors tradeshow of the year held in Chicago each June. Exhibitors invest precious time planning for and executing “show stopping” designs, deciding which products to showcase, creating compelling collateral, and turning vision into reality in the showroom. For the PR team supporting clients before, during and after the show, numerous hours go into developing press materials, engaging with media to secure coverage and onsite editorial meetings, submitting for coveted awards, and creating an ideal social content calendar. While I had a trusted supervisor and manager give me the low-down on what to expect, it’s truly something you must experience for yourself. Here are my five tips for PR pros – new and experienced – who are helping exhibitors make the most of their tradeshow presence.

Be Prepared

To make your tradeshow experience as smooth as possible, the most important thing is preparation. Be armed with notebooks, pens, business cards, phone and phone charger. Create a schedule beforehand and input it to the tradeshow’s app AND print out a copy – in case your phone dies and you can’t access a charging station.

Know where you’re going and when – including meetings, flights, hotel information, and restaurant reservations. Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the tradeshow venue and your next destination, as taxi and elevator lines can take hours. (Uber and taking the stairs are good backup plans.)

Although you may think you’ll tweet and Instagram your way through the show, you’ll most likely get caught up in talking to people, taking notes and making your rounds through the showrooms. Consider scheduling pre-crafted social media posts in case you don’t have time for much real-time social media activity. And don’t forget to use the tradeshow’s hashtag!

Of course, dress the part. Wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be standing ALL day (bring band-aids – and even an extra pair of shoes). And as I learned from getting caught in a torrential downpour with no available cabs in sight, don’t forget to pack a rain coat and/or umbrella.

Know Your Stuff

Study the new products, and be well-versed in the back-story behind product inspiration and showroom design. (Your flight is a great time to do this.) Show-goers will ask you questions such as “What materials are used in this product?” and “Does this product come in this color?” Knowing the answers to these questions, you’ll feel like a true member of the team who doesn’t need to track down a sales rep every time a question is thrown your way.

Research reporters and what they’re covering. (It helps to know what they look like too – LinkedIn is a great tool.) Tailor your conversation to connect your client’s products with issues and trends you know their readers are interested in. This helps build rapport and prove your value, helping ensure they think of you and your client for upcoming stories.

Lastly, know where your clients should be, what time they should be there and who they are meeting. Your clients have a ton of things on their mind – from event logistics to customer meetings – so they will appreciate you helping to keep them on track and getting them where they need to be.

Be Flexible

Expect the unexpected! Be flexible and go-with-the-flow when you must. Even perfectionists can’t account for flight delays, getting drenched in the rain, and having unexpected customers and editors stop by the showroom. If something doesn’t go according to plan, you’ll need to come up with a solution and make it work – all with a smile! Don’t get frazzled, stay calm and think through your options.

Be Personable

Tradeshows aren’t just a time to tout new products, but also a time for networking. Get good at small talk! You’ll meet a lot of people from a variety of places and backgrounds – all who can be great connections. Mingle. Start conversations. It’s also a great time to build deeper relationships with your clients, which can foster an even better working relationship. If reporters have a few minutes to chat, get to know them on a personal level as well.

It’s In The Details

From what I witnessed at NeoCon this year, the smallest detail can have a lasting impression on customers and editors. One company offered a hot giveaway that everyone seemed to want – my manager included. However, she was frustrated when she realized the giveaway didn’t meet luggage requirements and she couldn’t travel home with it.

Everything – from the songs on the showroom playlist, to how you greet visitors, to props and giveaways – translates into how your brand is viewed, and ultimately, remembered. We journey from all over to get a glimpse of the latest products and trends at annual tradeshows, but it’s the more intangible “feeling” a customer or journalist has when he/she leaves the showroom that can make or break the deal.

With a background in journalism, Rachel combines her passion for news with her expertise in media relations to deliver effective results. She also handles day-to-day communication with clients, media outreach, social media activities, writing and messaging. Rachel provides strategic counsel to clients across the healthcare and business industries and is a critical team member for Stern Strategy Group's architecture and design accounts. If you can’t find Rachel at her desk, she is probably behind the camera filming one of Stern’s in-house videos. And when not at work, you can find her at one of three places: on a run, on a soccer field or on the beach.