Whether your company offers medical devices, technology services, consulting expertise, home furnishings or office products, trade events offer many opportunities for meeting prospective customers, strengthening relationships with existing ones, obtaining feedback from buyers on new concepts, checking out the latest trends and learning more about market demands.  There’s no better time for us to share the passion and excitement we have for what our clients bring to their respective industries than time spent on the exhibit floor, and enthusiasm breeds awareness.  But to ensure you leave the convention center with more than a collection of business cards and tired feet, pre-show public relations planning is a must.

Chances are your team begins planning its exhibit space and introductions months in advance.  So why not give the same due diligence to your public relations activities? The following steps detail how you can maximize attendance at – and your investment in – your next industry tradeshow.

1. Read the Show Exhibitor Manual

Reviewing the conference’s exhibitor manual can provide tons of publicity tips, including information and deadlines for sponsorship opportunities, pre-registered press lists, digital exposure and where and when to ship press kits.  Work with the show’s marketing staff so your news can be included in their media outreach and “official press kit.”

2. Gain Interest Months in Advance

Don’t just hope that journalists will visit your booth: ensure pre-scheduled appointments are made.  A “teaser” letter can be compelling, convey excitement and give media a taste of what will be at the booth – just enough to get them excited to schedule a booth tour – and can often result in coverage in pre-show issues.  Also, designate two or three employees with an intimate understanding of your company to greet reporters as they arrive at your exhibit.

3.  Pursue Speaking Opportunities for Your Executive(s)

Without proper promotional activities, tradeshow exhibitions can be easily overlooked among .  simultaneous learning sessions and presentations.  Secure these platform opportunities for executives at your company to expand the value of your attendance and position them as thought leaders.  And don’t underestimate the importance of prepping spokespeople with media and presentation training before they hit the stage.

4.  Create Compelling Materials

Be sure to have press kits available at your booth on CDs, web keys or flash drives, and contact tradeshow management for any special instructions and the location of the pressroom. Take this a step further by sending kits directly to journalists so they’re waiting at their desk when they return from the show.  This will trigger memories of the exhibits, provide background information and give essential contact information.  For maximum  “findability,” ensure your press materials are search engine optimized, rich with keywords associated with the event. With the growing use of QR codes enabling a smartphone user to scan and instantly capture information, consider incorporating these codes into your collateral materials and exhibit display.

5. Challenge Attendees and Booth Visitors

A fun game or onsite interactive display can help draw attendees to your exhibit and encourage them to suggest others visit your booth.  Scheduled, live product demonstrations or attendee challenges not only draw attention to your company, but can also break up any down time a customer or reporter might have. Prizes for game winners or display participants provides an extra incentive to join in.

6. Secure Up-to-the-Minute Coverage on Industry Web Sites

Contact the editorial department of industry trade publications to determine if any have conference webcasts, online exclusive features and an onsite video crew. Offer an early look at your booth and executive interviews for print and video before the exhibition hall is opened to the public. Having stories and virtual booth tours online for the first day of the show is early enough that attendees may see the information and be encouraged to visit.

7. Provide Interesting Highlights for “Show Dailies”

“Show dailies” are special magazine issues or newsletters published and broadly distributed at the conference each morning of the tradeshow.  Getting coverage here can grab the interest of industry journalists, photographers and customers..  Consider sending a media alert to tradeshow administration for inclusion in these publications, and be sure to highlight visually compelling photo and video opportunities available throughout the show.

8. Promote a Giveaway

A targeted, direct mailing – via mail or a trackable e-newsletter – before the show can promote a giveaway and encourage booth attendance.  Social media campaigns are also powerful vehicles for driving attendance:  for example, any attendee who uses a certain Twitter hashtag or becomes a Facebook fan during the show can be entered into a sweepstakes.

While these techniques require additional effort, they are relatively simple and yield huge dividends.  Attracting the strategic audiences for your industry will result in essential media placements and valuable customer relationships, enhancing your business goals and contributing to your bottom line.

By Joan Bosisio, Group Vice President, Stern + Associates

A strong believer that relationships are the heart of business success, Joan is inspired by helping bring together interesting people, ideas and opportunities. And with nearly two decades at Stern, she has had no shortage of inspiration. In her role leading comprehensive programs and providing strategic counsel, she most enjoys leveraging synergies amongst clients and a wide network of influencers. This knack for forging connections extends to her deep involvement with professional and academic circles. An adjunct professor at Seton Hall University, she is director of digital communication and past president of the PRSA's NJ Chapter. When Joan isn’t making connections in the office, you might find her heading “down the shore,” devouring a good book, chasing around her toddler Elliott, or rocking out to her beloved Foo Fighters.