How to generate buzz and briefings at conferences and trade shows

My team’s in the thick of technology and security industry conference season for clients, recently concluding support for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona and the RSA Conference in San Francisco, with ISC West in Las Vegas and Enterprise Connect in Orlando on tap in the next few weeks.

Support for key industry conferences often begins months before the event itself, and can be expansive in nature – ranging from message development and creating dedicated landing pages to booking and providing on-site support for press and analyst briefings.

Generating press and analyst attention and briefings at conferences – especially large ones such as Mobile World Congress, RSA and CES – is no easy feat.  Reporters and analysts are bombarded with hundreds of briefing requests, often reserving premium one-on-one slots for familiar names with significant announcements to make. That said, success is possible and there are strategies that do work. Here are 10 tips for generating buzz and briefings at your key industry conferences:

1.      Better to be early than late – For conferences where press and analysts attend, a pre-registered media list is available for sponsors and exhibitors in advance of the show. This is a valuable tool and one that should be fully leveraged; however, waiting until it is available can be risky. Most shows make the list available roughly four to five weeks in advance of the conference, and it is not uncommon to reach out to in-demand press and analysts upon receiving the list to find that their schedules are already fully or mostly booked. The fact is, there is no penalty for reaching a reporter before they start working on their schedule, but irreparable consequences for getting to a reporter after their schedule is already booked. Research which reporters and analysts attended the prior year’s show, use your domain expertise to make educated guesses on others who might attend the show, and float an email to them before the pre-registered media list comes out to see if they are attending and taking meetings. Worst-case scenario is they are not yet working on their schedule, and you can follow up at a later time.

2.      Don’t rely too heavily on pre-registered media list – Yes, most reporters and analysts will be captured on this list, but some prefer to remain off of it precisely because they do not want to be bombarded with briefing requests. For that reason, follow the previously referenced strategy of researching who attended the prior year so that no key contacts fall through the cracks. This strategy is also valuable and far more necessary for clients that are not sponsoring or exhibiting, thus do not have ready access to the pre-registered media list.

3.      Expand timetable for briefings – One of the more ironic aspects of conference briefings is this desire to try and communicate a critical piece of company news in a horribly sub-optimal environment. Reporters are racing from one briefing to the next, must digest multiple announcements and often have a fraction of the time they would allot for a typical briefing. Increasingly, we are seeing more value in working with clients to arrange briefings immediately prior to or after the conference, when the media contact has more time and can give the client announcement full attention. Phone briefings cannot match the benefits of a face-to-face interaction, but how valuable is 15 minutes in a noisy, chaotic environment? There is a balance to strike.

4.      Yes, announcements matter – For every PR practitioner who extols the virtues of making a tangible announcement at key industry conferences, you will find another arguing that it is mission impossible to expect a client’s announcement to rise above 200 others. There is no cut-and-dry answer here, as it depends on the conference, the news, and the client. The fact is that many reporters and analysts will reserve their one-on-one time for clients with significant news, and if your pitch is simply to “catch up” or “brief the reporter on recent activities,” it is very likely that the pitch will be de-prioritized. If the client does not have a major product or news announcement, consider other means to provide media and analysts with value, such as a first look at results from an industry survey you have conducted.

5.      Team up – Another option for clients that don’t arrive at conferences with name cache or big announcements is to team up with a Partner, or better yet a customer. Strategically aligning with influential partners and customers allow reporters to kill two birds with one, while adding more perceived weight to the briefing request itself.

6.      Research Conference Product/Company Awards – Many conferences will hold award programs for “Best in Show” or “Most Innovative Product or Solution.” These award deadlines are often several weeks in advance of the conference and require the client to have sufficient advanced knowledge it will be announcing a new product at the show. That said, by entering it is another way to get on the radar of reporters who view these awards as a way to identify companies and products held in high regard.

7.      Don’t ‘wing it’ when it comes to meeting locations – Conference floors are huge, and reporters book briefings back-to-back with little margin for error. If you have a reporter meet at a spot not conducive to the meeting, and then spend 10-15 minutes searching out a better spot, you will draw the ire of the reporter and waste what precious time he/she has. If budget allows, book a dedicated meeting room, or virtually scout out the conference layout in advance to understand spaces available near the client booth. Conferences often have a “Media Center’ for briefings, but you can’t just walk in and expect a table and chairs for hours at a time.

8.      Go outside the traditional 1×1 briefing structure – Beyond budget and planning, there is no restriction on creativity when it comes to engaging reporters and analysts. From non-conventional demos to cocktail hours, think about ways to reach influencers outside of the traditional briefing format.

9.      Engage on social if not in-person – For reporters and analysts you are not able to connect with in person at conferences, follow them on Twitter to gauge what is capturing their interest and what they are doing. Finding a key reporter at a large conference is akin to the proverbial needle in the haystack. You can increase your chances by following these influencers on Twitter, and perhaps one might post that they are headed into a particular panel session – thus shrinking that haystack considerably.

10.  Be wary of going against the grain – Standing out among the crowd can be a good thing at conferences, but refrain from going too far askew of the hot trends at the conferences. Look in advance at what the meat of the agenda is and the types of companies speaking for a hint of what direction reporters will sway in coverage. The fact is that reporters’ daily roundups bucket company activity around prevailing show themes, and if you are part of those themes it is more likely you can be in the conversation. If your announcements focus on areas that are peripheral, they become harder for reporters to bucket into coverage. 

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