Inner Circle

A Pirate’s Guide to Trade Show PaRrgh

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes

When navigating the (often) rough waters of trade show public relations, it’s helpful to have the support of a good crew. mdg’s public relations experts are old salts when it comes to the creation – and execution – of integrated plans that keep events top of mind with trade and mainstream press. Their expert advice to PR scallywags:

  • Define the treasure you seek. What are your overall objectives and are they realistic, given the nature of your event and your PR budget? As an example, unless the products featured at your event have the same universal appeal as consumer technology, don’t expect the same kind of mass media pickup as CES. Also, be realistic about the amount of pre-show ink you’ll get, especially in publications that aren’t part of your core industry. Typically, media will wait until an event actually happens to cover it. As you’re setting measurable, achievable goals, give your board, committee and/or executive leadership a chance to weigh in and make themselves heard. This allows alignment across the entire organization. Yes, we know that setting goals sounds simple, but often it is an exercise in organizational soul searching that truly helps you set priorities and assign budgets accordingly.
  • Strategically chart your course. At mdg, we’re big fans of written strategic and tactical plans that clearly define the path for reaching objectives. These should define your target audiences, including both media outlets and the intended end users. Do your homework by asking members of your core and ancillary markets where they get their information and/or industry news. Similarly, review editorial calendars and media kits and closely follow the reporters, influencers and bloggers who speak to your industry so you know what they’re interested in and writing about. At, mdg we’ve found that face-to-face meetings with members of the press go a long way. And rather than starting these meetings with a “pitch,” we start by asking how we can serve and support them.
  • Yo Ho Ho! Avast Ye! And other ways to get their attention. PR isn’t just about sending a news release and conducting personalized follow-up anymore. It encompasses any number of tools and tactics, including influencer marketing, organic social media, infographics, video, storytelling, community relations programs, charitable initiatives and more. Once you understand your goals, you can drill down on which tool or combination of tools will be most effective to inspire action and connect, directly or indirectly, with your audience. At mdg, we’ve had success (including advantageous placements in desired media outlets) creatively promoting how clients give back to their respective industries. The next time you begin to write a standard press release about your “give-back” program, stop and think instead about how you could leverage the power of storytelling—through video, pictures, and/or social media to create more of an emotional connection with the intended audience.
  • Go “all hands on deck” with your PR plan. Consider decentralizing your PR department by sending your CEO to speak at a related event; empowering a key committee member to write an event blog; allowing an industry influencer to “take over” your Instagram page for a day; or providing customizable press release templates or Tweets for your speakers. For one client, we formed a “host committee” in the city in which their event was held. The committee included representatives from the economic development council, the chamber of commerce, affiliated associations and even elected local and national officials who were willing to spread the word and generate regional attendance on our client’s behalf.
  • Right the ship, as necessary. Don’t wait for the biannual board meeting to review your ongoing PR efforts. There are any number of media measurement services that PR pros use to track the effectiveness of a campaign and show its worth through impression counts, open rates and placements. If you find that your results aren’t what you hoped, don’t despair. Use the data as an opportunity to change course by revising your media list, your messaging and/or your tactical plan. Don’t be afraid to discard a tactic that’s not working as well as you hoped and try something else.

With everything you need to get your event’s PR plan into shipshape, it’s now time to weigh anchor, hoist the sail and get underway!