Do exhibition organizers really understand the difference between ‘marketing and PR? From my own experience, I often think they don’t. Promoting exhibitions always seems to have been concentrated on telesales, direct mail and advertising, and the issuing of some standard, dry, unimaginative news releases. As a consequence, the importance of PR has been underestimated.
Public relations should be developed as a strong element within the promotional mix; after all, the dictionary definition of public relations is “Forming a favorable public opinion of an organization”. Surely this is what every organizer is endeavoring to do, and without the basis of general opinion, the success of the show will be all the more harder to achieve.
The traditional monthly press release, announcing increased space sales or widest media coverage; you can only flog the exhibition dates and space sales so many times before the press stop reading the press releases. PR is about understanding the target market, the exhibitors and visitors, the target media and their areas of interest, and knowing how to use the exhibitors’ products or services to ‘sell’ a story into the press.
To use PR effectively, organizers need to plan their integrated strategy well in advance. Public relations can either be the responsibility of a dedicated in-house department, or more commonly, an external consultancy specializing in either the relevant field or the exhibition industry as a whole.
Using a consultancy that knows exhibitions from both sides of the fence, definitely has a positive advantage, as they can advise the organizer on how best to extract contributions from exhibitors (and believe me, this can be like drawing teeth!) Not only does this save the organizers the time involved in chasing all his exhibitors for information, but it builds a feel good factor with the exhibitors that the organizers are making the effort to promote them with professional support.
PR activity should be planned therefore at least 10 months in advance, to allow time for the consultancy or in-house team to develop a rapport with exhibitors and key editors. In this way it is more likely that it is more likely that organizers will see appropriate articles written in the relevant press, rather than simple duplicates of press releases. The whole PR exercise is about keeping the potential exhibitors and visitors informed, so why not produce a regular newsletter in the run up to a show? This can carry news about exhibitors who have booked into the exhibitions – on many occasions the sight of the competitors’ attendance encourages other companies to consider booking themselves.
As an effective method of reaching the widest possible market of prospective exhibitors and visitors, sponsorship by a leading body, key industry journal, or national paper, is paramount. The association with such a body or journal brings not only extended readership of the event, but a certain degree of caliber and enhanced credibility. This can also be seen as a focal point in further PR activity, especially with jointly-resourced surveys and promotions. Many journals are also happy to run special features within their pages and target their own databases.
Once a good relationship has been established with the key press, it is more likely that they will run a preview of the show, attend, and then review what was new at the show. In some instances, a special press day can be organized, whereby the editors are hosted around the halls and made to feel part of the event.
For exhibitions of an international nature, at which overseas visitors would be expected, a Press Inward Mission can be seen as vital to extend news coverage around the world prior to the event. A select group of editors of the key foreign journals can be invited to the UK at the expense of the organizer (often with the support of the DTI), to study the industry in question and assess the show’s standing. This usually generates excellent features in the foreign press, and very often includes an extensive preview of the show and the companies exhibiting.
During the exhibition, especially those of a larger size and consumer nature, daily news releases should be issued to the national press from the press office. The press officer should also have been liaising with the TV and radio stations, and should have established opportunities for national or regional media coverage.
A daily news sheet will also update visitors and exhibitors on how the show is going, key products to see, and special events taking place during the show.
These items seem to be lacking at many shows, where a wider grasp of the potential of the show and stories around it is needed. I appreciate that some exhibitions are there simply to display products on a low-key level, but I am sure the majority of organizers wish their exhibitions to grow and become ‘the industry event’.
Once the doors are closed and the breakdown completed, PR should not cease. It is important to keep the journals up-to-date with how the event went, visitor attendance and success stories. In this way you are already starting to sell the next event.
So back to my original question, and my disappointing findings:”Do exhibition organizers really understand the difference between ‘marketing’ and ‘PR’? I am sure many do know what I have been talking about, but is it put into practice?
What I have outlined here comes as second nature to a PR professional, and it seems clear that PR and marketing is not the same thing. PR is just one element of marketing. I thus find it frustrating to see exhibition organizers missing out on so many opportunities; all it needs is thought, imagination, ample planning and the right PR team. So get out there and make the most of it; don’t underestimate the power of PR!