Plan! Plan! Plan!

To Everything There is a Season...Even Trade Shows

Holiday season is trade show season in the tech industry. The hustle and bustle doesn’t lead to gatherings by the fire, but to meetings in hotel suites. The frost on our noses isn’t thawed by hot cocoas, but by clusters of colleagues assembling at cab stands. For this is the season during which we gear up to face a slew of back-to-back, weeklong expos and one-day showcases that will carry us straight through spring.

For many standards setting organizations (SSOs), the trade show season can prove a major challenge on several fronts—with staffing resources, budget limitations and time constraints landing at the top of the list. Yet, the need and desire for meaningful publicity at such shows is real. So, how do industry associations make the most impact at an event? By following some tried and true planning methods.

(1) Use Your Assets
Any publicity strategy devised to rise above the trade show noise would benefit greatly by the use of a unique SSO asset: membership. To an SSO, membership means broader reach via invested evangelists. Something that most companies cannot compete with…unless they have a huge, happy customer base.

SSOs need to partner with their members early in the planning stages. This will allow the organizations to develop promotional themes and activities that build on the individual plans of each member company. What’s more, the SSOs may have an opportunity to be incorporated into those individual plans. Regardless, coordinating efforts on any level typically enables an SSO to touch its audience via multiple channels, helping to spread its message.

(2) Maximize Your Spend
Industry event participation can come with daunting price tags. But, don’t let that dampen your spirits. There are several ways to be present without dropping half a year’s budget on one booth; a few follow here:

  • Shared Space: Ask event organizers about pre-set pavilions, kiosks or co-located media events dedicated to niche technology areas. Or, invite members to go in on a single booth space together—sharing the overhead.
  • Consigned Space: Pop-up kiosks in member booths are another option. To demonstrate membership neutrality, rotate to different member company booths throughout a multi-day show. Just make sure target audiences are aware of the location schedule. (This could make for an interesting social media campaign.)
  • Off-site Space: Hotel suites, restaurants, museums, lounges and other facilities can offer exactly what you need at a more reasonable cost. Be cognizant of timing and trade show location, though. For example, hosted space clear across town may not be well attended due to transportation challenges, exhibit hours, speech schedules, or other issues.
  • No Space: Honestly consider your objectives. Will you have a better chance of meeting them hosting a virtual press conference before the trade show? Or, perhaps by distributing integrated video content, advertorials, advertisements and bylined articles? In short, determine whether it is truly worth the investment of time and money to be on site.

(3) Measure Your Results
Having worked in the communications industry for a decade and a half, I can honestly say that success metrics are as unique as fingerprints. What matters to one client doesn’t sway another. Yet, they remain important…perhaps more so for an SSO than a company. Why? Because program success influences the membership and, often, the Board of Directors, which may both lead to a rise in participation and funds for future events.

Be sure to set meaningful metrics that can be tracked across various events throughout the season; allowing for comparative analysis and informed future decision making. Also, be sure to share the results in a timely fashion with all members—including future ones when appropriate. It’s important to demonstrate ROI tied to membership contributions (both time- and dollar-based). This act helps people understand the valuable role they play in an organization’s overall success.

So, while Pete Seeger never intended his famous song to inspire teams of engineers and communicators—the literal interpretation of select lyrics does seem apropos. To everything there is a season, even trade shows. We embark upon that season now…the time to build up, the time to break down. Hopefully, though, with the use of some fundamental planning techniques listed above, we halt the lyrics at “a time to gain” as we achieve the success we strive for in 2015. Good luck and get planning. I swear it’s not too late!

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