Trade show is the place where you have a preselected audience for your company message at your disposal – current and prospective clients, business partners and media, all within easy reach.
Sounds easy…but any trade show is also a big challenge and a health test to every company participating in it. It might sound strange – how can this be a test? It should be just a simple job for our marketing department, right?
Yes, if your business only needs to have the box of “Participation in trade shows/fairs” ticked, that’s fine. For example, you can take some brochures (you may have a lot of them left from earlier campaigns), give them to 2-3 marketing interns and you’re ready to go. Time saving and effective strategy – your experience tells you such events never generate any real results, they are just for show…
Of course, this is a simplified example of the process. Complete opposite is quite common as well – some companies spend hours and hours discussing and fine tuning their strategy; top management is involved. It takes weeks to prepare booth design and coordinate actions of various advertising agencies the company employs – everyone has their own opinion. There is a question which people should be sent to represent the company, and it needs to be solved. Quite an exhausting couple of weeks, but… is the result really so different from “ticking the box” scenario?
Well, the booth looks good and there are new brochures everywhere. Sales department has sent some of their good people as well (unfortunately, the best ones could not be taken off their usual duties). Everything is looking absolutely fine, until…
…a prospective client asks a question: how is your company different from XYZ company? Or better still, a journalist comes by and asks: do you have anything interesting to show?
And here the real question comes up – how many company representatives in the booth are able to give quality answer to those questions straight away? How many of company employees in general can give an answer? How would management answer those questions and how would their answer differ from an answer given by an ordinary employee?
The people delegated to work in the booth are ambassadors of their company. Everything about them – looks, behaviour, attitude, knowledge, responsibility, authority, enthusiasm, empathy, efforts and integrity, common sense after all – everything defines the company they represent. The same can be said about any printed and digital material – attitudes expressed therein, words used, layout, availability of different material for different needs, even languages the material is available in – that’s the business card of the company. At trade shows this business card is seen by a selected audience – clients, partners and media. Every company must decide for themselves whether they can afford mistakes in such an environment.
And there is more to it. Questions about unique selling point and exciting company news are the simplest way to test the integrity of the business. They show how well the message of the business is communicated through different management levels, from the very top to the client facing line. It also shows how well every level understands the message and how well they can communicate it further, e.g. to lower levels or external subjects.
We are not engaging in management consultancy here though – there are tons of management advice books and thousands (if not millions) consultants working in the field. As far as Public Relations is concerned, everything comes down to basics: AT LEAST people who represent the company at a trade show should believe in company’s uniqueness and know the USP well.
Trade shows test company integrity in other ways too. Participation in a show involves nearly all departments of the company – they have to coordinate their efforts and work together efficiently, like a cobweb. Difficulties arising in the process, such as repeated miscommunication, are indicating areas in urgent need of attention.
It is also very important to remember that a trade show does not end at the moment when last show visitor leaves; its effect is extending much further, at least until all leads received during the show have been followed up and results summarized. Has the company done everything to have best results possible? Have all available resources been utilized? And finally, has the company used all opportunities to gain more publicity?