Trade Channel Marketing


Trade Show Marketing: Three Surefire Ways to Reach the Media

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Considering a new-product launch? Want to give it a running start?

You may not believe it any more, but trade shows were actually invented for this sort of activity. Our recent economic woes have taken much of the shine off product shows. Indeed, it is reasonable to assume that tomorrow’s trade shows will — and must — look very different than their predecessors. But as a tool for reaching a critical mass of your core audience in a single time and place, the trade-show model still has a lot of life left in it.

Of course, not every industry player attends a given trade show in a given year. Even those who do may not find your booth. And even those who drop by may well forget most of what they saw once they return to their daily routines.

That is why a big part of your show-floor, product-launch strategy should include an aggressive outreach to all media in attendance: print, digital and – if available –broadcast. Your primary role at these events is to identify, package and convey your news to these folks, so they, in turn, are better able to deliver this news to their audiences; i.e., your customers and prospects. Except for word of mouth and referrals from friends, those audiences will likely find what the media have to say about your product the most convincing stimulus to action.

What are the most effective ways to connect with media attending a trade show? A mix of methods typically works best. Here are a few of the most important:

Hold a “presser”: If you have a major new product to unveil, a press conference early on Day 1 can be the best way to grab the media’s attention at a show. These events are often held before the show officially opens, so you have the media’s undivided attention — and they yours, because no customers are around. Having your CEO or some other senior exec lead the presentation is the best way to assure preliminary interest and a bias to attend, especially if your event is up against other press opportunities happening concurrently. Like all of us, managing our schedules, the media focus inevitably on the stature of the speaker as well as the relevance of the news.

Offer one-on-one interviews: The downside of a press conference — from the media’s point of view — is that every attending scribe is hearing exactly the same presentation. Sure, that’s great for your messaging, but remember: The media must set themselves apart from their competitors, too. So, reinforce your presser by offering top-tier media outlets one-on-one time with a senior company manager — well out of earshot from any rivals. Given an opportunity to ask his or her own questions in private, the editor can create his/her own slant on the story. The benefit for your brand and your new product may ultimately be stronger coverage in the form of a bigger story or one that more fully presents your product’s best selling points.

Always conduct booth tours: Not every editor will attend your press conference. Not everyone will make the time for a one-on-one meeting. Regardless, be sure to offer every media attendee an appointment for a personalized tour of your booth. This will allow you to present your new-product story in vivid detail, as well as to make certain the media carry away any press materials you have created for the occasion. (More on what those should look like at another time.)

Just as importantly, it will give you a prime chance to get to know each media member better, both professionally and personally: What sorts of topics and stories is the editor/blogger/producer pursuing? How might our new product fit into her plans? How might our company otherwise support that pursuit — both today and in the future?

In short: How can you help the media, not just how can the media help you?

Even if you have no new product to launch at a particular show, the booth tour is an excellent way to build and sustain relationships with the media. Forget the notion of “taking a show off” because “we have nothing new to say.” The media is always writing about something; always looking for ideas, projects and personalities; always open to substantive input when chronicling the story of the industries they cover.

In the end, building relationships with media members, one at a time, is the most effective way to make sure your company remains an integral part of that ongoing story.

Public Relations Insights | The OR-DP POV | Trade Channel Marketing


What Makes a Good Case Study?

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Everyone appreciates a good case study…

…especially manufacturers, looking for a credible way to depict the value propositions of their products in real-world settings through third-party testimonials;

…especially specifiers, builders and installers, looking to showcase their most attention-worthy projects and the professional skills that brought them to a successful conclusion;

…especially the media, always in need of compelling, newsworthy editorial that they may not have the time, the resources or the good fortune to uncover themselves;

…especially the readers of these case studies, trade and consumer, seeking innovative ideas to make their own lives easier, more productive and more fulfilling.

In many instances, these case studies — “project profiles” might be a more accurate term — are rendered briefly, sometimes with simple bullet points: a quick overview of the most salient details. It is enough to celebrate a high-profile project, allow for a quick bow by the key participants, while underlining critical role the highlighted product played in it.

But our changing media landscape now offers more opportunities for another type of case study, one that permits deeper storytelling and a genuine narrative arc. The editors who solicit — or are at least receptive — to this longer-form case study will likely insist that branding on behalf of a manufacturer or product be removed. But if one of their readers tells your product story through his on-the-job experiences, that is a more believable approach that is readily embraced by many editors.

So what are the core elements of a successful, B-to-B case study these days?

Compelling story line: If the project is large or prestigious, perhaps headed to LEED Platinum status or a high-profile design award, etc., that certainly helps. But a high profile is not essential to success. The best story lines involve problem-solving: What kinds of challenges did the individual at the center of the “action” encounter? How did the chosen product (yours) help him meet these challenges? Finally, what were the payoffs — preferably in tangible, measureable benefits — for all involved?

Credible players telling the story: Readers — and the editors who serve them — tend to place greater value on the words and experiences of other readers: people who do exactly what they do for a living. That’s why testimonial advertising is such a staple of business-to-business advertising. A professional reliving his successful saga for the edification of his like-minded brethren is compelling stuff, because it’s so easy readers to imagine themselves grappling with similar circumstances. “If that product/system/method helped that guy succeed, hey, maybe I should give it a shot, too.”

Captivating pictures enhancing the story: If you’re tempted to skimp in this area, don’t. Chances are, the editors already have had to themselves, which is why they need your help. Whether working in print or online, editors love good images because they bring readers closer to the action, while making stories more real and — best-case scenario — more comprehensible. Last, but far from least, excellent photography adds luster to any story, as well as to the media hosting or publishing it.

In short, excellent photography or illustration is the capstone of a well-conceived and well-written case study. It is an essential ingredient the media’s cultivation of loyal, enthusiastic audiences who believe and value what they are reading.

For more on the art of the case study, check out our three part series on a builders materials case study completed by O’Reilly-DePalma that garnered over 40 million impressions.

Content Marketing Insights | Public Relations Insights | The OR-DP POV | Trade Channel Marketing


AHR Expo Rides the Rising Tide of Energy Efficiency

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If you are actively involved in the HVAC business—whether wet heat, forced air or some creative combination of the two—and chose not to attend AHR Expo 2012 in Chicago last month, you owe yourself a heart-felt apology. You really should have made the scene—no excuses, please (if you didn’t, there’s always AHR Expo 2013 in Dallas).

The beleaguered construction market of recent years has taken a terrible toll on everyone’s marketing budget, and trade shows have been a particularly conspicuous target of sharp spending cuts. More and more decision-makers, potential exhibitors and attendees, are opting to hang onto their cash and stay home with scant regret, convinced there is precious little ROI to be gained spending another four or five days living out of a suitcase in Las Vegas, Orlando, or Wherever.

But while it may be a bitter season for most exhibitions, the annual AHR Expo continues to flourish. You’d think the prospect of spending three days in Chicago in mid-January would be reason enough for all interested parties to just say “no,” but you’d be wrong. In fact, this year’s event broke all the records any trade show covets. According to the AHR Expo’s website, the 2012 event saw…

  • Record visitor attendance: over 39,000 contractors, engineers, distributors, facility managers, manufacturers, reps and other HVACR professionals.
  • Record total attendance: over 58,000 visitors and exhibitor personnel.
  • Record exhibit floor: more than 428,000 net square feet of booth space in two halls at McCormick Place.

Much of the credit for this success goes to ASHRAE, its staff and membership for all the hard work that goes into making a successful exposition of this magnitude year after year after year. But I don’t think it’s especially radical to suggest there’s an even larger, more critical reality at play here, given the enthusiastic crowds at the AHR Expo in recent times.

National phenomenon: It comes down to two words: energy efficiency, and the galvanizing impact this movement is having despite the economy, or perhaps because of it. This impact affects not only on the people who attend the Expo, but also—and more importantly—American society as a whole. After all, absent a vibrant market for energy-efficient products, the number of exhibitors and attendees at the AHR Expo would be far fewer, no matter how hard show organizers worked.

Americans continue to regard the green movement in general with a skeptical eye. But when it comes to saving money on their fuel bills, a critical mass of homeowners are “all in.” A recent article by John K. McIlwain in Urban Land, the online publication of the Urban Land Institute, summed up the trend by quoting an unnamed developer to the effect that energy efficiency has become the “new granite countertop.”

“After all, no one asks what the payback period is for a countertop. Just as items that were once added to a new home or condo for an additional price are now standard, so too are energy-efficient equipment and design becoming standard features expected by the buyer or renter.” (Italics mine.)

The makers, designers, specifiers and installers of heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment understand this happy reality, and its beneficial resonance on their businesses and their careers. That’s why McCormick Place was humming with activity in late January—at least for the first two days of the AHR Expo—and why it will likely be humming again next January when the show moves to Dallas, and then in 2014 when it returns to New York, New York.

It’s also why if energy efficiency is the core rationale for how you earn your daily bread, you just might want to check out the AHR Expo, one of the very few trade shows these days that isn’t struggling to justify its existence.

Building Industry Insights | The OR-DP POV | Trade Channel Marketing


Report from ISH 2011: Let There Be Fun

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After nearly four decades in the building products business, I finally got myself across the Atlantic this winter to the biennial ISH fair in Frankfurt, Germany. Shame on me: I should have made the scene at this grand event many moons ago. There is absolutely nothing in North America that I have come across that even begins to compare.

If you know anything about ISH, even if you’ve never attended, you are probably aware of the scope of the overall fair (11, multi-level buildings); the size and opulence of the exhibits (some of them mini-trade fairs unto themselves); and most of all, the phenomenal crowds cruising its aisles and corridors: more than 200,000 attendees at this year’s event. Upon arriving at the show last month, I found that reality matches all the hype and then some.

But the first thing that hit me about my Inaugural ISH Experience was the high level of hospitality exhibitors happily and freely extended to attendees — great food and lots of German beer (and wine), of course. But also a sheer abundance of… what’s the word? Oh, yeah: FUN. People really seemed to be enjoying themselves.

And not just after hours. But right on the show floor, with attendees interacting with interesting brand experiences for literally hours on end. Don’t underestimate the return. “There’s a lot of business going on here,” advised This Old House’s resident plumbing expert Rich Trethewey, whom I encountered at the Uponor booth.

In today’s tight economy, the trade-show budget line item is one of many under intense scrutiny. Yet in some ways, it has always been thus. For as long as I’ve been in this industry, brands have been putting pressure on trade show organizers to demonstrate ROI for their heavy investments in shows, conferences, local meetings and more. “Show me the money!” is an American economic reality that never wanes.

But with trade shows, I fear we have “ROI-ed” the fun out of these events to the very detriment of our business goals. On the fun-o-meter, the typical U.S. trade show ranks a half-notch above a trip to the dentist, a pitiless grind even in good times. How many times have you been through a fast run-through of key messages from a bored booth staffer and on your way in less than 10 minutes, texting friends about where to meet for the REAL fun after 5 p.m.?  Where just as much — if not more — business gets done.

It’s a universal truth that we all do business with people we like and like to be around. After attending ISH, pardon me if the whole thing now seems a no-brainer. U.S. trade show exhibitors would do well to think more about booth hospitality along with their key messages. Give people a reason to come in, sit down and stick around a while. Just to talk — with you. Get into real conversations with people, and learn more about them and what they truly want and need.

Figure out how to have a little more fun, and everything else — including ROI — is quite likely to follow. Because having a good time is just as American as making money.

Special Events | The OR-DP POV | Trade Channel Marketing