The "Do's" and "Don'ts" of Trade Show Press Materials
From the time Caesar attended the first armaments convention to see the latest in spears, trade shows have been an integral part of most companies marketing, public relations and position-ing activities. Today, with more than 100 trade shows, conventions and conferences a day, such activities have become one of the biggest industries in industry.
In every industry, it's not only becoming increasingly difficult to attract attendees to your booth, it's also becoming increasingly difficult to have a strong presence with the press. This is especially true in the technology-based computer and electronics industries which are influencing the way we live and work.
All of us should understand and appreciate that first impressions count and that these impressions must complement and support the positioning of the company and its marketing effort.
Knowing this, it's difficult to believe that anyone who has been in public relations for any length of time could present such universally poor press materials as the kits that were available at the various trade shows I attended last year.
To confirm my opinion that the press materials lacked quality, I informally polled more than a dozen veteran editors regarding three basic areas:
- Introducing a new product, program or concept for maximum attention, impact and understanding
- Presenting information in terms of the prospective audience (editors and reporters)
- Grabbing the attention of the press
There is nothing wrong with unveiling a new product at your next major trade show. In fact, it is one the most common practices of business and industry management today. One editor said that the prime reason for a trade show was to force the design and engineering depart-ments to finalize their product so they could show management what they had been doing for the past six months.
At the next trade show or convention you attend, visit the press kit room. There, you will see table after table of press kits. They come in every shape, size and color. No one is standing beside each package hawking his or her wares. It is up to the press kit to attract and hold the attention of each editor.
Press kit folders range from elegant, double-embossed, black-on-black pieces of art to four-color graphics, to simple off-the-shelf folders (with and without labels), to standard envelopes (with and without company/product identification).
Although most of the press kits identify the company on the cover, many just mirror their firm's booth and end up failing to identify the company's products or business category.
For example, at a recent show, the AT&T press kit simply said "AT&T." We all know that the letters stand for telephones, but computers?
One exhibitor used a plain black school-type folder, with no identification on the cover. Another, even poorer company, used plain brown envelopes, with only the words "for the press" handwritten across the front.
Most of the firms used their standard literature folders with the company name on the cover. However, they seldom provided an explanation of the company's niche in the marketplace.
At the last show I attended, a few companies did go to the trouble of presenting some idea as to the content of their press kits. One was a firm in the "intelligent data storage" field; another stated that it covered "peripheral products."
In one instance, the company got "a little" carried away. The cover told the competition to "move over because their portable computer was at the show." It was the lightest, most powerful, least expensive complete personal computer on the market, and it was totally IBM-PC compatible. Perhaps they weren't being humble, but at least they were informative about the company and its products.
Very few exhibitors identified:
- What the company was all about
- What products were being shown at the show
- What was new or important at the show
- That they had done anything special for the show
- Where they could be located during the show to obtain additional information
We've found that a simple and economical way of accomplishing all of the above is to have special labels made up for the press kits covering the basics who, what, where and why.
Contents: News is Timely
While the press is always busy, shows and conventions produce hyper busy times. Unless the editors are covering the show for a very specific article or series, they are obviously attending to focus on "what's new."
If this seems too obvious, you would think that the majority of the press kits would feature new product, service, application or corporate information. Or, at least, they would contain materials that establish the company's position and direction(s).
One press kit was spiral-bound and contained news releases from four months prior (the last industry-oriented show). Another contained "new" news releases datelined two months prior. One offered an array of releases "produced" over a three-month period.
Another company really gave the editors a choice. The releases were dated over a six-month period. Some people were smarter. They had no dates at all on their releases, so they could be recycled.
If the company or agency wanted to include old releases in the press kits, they could have at least changed the date of the release in an attempt to disguise the fact that they had nothing new to say at this show. Either the people preparing the press kits felt that old news was good news, or they were looking to achieve quantity, not quality in their presentation to the press.
Editors want and expect to get news.
This means they want write-ups that discuss the company, the products and the applications. They use literature as reference material, not as a prime source for their information.
Some firms did include information that showed they understood what writers need. They included good product photos, well-written overview releases, product backgrounders, sound company backgrounders and very good company position papers.
They also placed these materials in a logical order so that the editor or writer could proceed in an investigative manner from overview to in-depth study. They obviously put themselves in the shoes of the news-person.
Releases Ignoring the Basics
It's been a long, long time since I've been in college, but way back then they taught us certain basics about writing which are either no longer taught or are widely ignored by our new "specialists." These basics include the name and phone number of the person to contact for more information, right at the top of the page.
This is followed by a clear, concise summary headline and the date that the release was prepared or released.
Some of the releases editors showed me defied reading.
Releases aren't short stories or The Great American Novel. They should still start with the essential who, what, where, when, why and how. They should be written in a manner which permits the editor/reporter to go from the summary idea to the greatest detail. They should be written to position the company and the product quickly, clearly and concisely. Sentences should have nouns and verbs, and should be grouped into paragraphs.
The editors I was with said that most of the releases lacked excitement, comprehension of news style and/or solid information.
- Write the release simply and factually. Make certain that you tell the full story as quickly as possible then stop.
- When the story dictates, prepare background and biographical material that gives facts, not personal "fluff." This kind of information should inform editors not flatter management.
- Product photographs should be accurate with sharp contrasts, retouched ad or data sheet shots. Make certain that the captions explain the photo and tie into the news release. A contact name and phone number should also be included in the caption.
- Releases should contain the names and telephone numbers of the people who should be contacted for additional information. At a show, you may want to list the hotels where the press contacts are staying as an added convenience to the editors. Another good idea is to include home and office phone numbers, so that editors can contact you when the news is hot and on their minds. Nothing irritates an editor or reporter more than having questions and not being able to reach the information sources.
- If you're interested in offering a brochure or data sheet, then write a summary release about it and clearly state that the literature is available to readers upon request. Other wise, don't stuff the press kit with literature of all shapes, sizes and colors as if you were trying to impress editors with sheer bulk.
- Write the releases with the publications in mind. Tailor your presentation of information just as sales people do to the audience (in this instance, the editor/reporter). Properly done, the results can be dramatic and effective.
Quality Often Second Rate
The quality of printing of the news releases didn't influence any of the editors I talked with because they were concentrating on digging out information. However, I can't believe that any company's management would be satisfied with the quality of printing that I saw in a number of press kits. Companies trying to project themselves as quality-oriented firms should produce quality materials.
Copies of copies, smeared copies and plain, dirty printing, which wouldn't even be used for an intra-company memo, were too common.
If you say you produce a quality product, then you should present your information and yourself in a clean, readable, quality manner, all of the time, to all of your audiences.
Disguised Literature Kits
A great many of the press kits not only included press information, but also sales literature. Few members of the press want to, expect to, or will get their information from data sheets or brochures.
But show after show, year after year, you'll see public relations people lazily attempting to take the easy way out by using advertising and sales materials, rather than preparing more conventional backgrounders and releases backgrounders and releases that editors and reporters want, need and will use.
One software firm, which proudly stated "press kit" on their folder, only stuffed article reprints and data sheets inside. Editors do not use their competitors' reprints as sources for their stories.
An add-in peripheral supplier was indeed proud of their promotional activities. They reprinted all of their ads, direct mail pieces and product sheets just for the editors.
Now you may say that all of these were done by management, without the benefit of internal or external PR counsel wrong again.
Granted, some of the worst offenders were "minor league" players in the industry. But many of the "professionals" also errored on the side of volume and sales literature.
Use Newest PR Tools
This is the Computer Age.
Everyone in business has (or should have) at least one computer or word processing system.
With all of the power, capabilities and flexibility of the computer available to us, we should be able to do a much more effective job of preparing news releases, position papers, backgrounders and fact sheets.
Good word processing software allows us to enhance the presentation of company and product information. We can achieve a more professional look by:
- Providing well-formatted releases that are inviting and can be easily read
- Bold-facing subheads so editors and reporters can scan the releases rapidly to get a quick summary of the release
You can even provide the editors with the copy on disk for a virtual press kit.
Over the years, I have seen some glimmers of brilliance in trade show press materials.
For example, one manufacturer gave the press a list of each person in their organization that would be speaking at the convention, when and where the presentation would take place and a summary of the discussion.
Another company produced a short, fast, easy-to-read "table of contents" for their press kit. Several editors thought it was great to be able to scan the list quickly and tell by the head-lines if any of the information contained in the press kit was of interest to them and their readers.
Several firms outlined their activities during the show (speaking engagements and demon-strations), who would be available for interviews, when and where they would be available and their areas of expertise.
One company produced reporter note pads with their "message" imprinted on the cover. These were made available to the press in volumes and that's precisely the way they disappeared.
For one of our clients, we acquired very economical canvas portfolios with the firm's logo silk-screened on the front. Press materials were placed inside. Editors used them to gather still more press material and used them after they returned to their offices. The cost was insignificant compared to the name reinforcement.
Editors in every industry use market research firms as sources for information, quotes and trends. Several months ago, we queried two dozen editors regarding a consolidated list of research firms in their industry. They indicated that they had a list of a few of the firms, but they didn't have a list of all of the major market research players.
As a result, we developed a consolidated list of names, addresses and phone numbers. It was printed in pocket format with a client's name and information discreetly placed on the front and back covers. The response from the media was, and continues to be, outstanding.
Do It Right Or Not At All
Press events and other quasi-social functions and activities are appropriate at trade shows. They serve to get important information out quickly and simultaneously to a number of publications. But, because there are so many of these events at showtime, they should be done well or not at all.
If you have something really important to show and/or tell, you can arrange to hold a press conference. However, most senior editors said that they prefer not to get their information at press conferences, but rather during one-on-one meetings. This permits them to dig out "exclusive" information and specific angles for their publications and readers.
We recommend conducting a series of these one-on-one subject-specific editorial meetings during the show. These meetings permit management and editors to get to know each other on a personal level. This accomplishes two things the company develops a strong relationship with a specific editor and the editor is able to get the information he or she wants.
Most company management will generally do "almost anything" to get editors and reporters to cover their company and products in the various business, financial, technical, trade and consumer publications. Anything, that is, except spend the time, money and effort needed to communicate with members of the press on their own terms.
Editors do not want or need splashy events to write their articles. Save your press events for major announcements. Good trade show press materials and one-on-one meetings can usually accomplish more than press conferences, the dinners or other events at a significantly lower cost. Your press materials deserve attention because they can and do contribute to the positioning of the company, the sale of goods and, ultimately, profits. Those who don't do it right certainly waste a lot of trees.
# # #