B2B comms: How to get value out of trade shows

Trade shows are on the agenda again after the lockdown hiatus. Attending can be hugely beneficial for businesses but also a drain on time and marketing resources, so how do you maximise the value?

In March’s It’s A B2B Comms Thing LinkedIn Live, I chatted with comms pros Ayo Abbas and Emma Drake about how to make sure you get the most out of these big trade events.

Here are some key points; scroll to the bottom for the full video recording.

Screenshot from the It’s A B2B Comms Thing LinkedIn Live on trade shows (March 4, 2022)

What actions should you take before your trade show?

Ayo: The key thing for me is building some energy and excitement that you’re going to be somewhere. Before a show, start talking about it and sharing what you’re going to be doing.

Social media plays a huge part in that, and you can start connecting with potential visitors and delegates. And use it as a way to build your relationship with the organisers – find out what hashtags they’re using.

If there are press interviews and previews, make sure that you’ve got your press releases out there and all your details and ready to go.

Me: If you’re launching something at the show, think about getting the press release to journalists under embargo because once the show’s on, they’re going to be extremely busy. They’re probably not going to have time to turn around press release stories.

As a journalist, we used to get a lot of stories around stuff that was being announced done beforehand. These would be teed-up ready to be published when the embargo broke.

And similarly with supplements and content. Just as an example, we used to put out our biggest issue to coincide with MIPIM [international property trade show held in March], and I used to start working on the supplements that went into that issue the December before.

People would contact me two weeks before the show and say: ‘Can we contribute to the MIPIM issue?’ and we’ve gone to press by then; it was way too late.

We were working 8, 9, 10 weeks in advance. So bear that in mind if you want to get into publications that are going out to a show, find out what the deadlines are because you don’t want to miss out.

Emma: Have a goal for your event. Are you launching a product or service? Are you publishing a report? Are you recruiting? Are you looking to engage people with your product or service. What is the purpose?

I’ve launched white papers and reports for clients and letting people know in advance, organising a pre-copy at your stand with a bit of food works to get people there. A handful of great connections with a pre-copy in their hands is a meaningful connection with people.

If you haven’t much time, you can repurpose something. You could use something with a new perspective. Is there a particular news agenda you can piggyback on?

In terms of your talk, research your audience and what’s hot and what’s not. No one wants to hear the same topic.

Connect or reach out to your fellow panellists or speakers and find out what they’ll be talking about. Maybe there’s some common interest there.

And if you connect with fellow panellists, you could also tag them, which can help increase the reach of your social posts before the show.

Remember, people are tuning in to listen to something and learn from you; it’s not a sales lead, so decouple it from your stats.

What are the most important activities to prioritise during the event itself?

Me: This falls partly into prep as well, but make sure you have something that makes your stand, stand out from the crowd.

The stands I remember were ones that were a bit different. An example, at MIPIM, Bristol city had a plain white stand, and they had a local artist who was drawing stuff related to Bristol during the week. It meant people kept coming back to see how the artwork was progressing.

And I’ve seen stands doing little competitions, like Skeletrics [racing], that kind of stuff, and it gets people coming back. And you talk to people while they’re there.

Then you’ve got your hero content, but don’t forget the ad hoc stuff. Particularly, as we haven’t had any trade shows for a couple of years, people are really curious as to what it’s like.

So think about if you’re going to a panel, what can you tell your followers on LinkedIn or Twitter about what is going on? And I’m not just talking about saying ‘this is a really great panel’ but what were the key points, or an interesting quote, was there a gasp from the audience – what was going on in the room?

What have you seen? Think about stuff you can quickly take a picture of and tweet to show the people back at home.

Emma: With regards to planned speaking opportunities, research the news on the day and add some flavour to your talk. You can run polls on social media during the day, what people are talking about at the show, what’s important, what industry topics are coming up and weave those into your talk on the day. It makes it stand out and sound a bit different.

It’s a really important time when lots of people forget that you need to keep telling people you’re there, what you’re doing and what’s interesting about it.

Assuming all the work is ‘on foot’ when you’re there is incorrect, and actually, there’s a lot you need to be doing in terms of raising awareness and profile during that show.

Assuming people will turn up to your talk, just because it’s advertised is not a very good strategy. You have to keep telling people over and over again.

Ayo: I had a client at a show a couple of weeks ago, and I spent a lot of that show not at the show itself but on social media.

My time was sitting, creating stuff, creating reels about them being at the show. We had a competition and what was lovely was that you could see that people were retweeting our stuff.

We were engaged with the exhibitors; we had people say, ‘I’m gonna go visit their stand’ and share tweets about it. You want that online momentum.

Mopping-up – the most important tasks post-event

Emma: When you’ve done a talk, the time after that talk is when you’re going to be most visible.

That is the time when you’ve got a little window where you’ve just launched to a new audience. And this is going to be the time when you need to be on your social media arranging to meet people straight after the talk.

Plan to be round, don’t say ‘that’s done, I’m gonna go for a coffee’. That bit afterwards is super important.

If you’ve got an email list, send something out at that point that captures the key points or comments from the talk. Maybe write a LinkedIn article straight away or do a reel or story on Instagram reflecting something from that talk.

Ayo: You should have your post-event follow-up ready to go before the event.

It means when you’re knackered, your feet hurt, and the last thing you want to do is talk to anybody, you’re actually ready to go, you’ve got an email that goes out, it’s got CTAs, has your website and has contacts.

You can say ‘lovely to meet you’ with a picture of what’s going on at the stand, which you can drop in at the last minute.

Having that ready to go before the event saves you a whole lot of hassle and gives you time to follow up and do all those other things.

Me: Coming back to the fact that we haven’t had many trade shows over the last two years, people are really curious about what it was like.

You could do some really nice LinkedIn posts and social stuff around your impression; what were the key things people were talking about, was there a buzz, what did it feel like.

Talk about what it was like being there for those that weren’t there. You can highlight some stuff that you did while you were there as well.

But make sure you do it quickly, the day after because if you’re doing it a week later, people have moved on. It doesn’t have to be a long piece; you could write a really nice LinkedIn post highlighting the key take-aways or three things that you noticed.

Want to watch the full chat? Here’s the video:

Interested in previous It’s A B2B Comms Thing LinkedIn Live chats? Check out the most recent here:

Repurposing: How to make the most of your content

How to make social media work for B2B in 2022

B2B content: What should you focus on in 2022?

On LinkedIn? Follow me to find out about the topic for April It’s A B2B Comms Thing and watch live on LinkedIn.

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