Trade Show Coverage in the Web Era

Photo: Katy TomasuloBy Katy Tomasulo
President, Washington, D.C., Chapter

I recently returned from my industry’s largest trade show, and I couldn’t help but reflect on how different reporting from trade shows is now than when I went to my first one nine years ago. The work days used to be long — get to the show at 7 a.m. for press conferences, walk the exhibit floor and attend seminars all day, attend media events or sales dinners in the evening, and then finally take the shoes off at 10 or 11. But now they’re absolute marathons: The shoes still come off at 10, but now we sit in our hotel rooms and write Web articles into the wee hours. What’s more, we forego 15-minute lunch breaks to sit in the press room writing up seminars and we precariously walk the show floor aisles while typing Twitter updates into our cell phones. Times have changed.

Networking and gathering sources and future story ideas is no longer our sole purpose at trade shows. We must generate daily coverage for our Web sites.

Unfortunately, there’s not much of a solution to the new 17-hour workdays. But here are some tips I picked up over the last few years. Please add yours in the comments section. (Note: This is separate from those of you who have trade show dailies.)

  • Divide and conquer: If you have multiple staffers and/or multiple sister publications headed to the same show, plan out in advance who is covering what. Then share everyone’s stories, as appropriate, on all of the magazines’ Web sites.
  • Share content: As mentioned above, share content across related publications. There’s no point in duplicating coverage, and there’s plenty to go around. Devise a system for alerting fellow editors about new articles or agree on a Web tagging system that will automate everything. This way, each magazine’s Web site can dedicate—and fill—a space for show coverage.
  • Boost traffic with social media. My fellow editors and I jumped head-long into Twitter this year, and this allowed us to publicize our coverage and to create a sense of community among those in attendance and those following along at home. We Tweeted links to posted articles and we commented on what we were seeing at booths. It was also helpful in reverse: I subscribed to text notices of those folks who I knew were at the show and received a couple of helpful Tweets of great products to go see. Be sure to use (or create) a hashtag for the show so that your Tweets and that of your industry peers can be searched and seen all together.
  • Don’t force a story when there isn’t one. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending 90 minutes in a seminar and coming out with nothing to write up for the Web site and nothing to turn into a future story or contact. Accept that not every session is perfect or follows the description in the show guide. And remember: Readers don’t want to hear that you were in a seminar. They want to hear what they would have learned if they had been in the room. If there isn’t advice, research, or valuable job-helping information for your reader, don’t waste their time or your time forcing it into an article.
  • Keep it short. No one wants to read a 2,000-word seminar recap. Give them the actionable information and skip the fluff.
  • Use multimedia. Enhance your coverage with video. My colleagues used video more than ever this year. Here are some tips:

    a) Plan ahead: We met several times to discuss strategy, devise a schedule, and learn the equipment. Discussing tactics as a group helped us brainstorm what might work and what wouldn’t work.

    b) Work together:
    Chances are, there aren’t enough cameras to go around, so help each other and share information. Designate a few people to be in charge of the filming and have other editors feed that person products, people, or news to film. This also reduces the number of people to be trained and eliminates the hassle of having to shuffle expensive equipment.

    c) Look for variety:
    We ended up with several styles of video: Impromptu product demos at booths, sit-down interviews with prominent experts, and recaps of news conferences. In all three cases, clips were kept short.

    d) Be willing to spend a little money. For a few hundred dollars, we had an in-house staffer on site to edit and post videos. This saved editors the time of having to email huge video files back to the home office and resulted in getting more videos up, faster.

  • Promote your coverage before you get there. Is this economy, fewer readers can attend all trade shows, so they will be happy to hear that you’re going to be their eyes and ears. Let them know beforehand so they’ll turn to your site when the show begins. Plug your coverage in show preview articles, on Twitter and other social media sites, and in e-newsletters.
  • Put the coverage to good use. Drive traffic to your content by sending a special edition of your e-newsletter. Promote the coverage in any follow-up articles in print, as well.
  • Save some for later. The demand for on-site coverage does not eliminate the other benefits of trade shows—fostering relationships, finding new contacts, and researching future stories. Keep that hat on too.

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