Thursday, August 21, 2008

Promoting on Limited Budgets - From Another PR Pro

Limited Budgets, Rising Travel Costs: What’s the Best Event Marketing Route?
By Peter BaronCarabiner Communications

When CNN does a price-by-price comparison of a gallon of milk with that of gas, you know travel costs have become an issue. Whether it’s a trip across town for an open house, or travel by plane to an annual industry trade show, businesses are re-evaluating the ROI of events due to already stretched budgets and the unstoppable rising price of fuel. Marketers have tough decisions to make when considering the role of events in their marketing plans.

Even without the above factors, mid-sized and smaller businesses have always grappled with how much they should invest in event marketing. Based on ROI, the time and expense of extra personnel or consultants to carry an event off right, and the uncertainty of turn-out, etc., all of these factors make event marketing – when not strategically analyzed – a budget gamble for mid-sized companies.

From my experience, organizations should evaluate an event based on its strategic fit, an evaluation of the costs versus the ROI, and its impact on your overall marketing budget. The right trade show or local event comes down to the connection you make with the audience, and whether they are a targeted group of desirable prospects. The below scenarios should help you measure which type of event is best suited to meet your organization’s marketing goals.

The Big Shows: Just for Big Players?
This year, the National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show hosted more than 600 vendors. The International Consumer Electronics Association (CES) show featured more than 2,700 exhibitors. At larger events like these, the bigger companies get most of the attention. So, unless your company can make noise at the event and attract steady traffic of targeted prospects to your booth, going to a big event on a small budget may not be the best strategy.

If your target customers are at a big show, and being there is a must from an industry and competitive perspective, consider these suggestions to help gain the highest ROI and effective measure at the event:

Attend vs. exhibit. Weigh the costs of going as an attendee and holding meetings against the costs of exhibiting. If a large booth presence is not necessary, the goal is not lead generation, and executives simply need to network and hold face-to-face meetings with key prospects, customers and partners, consider sending one or two people instead. With some advance outreach to schedule meetings, an executive can build a productive schedule for establishing and building relationships within the industry.

Target press and prospects. To help maximize networking and relationship-building at large trade shows, consider hosting an invitation-only dinner party for partners, customers, media and analysts. A gathering that includes a mix of people can be a cost-effective way to blend business with pleasure, giving everyone a chance to discuss hot news from the show, topics of interest to them and trends being watched. In larger cities where there are major league games, you could host a social gathering at a game.

Connect messages to what is on attendees’ minds. When planning your communications strategy for the event, concentrate on the latest trends, pain-points and industry challenges attendees are experiencing. Tie your company and its solutions to the bigger trends and your news is more likely to get the interest of reporters and attendees, especially if your company is smaller than most other exhibitors.

Combine resources with a partner or customer. If the expense of shipping and manning a booth on your own is too big for your budget, explore other ways to have a presence at the show, such as having a pedestal and signage at a technology or channel partner’s booth.

Sponsor an event or be a speaker. Some companies elect to go with a sponsorship or speaking engagement in order to establish a presence at a conference. Deadlines to apply often occur up to one year before the show, and in some cases vendor organizations aren’t eligible or need to partner with an end-user company. If you aren’t eligible or selected as a speaker, consider sponsorships that give your company visibility in a conference session applicable to your company and its solutions.

Cook it and they will come. As we all know, convention food leaves a lot to be desired. Take advantage of this by offering enticing snacks in your booth if the event management people will allow it. Offer attendees something good to nibble on and they will stop by your booth to grab treats and company information. Take advantage of the visiting crowds, perhaps before dinner when people are starting to get hungry, and keep them engaged with in-booth videos and informative multimedia presentations.

Alternative Events: Virtual Meetings, Local Sponsorships and the Power of One-on-One
Trade shows are only one component of event marketing. Depending on your targeted buying audience, the following events are also effective and can be much more creatively managed to accommodate varying budget levels:

Hold a virtual event. This could be a training webinar for new partners, an educational presentation for targeted decision-makers, or a demonstration about a successful case study, to name a few. Virtual events, especially multimedia presentations or video-recorded demonstrations, can also live online for anyone to access anytime. Co-brand the event with a magazine that can promote it and market to a large readership.

Go local. Are your prospects within a certain distance radius of your company’s location, or are they mostly located within one region? If they’re local, consider partnering with the branch of an industry association. Place an executive as a presenter at monthly meetings and/or sponsor an event. Promote it with calendar listings in relevant publications. If your prospects are based in a region or nationwide, consider going on some type of road trip that brings the event to them.

One-on-One. Nothing beats the power of a one-on-one meeting where the prospect you’re courting knows you’ve traveled, or organized an appointment just to meet with them. If your business has several large customers that make up a portion of your sales, consider scratching the large trade shows and investing in the power of one-on-one. Go to them, entertain and make the deal in person.

Increase ROI with Media Exposure
A strategic public relations plan is crucial to your event marketing ROI whether it involves trade shows, presence at a local association event or a webinar. Below are a few additional ideas on how to get even more mileage out of event marketing investments:

Make a special trip. If one of your company spokespersons will be traveling to a city where important media are located, leverage that travel expense to also make appointments with the press. You’re sure to get more out of a journalist’s time over a coffee or a dinner meeting than on a hectic trade show floor when the reporter’s time and attention span are limited.

News Flash: Road Trip! Depending on your road trip, or virtual event, if you convey the story in the right way, a road trip can become a road show, and an online training event can be the genesis for online news pick-up.

Educational opportunities. If you’re presenting on an educational topic, invite the local beat or trade industry reporter to come as an attendee to learn. You position yourself as a subject matter expert (SME) and someone they may turn to for a future resource.
Gas prices may be high, but with the right combination of strategy and analysis, your event marketing ROI can also be high without breaking the bank!

Peter Baron is founder and principal of Carabiner Communications, a marketing and PR firm serving start-up and high-growth technology companies. With two decades of technology marketing experience, Baron has directed campaigns for such well-known clients as Apple Computer, Ericsson GE, Motorola and IBM. Baron co-founded SocketPR which was acquired by Hill & Knowlton. Prior to founding SocketPR, Baron was a partner and vice president at Alexander Communications (now OgilvyPR Worldwide), where he oversaw accounts covering cross-platform communications, networking, databases and application development tools. His work spans the formative years of the PC industry, all the way to today’s Internet-driven, wireless and mobile device markets. He can be reached at

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