An integral part of the marketing mix, an effective PR campaign can help significantly generate awareness of your next ag event or tradeshow and increase sales. Below are the top five ways, supported by examples, strategic public relations can attract sales and registrations leading up to your next big event.
1. Create an incentive. With hundreds of Ag events each year, how can you push your organization's show to the top of the list for busy Ag professionals? The answer is simple: you need to create an incentive for participants to attend. And we don't just mean pens and pins, either.
One way to do this is to create an awards program targeted to areas where you are most looking to draw new attendees. For example, you can establish an award for the company that has done the most to contribute to building business in a new market. You can then announce a list of finalists and work with them to promote their being named as finalists, creating additional opportunities of media exposure for the event organizer and nice reputational exposure for the company. It is most important, though, to encourage all finalists to attend the conference, where they will receive special recognition, and where one will be named the final winner.
It is also crucial to demonstrate tangible benefits of event attendance. By showing attendees what nuggets they can take away to apply to their own workplace, and by creating a level of excitement around unique opportunities to see excellent speakers, you can help potential attendees see: a) how important attendance is to their own development and b) make the case internally on the value of the registration price.
2. Create a sense of ‘must attend.' Repeated mentions of the conference, its speakers and exhibitors, milestones in attendance, etc., in social and traditional media will create a sense of momentum and that the conference is something that is important to be part of. Some concrete suggestions for event organizers to consider:
- Create a social media campaign that encourages those who have registered to ask their friends and colleagues, "Are you in? And provide sample tweets and social media messages to all the speakers/exhibitors at their event to make it as easy as possible for them to promote their participation.
- Engage your audience to pose the questions they are most pondering in relation to the conference sessions and work to incorporate some of their questions (submitted via social media, email, and other channels) into the event.
- Attract targeted media to the actual event – and then call attention to their attendance on your website and through other channels. The more media interest, the more interest companies will have in attending so they can arrange media briefings.
- Hold a Q&A with some key speakers in the lead-up to the event to promote the sort of issues that will be discussed at the conference. This can be a video or audio podcast, or it could be held as a Twitter chat, with your organizational Twitter handle or a key representative from your organization interviewing a key speaker and inviting conference attendees to pose a question.
3. Take a holistic approach to your PR and marketing efforts. When you are planning other marketing initiatives, such as scheduled e-mail blasts, ads and newsletter drops, consider using the content for PR purposes as well (storylines, press release content, media outreach, op-eds, social media, etc.) to target publications read by potential attendees. The editorial credibility and reinforcement will help motivate people to register. Some other examples:
- When there are sister events taking place at another place during the year, consider harnessing the power of PR to cross-promote and generate interest from key attendees.
- If/when you publish your event preview, consider pushing the preview content out through social media channels including Twitter, key blogs, LinkedIn, and other places where prospective attendees spend time online.
- Survey attendees as they register. You can gather information that will not only help fine tune your event's content, but will also create the opportunity for news gathering. You can develop a story around the results of, say, the three minor but significant changes growers say they intend to make over the next two years.
4. Make use of compelling content (including a strong, unified theme) to attract attendees.
The program ‘theme' can and should help anchor the entire program and also attract attendees.
Once you have settled on an umbrella theme, look for ways for the sponsors and attendees to tie into it and carry it all the way through as a unified industry message and call to action. Other considerations:
- Create an editorial calendar for your show – what is the story you want to tell, what do the "chapters look like, and what communication tools will you use to engage with potential attendees? Make sure that you help attendees see that flow as well, and to understand how the event fits together to make a cohesive whole.
- Consider writing and placing articles (and sponsored content, as appropriate) in key publications that discuss current industry "hot topics and, at the bottom, mention the discussion will be continued at your event. This can then be used as part of a thought-leadership direct mail campaign as well, aimed at attracting key attendees.
- Share multimedia clips from prior events as appropriate, to give people an idea of what it's like to be in person at one of your events.
- Curate content being published by and about the speakers at your upcoming event to share with potential attendees, to help get them excited about the high-caliber speakers you've lined up for your sessions.
5. Listen to – and engage with – potential attendees, in a meaningful way, online.
As you see who registers for your event, see if they are active online. If so, follow what they are talking about on a daily basis. Find ways to engage with them. Think about how your conference is addressing their day-to-day concerns if they are posting about their professional lives regularly. To take it a step further, put searches in place to find out what people are saying in real-time about some of the biggest hot-button issues that are going to be addressed at your event. This will give you clear avenues for engagement and point toward meaningful content you can share with potential attendees. But it also gives you insights that might help you better shape your programming and your communication about the event in a way that ensures it best serves the audience you're seeking to serve. For example:
- Use Twitter to connect with prospective attendees talking about your event, using the hashtag to create a sense of community – something that has been very effective in building attendance at many of today's conferences.
- Start discussion threads pre-show on LinkedIn or on the event website to engage people in the conversation and help them see the quality of conversations that will take place at the show, and ultimately, the benefit of attending.
- Promote various registration deadlines, show previews, news, incentives, etc. via social media channels, targeting specific attendees you want to invite.
- Ask attendees to provide their Twitter handles, blogs, and other social media contact information upon registration and begin listening regularly to the conversations they are sharing and the issues they are discussing. It's equally important to keep people engaged AFTER the event through social media channels so that they become easily excited about the next year's event when it rolls around.
Bonus tip: Repeat: Remember to monitor and adjust based on what works. For many clients, we closely monitor the link between a story placement or social media activity and sales. When something causes a spike, we do more of the same, with appropriate adjustments. And if a particular message isn't resonating in the form of sales, we regroup and refocus, and quickly adjust with new program elements. We suggest you monitor not only numbers but also whether your messages are being picked up and shared. If they aren't, it may be time to modify to better engage your audiences.
Ann Barlow (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a partner and president of Peppercomm's West Coast operations. Courtney Ellul (email@example.com) is a director at the firm and divides her time between New York and London. Both Ann and Courtney are focused on helping their clients, many of which are Ag companies, grow and thrive through integrated marketing programs. For more information, visit www.peppercomm.com.