Friday, July 31, 2009

Why you should not send out press releases at trade shows

Unless the company you work for or your client is the 800-pound gorilla of your industry or a Fortune 500 company, issuing press releases during trade shows is almost always a waste of time.

I know it has been the compulsion of many an executive to make big announcements at their trade events. It's easy to get inside an exec's head for this: all my peers will be there and all kinds of reporters and bloggers will be attending. You know, it's a nice ego stroke to trumpet your new product in front of your rivals, imagining your photo being taken and basking in the glory.

Publicists flip into autopilot -- "yes, yes, that's a good idea!" -- warming up their PR Newswire and Business Wire accounts to issue those releases on the first day of the conference or event.

Here are two big reasons to slam on the brakes before you think about doing that:

1) There are probably going to be 200 other companies attending the conference issuing press releases on the very same day. They will clog the paid wire services and bombard the attending journalists. Your release is just a teardrop in the ocean, placing it on a long, long deli line where you are number 87 and there are a lot of people placing the same order in front of and behind you. You're lost. What did your mother warn you -- "Just because Johnny is doing it doesn't mean you have to do it too!"

2) If Google, Yahoo, Apple, NBC Universal or Microsoft are holding a press conference, that's where all the reporters will be swarming and then writing about it immediately afterward. Those companies can pretty much snap their fingers and they will dominate the bulk of the coverage. If you're not the pistol-hot king of the industry, the publicly-traded straw that stirs the drink, well, you'd better cross your fingers somebody shows up to even shake your hand and write a line or two about your product.

If you don't want to be lost in the sauce, how can you still blow your horn around these conferences?

Strategically, the best approach is following the advice of baseball Hall of Famer Wee Willie Keeler: "hit it where they ain't." Make your announcement in the week leading up to the event when reporters' attention is not diverted and you are standing on the long conga line of event attendees trying to single themselves out. Reporters love to get scoops before everybody else, so why not feed into that basic fact? Wouldn't it be better to get a story out just a few days before the event so when you show up there, your peers and prospects are already buzzing about you?

This tactic worked successfully when my then client, content marketplace Mochila, wanted to unveil its new transaction interface at a forthcoming Ad:Tech event, right after I broke their launch in the New York Times. It wasn't hard to convince Mochila that being part of the usual pack mentality of making announcements at events was pointless. Instead, the week before Ad:Tech, I called up and landed "preview" articles in ClickZ, Adweek and Mediapost. Mochila had the playing field all to themselves.

Just remember this basic PR tenet: The best publicity is done in advance.

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