With Expo West a few days away, Pete Croatto explores how to turn those editors’ frowns upside down.

Pete Croatto, Contributing Editor

March 4, 2014

4 Min Read
Is Your Company's Tradeshow PR a Big FU?

With Natural Products Expo West only a few days away, Virgo’s VP of content, Heather Granato, yesterday posted the following on Facebook:

Continue to be amazed by random PR folks who are reaching out now in an attempt to set meetings with their clients at a trade show that starts Thursday. Not to mention the fact that most don't seem to know our brands or audience.

Oh, I know this all too well, Heather. Every reporter and editor does. Our stories could fill a very long and depressing book.   

When I was at Vitamin Retailer Magazine, I’d get these phone calls and emails about a week before Natural Products Expo West swallowed things whole. The voices were perky but unstudied, a clear sign of working from a list; the emails filled with “Dear Journalist.”

I would respond politely. Inside, however, I seethed.

Can’t you take five minutes to look at our media kit to see what we’re all about? And why are you calling three days before the show, when my schedule is stuffed like a closet on a sitcom? Oh, and my last name is pronounced CROW-OTTO! And my first name isn’t Pat!

Needless to say, I did not spend a lot of time with those companies.

Finding good PR—whether it’s a person, a large agency, or a boutique firm—is not easy, especially in the natural products industry. (And, yes, they do exist. Some have even written for this very site.) The rules and regulations are hard to grasp and the hyperbole that draws people in can get a company on the wrong side of the FTC and FDA. The research involved is dense and hard to put into layman’s terms.

That’s not why there’s so much lousy PR this time of year. It comes down to inexperience and a lack of common sense. Luckily, there’s a way to avoid this whole mess.

For the PR folks:

1.) Don’t start reaching out to companies days before a trade show. Journalists on the trade and consumer side have sources they must visit in Anaheim (or any trade show for that matter), and many have been cultivated over years. A PR person can’t expect an editor who has to attend seminars, visit booths, and network to squeeze in a last-second meeting. And that goes double if your client is new to us.

So start early, like months in advance. Read the magazines, study the masthead, and send out personalized emails. Offer story ideas where your clients can participate. Build a relationship with an editor or a reporter. It’ll pay off.

2.) Offer us something. Specifically, information: is there a study for this new product? Did it get certification—and, if so, what kind? How does fit it into our magazine, Website, etc.? Can we talk to someone who is responsible for these developments? Convince us how our tenth booth visit that day is a good use of our time, and not just because you have cold beverages.  

3.) For God’s sake, return emails and phone calls. This happens to me all the time. Yes, I’d be interested in talking to your client for a story. Hello? Hello? Did I come on too strong?

4.) Get the right contact, but don’t work the ladder. Let’s head back to circa 2004. I’m at Vitamin Retailer wrapping up a phone call with a PR person. I’ve told her politely that the product she is hawking isn’t really part of the magazine’s mission, but thank you and good luck.  

Twenty seconds later the managing editor’s phone rings, and she’s subjected to the same spiel. Great job, PR lady: You insulted two editors in the span of two minutes! That’s some impressive bridge burning.

5.) If you don’t know something, know how to get it. And better yet, give us the details. “I don’t know the answer to that question, Pat, I mean, Pete, but let me talk to our scientific director. You will have something by the end of the day.”  

For companies:

1.) Communicate freely with your PR team. Answer any questions your PR person might have so he or she can approach editors in a way that makes you feel confident. It’s your money, after all.

2.) Oh, and be available to answer their questions. It works both ways. Maybe hold a weekly meeting to review strategy, answer questions, etc.

3.) Choose a spokesperson. Some company owners are not comfortable talking to journalists, which is fine. If that’s the case, designate someone at the company—an executive is preferable—who serves as its face at trade shows and conferences. It makes it easier for everyone involved.

4.) Review the results from year to year. So, it turns out calling harried editors three days before a trade show is a terrible way to generate coverage. Time to reevaluate.

5.) Hire decent human beings to handle your PR. After all, it is a people business.

About the Author(s)

Pete Croatto

Contributing Editor

Pete Croatto is a freelance writer in Ithaca, New York. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Grantland, SI.com, VICE Sports, and Publishers Weekly. 

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