I’m going to make the rest of this post very easy for both you and me: if you’re a PR professional, and you’ve never been to a trade show, you need to start going right now. These events are fantastic for networking, and great opportunities to get both your company and personal brand out there in the business world. Trade shows can be an incredible amount of fun, especially if they’re hosted in an awesome city like Philadelphia, with access to great local attractions, history, culture and of course, food (Mmm… Cheesesteaks).
A few weeks ago, I went to a trade show hosted by the American Bus Association (ABA), called the Marketplace & Product Pavilion. An annual four-day event, this year’s Marketplace took place at the Philadelphia Convention Center. It was my first true trade show, and so I learned a lot in a short amount of time. But not only was this event a great deal of fun; it also demonstrated an ingenious use of new media technology, and in this post I’ll explain a few smart things that the ABA did to use the power of social media.
What is Marketplace?
An annual convention that serves as a venue for hundreds of pre-scheduled business appointments, limitless networking opportunities, an educational seminars led by experienced professionals, the “Marketplace & Product Pavilion” has established itself as the motorcoach and group travel industry’s premiere event.
Hundreds of companies head to Marketplace each year to meet new people, find new business, and learn more about their industry. This year, more than 3,400 people, representing more than 800 motorcoach and tour companies, were in attendance, and more than 100,000 scheduled appointments were conducted. And if those figures don’t give you an idea of the massiveness of this event, perhaps this picture will:
Throughout the week, I spent a good amount of time on the Product Pavilion floor, meeting motorcoach operators, learning about their companies, and teaching them about Terrapin Blue.
Back in Class for a Few Days
I also spent a good amount of time in several educational seminars throughout the week. I wanted to share just a few highlights from the ones regarding social media. Although these courses explored the usage of social media primarily from a marketing perspective, I was still able to get a great deal of information from these seminars:
“How to Use Social Media Marketing to Grow Business in a Low-Cost, No-Cost Manner”
Speaker: Kelly McDonald
This course stressed that we need to start thinking about social media less as “mass media,” and more of a method of communication with people. Kelly provided details on Facebook and Twitter, using her own company, McDonald Marketing, for examples, in addition to other businesses. She showed that all companies can be successful with social media to grow business, including banks and car washes, which might at first appear rather unseemly successes for the social media realm.
One great suggestion that Kelly provided was asking open-ended questions on your Facebook page, to get people talking. In this way, you can ask questions such as “What is your favorite brand of ice cream and why?” to draw candid responses. You can then use responses to these questions as further information in your marketing and advertising strategy; in effect, free and easy surveys accomplished via social media.
From a public relations angle, this kind of consistent interaction with your company’s fans and followers demonstrates to them that you truly care about them as customers, and are willing to take the time to get to know their preferences.
“Strategic Social Networking on the Humanized Web”
Speaker: Jeff Korhan
Jeff’s seminar provided information on trends that are affecting social media, and thus the contemporary marketing world. He emphasized that without taking a human approach to sites such as Facebook, your efforts to connect with people will fail. His exact words? “Put a face on your brand.”
This makes perfect sense, from a PR standpoint, as traditional mass media advertising strategies are working less and less on consumers, at least in the digital world. The companies that are having the most success are the ones that aren’t afraid to change with the times.
Jeff spent a lot of time teaching effective ways to blog and promote your posts. He explained that blogging every day is the best and easiest way to enhance your site’s SEO. His message was to focus less on broadcasting aimlessly, and more of a targeted, direct approach.
As he said, “We don’t know where social media is going, but we know that it’s going somewhere cool, so let’s just go with it and have a good time.”
New Media Woven into the Event
The ABA did a great job of integrating new media into Marketplace. Between its iPhone App and its SMS-led fundraising, Marketplace wove social and mobile media platforms directly into its event, taking advantage of its large crowd to offer generous donations.
Marketplace had an easy-to-use iPhone application with a sleek design, and that allowed for quick access to key info. Laying out a shortened schedule and floor plan for a near-week full of events, it served as a perfect guidebook for Marketplace newbies. In addition, the ABA also included information about Philadelphia, for those who wanted to see the city outside of the scheduled group tours. This iPhone app was quite well done, I’d say.
SMS Fundraising for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation
Marketplace raised more than $45,000 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer, a great deal from audience donations during the live entertainment portion of the event, which a large audience captive as representatives of the organization encouraged the audience, captivated by Cirque du Soleil, Best of Broadway and several other live performances, to donate via text-message. This method definitely worked, and demonstrated the true power of using smart phone technology to effectively raise funds for a cause people are passionate about.
All in All
Overall, this experience was a great opportunity to experience my first trade show, represent my company, and go back home to Philadelphia (I loved every minute of it!). I’d recommend that all public relations professionals make it out to at least one trade show per year, because the experiences and connections that you’ll make in a few short days at one will be invaluable. Not only do you present on the show floor, but you often take quality educational seminars, and see firsthand masterful use of new media technology. *Thumbs up* to that.
And now, it’s your turn…..
What is your experience with trade shows? Would you recommend them to PR pros? Share your thoughts below.
A few weeks ago, reading through Mashable’s list of 10 Websites to Watch in 2011, I couldn’t help but notice a few interesting choices. Although I had fully expected to see Foursquare and Quora on the list (both of which have enjoyed mainstream exposure throughout 2010), I was pleasantly surprised to see that Kickstarter, one of the newest “crowdfunding” platforms, had not only made the cut, but was listed as the #1 pick to watch.
This site’s only been around for a year and some change, but it seems to be taking the social fundraising scene by storm lately, and I’ve had positive experiences as well. I’m anxious to see what the future holds for this platform, especially in terms of usage for PR and fundraising campaigns. So today, I share with you the quick-and-dirty down-low on this new tool.
What is Kickstarter?
One of the newest “crowdfunding” platforms on the social media scene, founded in April 2009, Kickstarter has gained a ton of popularity very quickly. In just a short time span, this site has helped hundreds of diverse projects to raise millions of dollars through a rather unique approach to social fundraising.
The site allows users to create a profile for a project, filling in the details through a standard “About” section. Users can then leave comments on projects, share via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, email, or even embed project videos and widgets on outside websites. By allowing users to share links to projects freely, Kickstarter integrates social elements seamlessly. The site’s real strength is in allowing users to share real causes with the world, connecting their stories with audiences that care about them, and are willing to support the cause through donation.
Users take action to donate for a few main reasons. First, the social-proof nature of the Kickstarter’s site inspires a sort of “group-think” mentality, where people are willing to donate to causes that have a good amount of support, and the sense of urgency that Kickstarter’s unique “all-or-nothing” deadline attitude creates.
Kickstarter uses an approach that allows users to set a fundraising goal, but only receive the money if they are able to fully reach that goal in pledges by other users. (For example: if you were to set a goal of $100, and find enough donors to back your project that you raised $150, you would keep $150. If you were to set a goal of $100 but only managed to raise $70, however, you would receive nothing.) In other words, if the entirety of the cause’s fundraising goal is not met by the deadline date, the cause receives nothing.
Here’s how Kickstarter explains it (taken straight from its FAQs):
Every Kickstarter project must be fully funded before its time expires or no money changes hands. Why?
1. It’s less risk for everyone. If you need $5,000, it’s tough having $2,000 and a bunch of people expecting you to complete a $5,000 project.
2. It allows people to test concepts (or conditionally sell stuff) without risk. If you don’t receive the support you want, you’re not compelled to follow through. This is huge!
3. It motivates. If people want to see a project come to life, they’re going to spread the word
So far this approach seems to be working for Kickstarter.
It worked for my college a cappella group…
Last year, The UGA Accidentals, for example, used Kickstarter to help fund our trip to New York to compete in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. Though our group was cash-strapped at the time, we decided to crowd-source to raise the funds for the multi-day trip.
Hearing of the success of other Kickstarter projects, we filmed a video expressing our passion for singing and created our own campaign, which we then linked back to our website and promoted via Facebook and Twitter. What worked for us? …Setting up progressively cooler rewards for those who pledged more also helped. Within days, we’d raised the money.
The result: in 15 days, more than 50 backers, dedicated Accidentals fans, pledged to donate to our project. In all, we raised nearly $4,000 dollars for our trip to New York through fan donations, in just over two weeks.
Look no further than “Blue Like Jazz,” an indie film project by Steve Jazz, slated to release later this fall. Two devoted fans created a Kickstarter project called “Save Blue Like Jazz” after hearing that the movie might be canceled due to lack of funding. Within weeks, thousands of online supporters rallied to funnel nearly $350,000 dollars to the film’s budget, in effect saving the film from being canned. Not only did Kickstarter help raise thousands of dollars to produce the film, but served as a method of free online advertising, and a great PR story.
Here’s what the “Save Blue Like Jazz” Kickstarter page looked like:
What this means for you, PR people
The above are just a few quick examples that illustrate Kickstarter’s usefulness for crowd fundraising and PR efforts.
Kickstarter works, but why?
It seems that the site’s power, and future success, lies in its ability to allow groups with real causes to share their stories with stakeholders and help fund dreams. Most people love a good story, or doing their part to rally behind a compelling cause. I predict that a great number of campaigns will begin to integrate crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter in their public relations campaigns.
Mashable already says that this site is one to look out for in 2011, and I co-sign this sentiment.
So what more are you waiting for? If you’ve got a cause and could use some cash for it, use this platform to connect with your stakeholders and reach your goals. It seems like a no-brainer to me.
Don’t just watch out for this rising star; use it in your PR campaigns. Find a cause that people can rally behind.
And now it’s time to share your experiences…
Have you used Kickstarter in the past? How do you see crowdfunding platforms influencing the field of PR going forward? Share your thoughts below.
* Special thanks go out to my friend @Kiley0 for introducing me to Kickstarter way back when it first came out. He is always “on the ball,” so to speak, when it comes to knowing about the latest new media platforms.