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Trade Shows are for PR Pros: A Review of “Marketplace 2011″

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

ABA Marketplace 2011 @ The Philadelphia Convention Center

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:

It was like that everywhere that I went, 24/7.

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.


Presenting at Terrapin Blue's booth.

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.

iPhone App

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.