Nina Gardiner, CEO of Spotl1ght Communications, reflects on a long career in PR and says many in the industry still do not recognise the value of trade press.
Tell us how long you've been working in the MICE industry, and some of the notable events you have promoted?
I have spent my whole PR career working inside the travel sector which led me into the events side via exhibitions. 25 years ago, hotel clients wanted their brands to be promoted from both sides, consumer and business.
My first event client was World Travel Market – but it also helped to have exhibitors who were also clients at the same event! Looking back, it’s been an eclectic mix of experiences since those days – my business took off as an independent PR company specialising in both travel and events.
When I went independent, I was swiftly asked to be part of the Blenheim Exhibitions structure – and 10 years later they sold on, so that in itself was a massive learning of the importance and value PR can bring to exhibitions and events both consumer and b2b.
Certainly launching Erotica with Brian Wiseman is an experience never to be forgotten!
It’s strange how things morph into the working day – as my team grew we took on the PR for so many different trade shows across so many industry sectors, it is the how and why PR is important and the value of certain tactics that help with the sales and marketing of a show that is vital.
The media in a sector play such an important role to not only the events but also to those participating in them. For example in the travel industry if you invite the world’s top travel editors to attend a trade show for three days, just think how much value this brings to an exhibitor who would probably a) never even find these media without engaging with many international PR consultants, and b) if they work it, they leave a show with potential media contacts to engage with for as long as they want!
We were contracted to start work on IBTM world the year it was bought by Reed Exhibitions and moved from Geneva to Barcelona. This is where the destination and venue are so vital: in helping achieve goals that make an international PR campaign for the events industry of value to everyone involved.
We spent more than a decade building an international media attendance, helping exhibitors learn from the value of the publications and journalists, creating press conferences so participants had an opportunity to meet the media face to face and of course helping with show dailies, onsite TV news and so much more. That’s where this industry became embedded into my agency culture and joining CEO groups, making longstanding friendships and mentors.
What do you think the biggest challenges are when it comes to promoting events?
I think the challenge starts by not having the right mindset. Many people don’t understand how events and exhibitions are such an important element of the marketing mix, or the power of good PR.
What is vital is that the organisers understand and are supportive of the role of the industry media from the outset. They are a vital voice, and should be respected as such. Then it’s the show’s marketing team that need to be part of the dynamic that involves PR tactics to spread the messages and support the brand values. It is the holistic approach that works - PR can never stand in isolation.
I am still amazed after all these years about the number of missed opportunities for different brands at exhibitions. Getting exhibitors to understand why their news is of interest to attending press, how to present that news, how to get journalists to their own onsite events, and then of course the vital follow up afterwards is all part of the role of PR and we love it...and it is SO satisfying when you succeed and have happy organisers and even happier exhibitors!
What top tips would you offer to those looking to promote themselves at an exhibition?
In no particular order:
Ø Be willing to proactively engage with the media before an event. Talk to the organiser’s marketing team and tell them what you want to achieve as part of your onsite PR objectives, you should find a whole world of opportunities open up! Don’t expect journalists to come to you.
Ø Think stories and the broader industry narrative – ask yourself how your brand can be pushing the industry debate on further?
Ø If you have a product or service to launch or promote then be clear on what the ‘so-what’ is – always the acid test. Challenge yourself on why it will be interesting and work from there.
Ø Create a campaign that will engage with the media the whole year around and not just the event itself.
Ø Being a small player doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the PR action at a trade show, it’s not always about the size of your stand! One of the tactics our agency created is to help small exhibitors meet with attending media onsite, those who have no chance of engaging with more than 100 international media otherwise – it’s now part of that event and has come to be a valuable if not priceless opportunity with exhibitors asking to be involved.
Ø Finally see everything as an opportunity and a benefit – it’s worth investing some of time to get your marketing and PR right so your sales lead pipeline flourishes and you can truly reap the benefits.
Ø Understand and take on board – PR is a vital part of the successful trade show process. Ignore it at your peril!
Finally, what is the best bit of business advice someone has given you?
You can’t be good at everything in your business, so it’s important to find the talent who are better in core areas – together you can build a really strong team.