Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Playing Fast and Loose with Trade Show Press Lists

Part of a good media relations program is trade show support in which we obtain the press list provided by the show organizers and start calling. Reporters often find this annoying, especially when PR people call with no real news and just offering up interviews with executives.

But the fact is, trade shows (popular and successful shows) are often the only time people from the company you're representing and beat reporters will be in the same city. That means it's one of the few times a CEO can sit down, face-to-face with a key reporter and make a personal connection. From the media relations perspective this is something you don't want to give up.

Today I received a list from a relatively well-known and respected show in the telecommunications field. In glancing at the names I noticed one reporter who I know is on leave from his publication, along with an odd-looking email address. I contacted the reporter to ask if he was back on the job and if he planned on attending the conference. Not only is he on leave through the summer, but he had never even heard of the show and had no intention of attending.

Was this just wishful thinking on behalf of the show organizers? Was it outright lying?

In the past I've seen trade show lists that included names of reporters who attended last year but hadn't signed up for the current year. Still other reporters don't even bother registering as "press" for fear of getting the phone calls mentioned above.

This raises some serious issues in my head. First, many of my clients look at a press list as they send it off to me and say something like "hey, this looks pretty good." They see big industry names and often assume it'll be a no-brainer to book meetings. That's a challenge I can handle. But when the show organizers have completely lied about who is attending, it's giving paying exhibitors the wrong impression about the importance of the show. Sure, they can invite all the press they want, but suggesting that reporters from such places at Forbes, BusinessWeek and The Economist are planning to attend, when the only reporters actually showing up are from small trade publications sends the wrong impression.

I also wonder what advantages reporters get from registering as press at such events. And now with just about every attendee with a laptop and a wireless connection as a potential blogger and podcaster, should they all be registered as press?

The trade show industry is having trouble, we all know that, but are they hurting themselves even more by putting out "press lists" that aren't worth their weight? Are they crossing an ethical line? Or am I just making too much out of too little?


prblog said...

Chuck, Considering the trade show organizers guard that list like it contains the launch codes, you would think it would be tighter and more accurate.

Media sometimes do not have to/need to register until the last second. This is particularly true if they and the show are in NYC.

So I doubt that even if show organizers were honest about it, the list quality would improve.

The bottom line is you should know the media before the show and not need a list like that in the first place!

Chuck Tanowitz said...

That's a good point, and something I neglected to mention in my post. Of course we know who we're targeting on a regular basis and who will probably be at the show. You know also know that certain publications will be sending a number of reporters to some shows and you just work with the editor to figure out who would be the best fit.

But there have been many times when you find that business reporter who is in the process of changing beats and using the show as a learning experience. Or the AP reporter who normally wouldn't want to speak with a tech company, but will give you a few minutes at the right show. Or sometimes the local reporters you wouldn't normally target, but may give you a piece that gets syndicated through some news sharing system.

So those lists can be useful.

RandomThoughts said...

Most press lists are pretty bogus. I had never heard they seed the list, but Von has said they have the real list and a list they send out. They kind of bite the hand that feeds them, I know if the press gets ticked off enough, they stop coming, but media coverage is part of the determination of actually going to the show. Screw with that and you screw with the value of the show.

Chuck Tanowitz said...

If what you say about the VON list is true, then what would they do with the "true" list? Is there a select group of companies that get a real list, and the rest get the bogus one? How do they determine what to put on each?

Seems like more work than it's worth. But then again, VON is a pretty big show right now and I think the Pulver organization sometimes uses that for its own best interest.