From South by Southwest to Facebook’s F8 conference, one trade show after another has been postponed or cancelled in response to COVID-19. When trade show planning often begins a year in advance, the hours of preparing with vendors, sales teams and colleagues – not to mention the significant monetary investment – may seem all for naught.
Though a cancelled show is far from ideal under any circumstance, there are specific actions you and your team can take to salvage your efforts and deliver business value in creative new ways.
- Devise your contingency plan. First, assess the goals your team had originally hoped to accomplish at the trade show to determine the next best option. Were you planning to launch a new suite of products that will be a major contribution to your business’s bottom line? Consider launching a virtual experience to help generate leads. Producing webinars is a good option for building personal relationships via real-time conversations and allows your company to answer specific questions about the product or program you’re featuring. If your trade show was crucial to establishing key networking connections, you may decide the best path forward is to postpone all activity until the trade show is rescheduled. Prioritize deciding as quickly as possible and stick with that resolution.
- Ensure cross-organizational alignment. In uncertain times, a clear voice and firm leadership is needed more than ever. Be proactive and decisive in your communications. Once you’ve formulated your contingency plan, send department-wide emails that dictate the new proposal and deliver pertinent announcement updates to instill employee confidence. Be sure to offer clear directives for how they can best support the alternate course. You’ll also want to communicate with your billing department to coordinate with vendors about any planned, onsite trade show meetings you had scheduled.
- Equip your sales team to maintain connections digitally. Without in-person trade shows and events as a backdrop for your sales team to wine and dine customers, your sales people might feel disoriented and unmotivated. Boost the confidence of your sales team by equipping them with relevant digital literacy skills to help them establish and maintain connections via digital platforms. G&S can help by offering trainings on how your team can optimize their LinkedIn profiles and strategy to boost leads, host a training on virtual sales techniques and rehearse conversations to reassure customers.
- Use social listening to monitor competitors and key media. While you should always strive to position yourself as an industry leader through your decisive actions around the trade show cancellation, you should keep tabs on key media and competitor messaging to monitor others’ contingency plans. To help track competitors, monitor their social media feeds and set up news alerts. Tracking updates from key media and event organizers will help ensure that your contingency plans are meeting people where they are with the latest industry concerns and conversation. To avoid the risk of sounding tone-deaf, align your backup messaging around the trends you identify from your monitoring efforts.
- Unleash business communications. If your response efforts involve a digital component, you’ll need to drive traffic and generate buzz around the online trade show-related assets. With a multitude of tools available to help promote your assets, you’ll need to refine your goals and do your research to decide on the right mix. For general brand awareness, we encourage traditional tools, such as a news release, social media campaign, and phone or email interviews. However, there’s no better time to try out a Google Ad campaign or LinkedIn InMail campaign if your primary goal is to drive traffic back to your online assets to generate leads.
- Set marketing goals and measure impact. Setting baseline goals for trade show-related marketing campaigns is important so you can adjust tactics and optimize accordingly. When you’re managing online efforts, tracking traditional media, social and advertising engagement allows a greater level of transparency. Establishing specific, measurable, aspirational, realistic and time-bound (SMART) marketing goals is always a good place to start so you’re being practical while tracking your progress.
Trade shows are a hallmark for several industries, so it's admittedly challenging to have them yanked away. However, you can still derive business value from a postponed or cancelled trade show by acting quickly and decisively, setting goals and establishing clear lines of communication. What’s more, if executed well, your trade show contingency strategy can keep you and your attendees engaged and excited as you build up to your next round of trade shows in 2021.
For new updates and other resources, please visit www.gscommunications.com/coronavirus, and do not hesitate to contact us with further inquiries. We know the uncertainty brings significant business risks, and we’re here to help.