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Positive spin

by EN

EN editor Saul Leese connects with leading industry professionals to get their take on PR during and after Covid-19.

There’s no denying it, the second half of the year looks like mayhem. And while it’s a ‘happy headache’ to have, it’s still a headache, as event marketers find themselves in a very different situation, and in some cases having to reinvent the wheel. Marketers are reliant on a myriad of challenges, but perhaps the most significant, is creating a compelling argument that helps restore visitor confidence, and get people back and buying at shows. PR has a key role to play in all of this because people believe what they read, now more than ever, and it’s still one of the cheapest parts of the marketing mix.

Paul Richardson, MD, Vividink PR

It seems tempting, during a time of national emergency, to think of PR, marketing and promotion as somehow undignified or crass. “How can you think of promoting yourself at a time like this?”.

This can be followed by the temptation to improve your short-term cash flow situation by trimming back, or even cutting your PR and marketing spend altogether. This is a mistake. The unvarnished truth is that businesses must market themselves, particularly if they want to emerge from this pandemic period in a fit state to survive the tough times to follow. And PR is the one tool in your business survival toolkit that, right now, is going to be very effective.

The news media and the trade press are thirsty for news all the time. The big news for the event industry, in the absence of any actual events, has been the creation of the Nightingale hospitals – and the involvement of the industry has been well reported. But otherwise the newswires are growing quieter, and that makes now the perfect moment to speak.

There’s a surfeit of gloom and doom stories for editors to choose from, so positive, industry-relevant news will  be a welcome alternative for putting together the day’s web news or this month’s magazine.

Naturally, you need to be aware of the tone of your news – in spite of this opportunity, these are not normal times – but don’t be ashamed of your successes and don’t keep quiet about your developments and innovations. When the industry does rumble back to life, as it must, the competition for attention will be intense, and the businesses that have been steadily feeding the news machine during the quiet times will be in pole position.

Top five tips to getting the best PR in a crowded event schedule for Q3/Q4

When the industry restarts there will be a cacophony of news, pitches, op-eds and everything in between, all of it thrown at media channels and their editors. The noise will be deafening.

  1. Pick your stories wisely – your news has to be relevant to the readers of the media channel, it’s going to be something that an editor or journalist believes their readers want to see.
  2. Is it a big story or idea? If it is, pitch it. When targeting a single channel, the telephone is your friend, as is any editor looking for good, solid content. However, the opposite is true, pitching fluff and puffery pieces will not sit well with any editor worth their salt. Pick up the phone and talk to them.
  3. Writing a news release – make sure that it’s well written, structured correctly, grammatically correct and there are no typos – if an editor has two good stories and one is good to go but the other needs a lot of work, guess which one will get the coverage?
  4. Photograph – always, and I cannot stress this enough, always provide hires, well-composed and well-exposed images to support your story. A great image can sell a story, it can tip the balance in your favour if there’s competition for space.
  5. Follow it up. Who covered the news, who didn’t? Who got back to you with further questions? Get a feel for which publications are naturally more suited to your news and try pitching an exclusive.

Katie Morhen, director, 52eight3 PR

If we’re honest with ourselves, our event communications have been in a funk for a while now.

Marketing teams are running at a thousand miles per hour, on limited budgets, and are reduced to using recycled messaging and lacklustre ‘FOMO’ based campaigns – all the while juggling the influx of new digital marketing channels with fairly limited success.

With a huge proportion of event marketers now on furlough, budgets slashed and PR teams out with the bathwater, these challenges are set to continue as we attempt to deliver audiences to an incredibly competitive events calendar for Q3 & Q4. What a fantastic opportunity for something new.

A chance to ditch the legacy marketing models that have been waning for years and take a fresh approach to engaging with your audiences.

It’s hard to predict what the new “normal” will look like but what is for sure is being the “biggest” and “best” trade show isn’t going to speak to a Zoomed-out generation of 2020 when they are released from lockdown. People are coming to terms with the “fear of missing out” and their priorities have changed.

Events will facilitate the comeback of face-to-face contact for industries (I for one can’t wait), but how are we going to communicate with our audiences in this brave new world?

We know that people buy from people, so it’s time we go back to marketing basics and ask ourselves – who are we to our exhibitors and visitors? It’s time for us to realise: money and profit are no longer the currency, buying more isn’t cool and sustainability isn’t a subculture.

No-one is going to attend an event just because its “market-leading” or be WOW-ed by faux attendance figures. Both in their personal and business lives, people will be looking for brands which share their values and are doing business the right way. According to Mary Portas “businesses who organise themselves around this kindness way of behaving, will be the ones who win”.

It’s time to build an event with real values and a mission that empathises with the people you serve – both personally and professionally. What is your event legacy and how are you impacting the Planet and treating your People (in that order)

Using your previous marketing and PR strategy will be as effective as stockpiling toilet roll for your comeback campaign, so ditch it. Be bold, challenge the status quo and be kind. It’s what makes us human after all.

Top five tips to getting the best PR in a crowded event schedule

  • Be transparent, communicate clearly and with empathy
  • Drop the legacy monkey, don’t be afraid to do something fresh
  • Un-schedule your social – With the news changing every minute, a well intentioned planned message can quickly become inappropriate!
  • Don’t undervalue the role of exhibitors in helping you build your event audience
  • Embrace kindness – it will make you stand out from the rest

Andrew White, MD, Triggerfish

These six weeks of toxic shock have been a game changer for events, and will potentially rewrite the way the sector operates. We’ve confirmed we can adequately work from home and we’ve proved we can communicate via webinars. Equally we’ve highlighted our needs as people to be connected, and most tellingly for the business of faceto-face, we’ve underlined our human need for personal touch and interaction.

The question is how this will play out when lockdown is lifted and how can we start marketing for the still unknown landscape of face-to-face meetings and live events?

For many organisers, venues and suppliers the corporate client is the target market. And without a doubt, the corporate will come back to their workplace balancing the need to reboot their company culture through employee engagement while also paying heed to the facts that budgets are going to be tight; and more pressingly they have a heightened duty of care to their employees and stakeholders. Controversially, will their client and employee face-to-face events even be the right forum?

From a PR perspective these considerations, and hopefully worst case scenarios, need to be worked through, solutions found, and positives presented on the demonstrable impact that face-to-face communications has, had and will continue to have.

The key for any supplier in the event sector is to revisit their tried and tested USPs as these may well be outdated, even ludicrous, after social distancing and in this new era for society. The event sector’s core vocabulary with claims such as ‘10,000 visitors’ at a trade show, or the ‘ease of bringing delegates together over sharing platters’, or ‘theatre-style seating for 250’ may not even be legal lexicon if many of the mooted restrictions become a reality.

It’s also widely reported that there will be changes in the supply chain; from venue operators, caterers, AV suppliers, team build companies to professional organisers. Only time will tell. One thing for sure is that when we are on a more even keel, supplier integrity will be a new benchmark. The ‘big bucks’ business value of integrity. Therefore, it’s key to start talking about your values, your actions and the impact they have had, and will continue to have, on the wider event sector. Did you continue to pay your creditors? Were you flexible in your terms and conditions? Did you become involved in helping the NHS? Did your furloughed employees volunteer their time for charitable purposes? For so many in the events industry relationships are built on the cross sell between ancillary suppliers and actions speak louder than words.

When lockdown is lifted, the events industry is going to be awash with communications from suppliers; discounted hire offers, offers to thank the NHS, short lead offers and the inevitable January offers. However, corporate and other organisations won’t necessarily be buying off discount – it will be health and safety and adherence to new legislations that will get noticed. Savvy operators are already sharing their newly learned best practices amongst their target markets and without doubt it is an informed and intelligent way of marketing unlike the short-lead scattergun day delegate discount and increased commissions.

Cleanliness certifications, a heightened use of technology while reducing the dependence on shared devices and a greater reliance on voice control on your devices are all coming to the fore as we migrate from the traditional handshake, to the new wave of the hand.

It goes without saying that, when building a reputation, the landscape has transformed in the last few years due to the digitisation of the media. Consumer and trade print media remain key, however, today’s buyers are as likely to be influenced by what they read online and across social media. Press releases, editorial, commentary and awards build a brand, its digital and social media that keep your brand alive and as a constant reminder to potential buyers.

Therefore, look at the channels your target market engages with: LinkedIn for thought leadership, association newsfeeds to maximise your relationships with your ancillary supply chain, trade publications to drive home your standing amongst your peers, Instagram to bring some personality and reality to your organisation and the consumer media to put a nationwide stamp on your brand.

We are fortunate that the business of hospitality (and, in turn, live events) is on the national agenda through the ramifications from so many cancelled sporting occasions, music concerts, consumer occasions and the decimation of the eating out market.

Collectively we have a duty and an opportunity to keep this story going and to keep the events sector profile raised by highlighting how we are compensating and finding solutions, and ultimately innovating in order to navigate a new era of face-to-face.

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