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Tips from a career in exhibition industry PR

by Stuart Wood

Charlie Le Rougetel, founder and director of BIGTOP PR, shares some wisdom from a career in exhibition industry PR.


I got my first job in PR 25 years ago. It was in Glasgow working for a ‘hi-tech’ agency. My first client was a software developer. They built telephone switching systems. It was dryer than dry January.

My second client was Scottish Enterprise though, and they had the foresight to see the potential in multimedia and video games. There was a strong pool of game developers in Scotland and I was lucky enough to work with them and the Scottish Games Alliance. Fast forward 12 months and I had landed a job with a London agency that specialised in video games PR. It was amazing – it was the late 90s, clients had big budgets and there were weekly parties. What was not to love?

One of my first clients was ECTS, a video game trade show run by Miller Freeman. And that was it – I was bitten big time by the exhibitions bug. I loved it. I loved the focus on one immovable date. I loved build-up. I loved break down. I loved the buzz. I loved that tiny bit of fear that exists knowing anything could happen on the day given we’re dealing with a living, breathing thing. And things have happened, believe me: registration systems have gone into meltdown resulting in huge queues of very angry visitors, shell scheme has collapsed, protestors have gate crashed stands and refused to leave (on more than one occasion), the bar has run dry, media have written vicious words about exhibitor content, TFL has gone on strike, blizzards have kept people at home, journalists have no-showed …

Yet, still I love this industry. And with decades under my belt running PR campaigns for exhibitions and conferences, I’ve trawled my brain for a few PR tips for B2B trade show organisers…


  • All exhibition PR is the same. All exhibitor PR campaigns should have the same objectives, and don’t let any agency tell you different. Our job is to drive visitor registration and to create content (including media coverage) to support the sales and marketing teams to make sure next year happens. How we do that will change for each show, but essentially that’s what every show PR campaign boils down to. If it’s not set out to achieve that, forget it.


  • Everyone is a brand ambassador. You have potentially thousands of brand ambassadors at your fingertips who can amplify what your PR team does: your exhibitors, speakers, sponsors, partners, advisory board members, venue marketing teams. You already know these people like your show (they come to it, often year after year), so use them to tell everyone else why they should come, too, whether that’s through social, interviews, video bites, website content, or helping them do their own PR to increase media coverage pre-show.


  • Make the most of third-party content. Your show is home to a hub of media-friendly content: what’s happening on your exhibitors’ stands. Use it to create media stories that the show can piggy back on and that add to your exhibitors’ ROI. It takes time to get out there and discover what your exhibitors are doing – what they are launching, if they are planning to bring a celebrity that’s slipped their mind to mention, if they are flying in a CEO who’s never done UK interviews before – but it’s worth the investment.


  • It really isn’t all about you. Visitors don’t care about your show. They don’t care that you’ve just signed your 100th exhibitor or that your re-book rate is up 5% on last year. What they do care about is that you understand what’s keeping them up at night, what they need from you to do their job better, progress their careers, cut costs and make money. This is what your PR messaging needs to focus on.


  • Be community spirited. The best trade shows are those that win the hearts and minds of the community they operate in and for, that work hard to become accepted by the industry, that give back, that are seen as an authority, a helping hand, one of them. This should be reflected in your PR through thought leadership pieces, valuable and free visitor-focused content, social media content. That’s how you become an unmissable date in the calendar.


  • Think in years, not days. Your show may only be one, two, three days. But the industry exists 24/7/365. Court them all year round through your PR – it doesn’t need to be full on for 12 months, it just needs to exist. There’s nothing worse than building your brand marketing to a crescendo pre-show and then disappearing into a silent void as soon as the tannoy announces it’s over. That week post-show is when your visitors are most engaged in your brand – make the most of it.


  • Exhibitions are a sector in their own right. I’ve worked for many exhibition organisers who tried sector-specific agencies before coming to BIGTOP. You have a cyber security event, so you want cyber security specialists, right? Hmmm… possibly, but I doubt it. What you really want, is someone who understands how exhibitions work first and foremost, the industry expertise will follow. That’s the only way I can explain how we now work across licensing, travel, technology, manufacturing, employee benefits, retail, marketing and more.

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