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Tradeshow season is upon us. RSA, Interop and the Open Networking Summit are just around the corner. As we prepare for each show, the long days, the booth design, the networking events, we can’t forget the most important element of the show: building a relationship between your target audience and your brand. It’s imperative to focus on brand marketing not just during, but before and after any major event or tradeshow. These efforts will build familiarity and trust between the brand and key audiences before the show. While the show itself can be a big event for your brand, the behind the scenes work leading up to, during and after the show is essential to elevating your brand and engaging new followers.

Here are some key public relations initiatives to help drive the brand-to-customer/influencer connection leading up to and during a tradeshow:

  • Pick a theme. When beginning a plan for a tradeshow, start with your overarching theme. Ask yourself: What is the goal for this tradeshow? How do I want people to bond and interact with my brand? When you’ve identified your goal and theme, incorporate it through every aspect of your show plan.
  • Use social media to build brand awareness. Start using and following the event hashtag on social media as early as possible, tie the key show themes into your overarching brand theme. Make sure that you are seeking new followers in related industries and engaging with other potential show attendees well in advance of the event. Hire or assign a dedicated social media advocate to post live during the tradeshow.
  • Use your newsletter and blog. If you have an existing newsletter and/or blog, definitely utilize those assets. Use these to lay the groundwork for your messaging and theme. Announce your participation in the show, highlight any special events, giveaways or new features in your booth. This is also a chance to showcase any speakers from your company that may be featured at the show.
  • Build anticipation. Communicate what’s unique about your brand and exhibit well in advance of the show. Use social media to drive home these efforts and support your theme. Hint at any special guests you may have in your booth, or tease contests and prizes. You want to make sure that people are planning to visit your booth before they even arrive at the show.
  • Make the most of SEO. In order to align with the show and themes, weave SEO terms throughout your marketing material and event messaging to help align your brand with the specific industry you are targeting at that tradeshow. Be sure to have your booth number and location easy to find in all your communications leading up the show.
  • Host an online event. Consider hosting a Tweet Chat or Google+ hangout to further engage with (and acquire) new followers to give your brand a more tangible, human presence. These sessions can foster discussions about topics that extend from the show themes, as well as tie-in with your own theme, current news and hot industry trends. Webinars can similarly be a great way to inform your audience leading up to a show. If possible, utilize a spokesperson who can be available in the booth during the show to engage live with your new followers.
  • Engage during the show. Your designated social media advocate should be live tweeting from key panels and events, utilizing @ mentions and hashtags. Make sure to include plenty of visuals to round out content and increase engagement. Possible visuals could include a Vine video of booth staff encouraging attendees to stop by, or a photo album documenting the event.
  • Keep the momentum going. After the show, make certain to continue to engage with the audiences that you built up before and during the show. Write up a blog post summarizing the event and promote it on social channels. Continue to participate in conversations about key industry themes and interact with influencers. Share insights and company assets that are relevant to conversations following the show.

Integrating these elements into your show plan is essential to setting your brand up for success this tradeshow season. Your blog and social media campaigns should complement each other; your sales team should be prepped with any new messaging you have prior to the show; your team should reflect a cohesive, united front. By using the time leading up to and after a show wisely, you can have new followers falling in love with your brand before they ever step foot on the expo floor and engaging with you long after the event.

For more social media tips during tradeshows, check out this SlideShare presentation from M/P’s Rory Schaff.