Beating the Odds When Pitching Trade Show Media Interviews

Jun 24, 2020

It sounds like a simple request: we’re going to be at such-and-such conference or event and we want to secure some media interviews while we’re there. It makes sense, since trade show media interviews have been a staple of public relations pretty much since Glogg launched the wheel at the first Prehistoric Transportation Expo.

The problem is the business and media worlds have changed quite a bit in the last 10 years, particularly in healthcare. Major trade shows such the HIMSS Global Health Conference and Exhibition have grown tremendously. In fact, before it was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, HIMSS20 was touting that it would have more than 1,300 exhibitors covering 1.2 million square feet of floor space. And they are not the only ones to experience this proportional growth.

In the meantime, the media world has been shrinking. Overall there are fewer reporters and fewer publications. Budget considerations mean that the remaining publications will be sending fewer reporters to cover conferences, and some may not send any at all – even for large conferences such as HIMSS. 

You can probably see where I’m headed. With so much competition for so few “prizes” the odds are really stacked against you. That’s why it’s important to be on top of your pitching game.

Here are a few suggestions to help you rise to the top of reporters’ must-see lists and secure more trade show media interviews once in-person conferences are a thing again.

First, be realistic

Back when I started at Amendola Communications, it was not unusual for us to target 7-9 media and analyst appointments for our clients at a major trade show such as HIMSS. That is no longer feasible.

The entire media list at a conference that size may have between 100 and 200 names on it. Of those, only a small percentage are likely to cover your company’s segment, and some of the people within that subset will be publishers who aren’t interested in what you’re selling but instead want to sell you on advertising or marketing with their publications.

If you’re lucky, maybe there are 10 names on that list that are appropriate and valuable for media interviews. It’s unlikely those 10 people only cover your niche, however, so there could be dozens of companies competing for their time.

They are also going to want to attend some of the educational sessions, or take part in other activities, so the time they have to devote to booth or media room interviews is actually fairly limited.

You are unlikely to capture the attention of all 10, so expecting a number even close to that range is simply unrealistic. A more practical number is 2-3. If you secure that many interviews with the right people these days you’re doing well.

At a smaller conference, there may only be 10 reporters (or fewer) attending, no matter what the advance media list says. If you can get even one of those 10 to interview your subject matter experts you’re doing well. That’s just the realities and economics of the media world today.

Building the pitch

Now that you know what you’re up against, and how competitive it really is, it’s time to start building the pitch.

If you’re going to be successful in rising to the top of the must-see list, you need to capture reporters attention. The easiest way NOT to do that is to talk about yourself.

If your pitch starts out “(OUR AWESOME COMPANY) has been in healthcare for 20 years. In that time we have helped dozens of hospitals and health systems (DO SOMETHING GENERIC, LIKE IMPROVE OUTCOMES AND LOWER COSTS) you’re going to wind up with a hard pass. No matter how many follow-up calls you make or how much you beat up your agency to get appointments.

There is nothing in that generic pitch that is interesting or urgent to the reporter. Remember that the first three letters in “news” are “new.”

To secure those trade show media interviews you have to present something rare and valuable, right up-front.

Offer a customer

The absolute gold is customer stories. Reporters always, always, always want to talk to customers. Did I say they ALWAYS want to do that?

If you have a customer to speak with, lead with that. Make it the major part of your pitch. You can also offer to hook them up with your SME while they’re there, but telling them they can speak to a customer who has used your product and produced quantifiable results with it moves you to the head of the class.

Talk about a new product or service

If you don’t have a customer to offer, second in line is the introduction of a new product or service. Not just an upgrade of your existing offering but a true innovation. If you can talk about an industry issue and explain how your solution addresses it in a way that has never been done before, you’re bound to capture some interest.

Lead with industry issues

What if you’re just going to be there with no customers and nothing new? Honestly, it’s going to be tough to secure any trade show media interviews. But you never know a reporter might have a hole or two to fill, or may already be a fan of your organization.

In that case, the best you can do is again start with an industry issue and then go into how you solve it versus starting with your company’s boilerplate or “About Us” from the website and then getting around to the problem you solve.

One other thing to keep in mind: although you may love and admire your CEO, unless he/she has an Elon Musk or Bill Gates level of celebrity is probably not that interesting to a reporter. Talk about an issue, then offer up the CEO as someone who can address the solution.

Try working relationships

One other thing you can try is working good, existing relationships with reporters. If you’ve worked with someone a few times in the past that person may be willing to at least do a “drive-by” an unscheduled stop when he/she has a few free moments.

While not as reliable as confirmed trade show media interviews you never know. The reporter may stumble across something interesting and spend some time checking it out.

Of course, if you don’t have any relationships already it might be a good time to speak with a PR agency that does. I can think of one in particular that has an outstanding reputation with reporters and editors in healthcare and health IT.

An agency with a large client roster will sometimes get opportunities not available to the general public, such as a reporter asking for a list of clients attending the conference so he/she can pick and choose the ones he/she wants to visit. That’s the fast track to a trade show media interviews because the reporter is depending on his/her relationship with the agency to lead him/her to the right clients.

No guarantees

Even with all of those tips there is still no guarantee you’ll get the trade show media interviews you desire. There’s a lot of hard work, and not a small amount of luck, that goes into it.

Still, these tips can help you increase your odds and make your own luck. And if you’d like that agency help, give us a call.

Ken Krause

An award-winning writer for his work in advertising, marketing and public relations, Ken Krause has a diverse background that includes more than 30 years of combined agency- and client-side experience. Ken has in-depth experience in technology products and services, healthcare, supply chain, consumer electronics and other vertical markets. He previously served as Vice President of Content Services at Tech Image, where he spent 14 years. Ken also served as Marketing Communications Manager at ASAP Software (now a part of Dell). His earlier career includes stints as an Account Manager at Marketing Support, Inc. and McKee Advertising and as a Senior Copywriter for Meyer/Fredericks.