Tips from the Trenches: News-Friendly Trade Shows

There are a lot of cannabis industry trade shows, aren’t there? Some months there’s a major event every week. By design, these events are where the industry gathers. They bring together unique economies of scale through the quantity and diversity of attendees, including newsmakers and journalists.

In other industries, trade shows generate lots of news coverage. But in cannabis, a surprisingly small number of news stories emanate from the events. That’s a missed opportunity, considering more than 400 cannabis-centric media outlets exist in North America and mainstream media increases its cannabis coverage daily. By ignoring the news potential of trade shows, not only do we curtail the ability for important industry messages to reach further into a growing population of interested patients and adult consumers, but we also leave important business benefits on the table.

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Generating news requires a commitment to making events news-friendly. With a modest amount of extra effort, we as an industry can take advantage of the news-making opportunities created when an industry gathers in one location.

The current situation
I hate going to trade shows. They’re boring. I see the same things again and again. There’s never anything new.

Journalists shared those opinions about cannabis industry trade shows with me. The crazy part is they shared the opinions while we were all together at cannabis industry trade shows. That made me curious, so this past summer Canna Newswire surveyed* cannabis industry journalists about their attitudes regarding industry trade events, and the data is instructive.

A full 91 percent of media people surveyed attend industry trade shows. But of those who do, only about one-third—36 percent—use shows to source news coverage. Interestingly, every single survey respondent who attends trade shows said he or she uses the events to source non-news stories, such as articles about trends.

On the other side of the equation, the vast majority of exhibitors don’t attend shows prepared to issue news announcements. At industry events where Canna Newswire has managed press and publicity operations, fewer than one-quarter of exhibitors said they intended to announce news, and fewer than half of those actually did—which is perhaps why so many reporters don’t attend trade shows to source news.

How do we change the paradigm? Here are my top five tips for making cannabis industry events news-friendly.

For trade shows
Everything starts with event producers. While there are a certain number of chicken-and-egg challenges related to trade-show news coverage, event producers have both the biggest impact on the show’s news-making environment and the most to gain.

Every trade show wants the media to attend, but are shows giving them reasons to attend? Show producers across the board need to do a better job of providing their exhibitors with a platform for announcing news on the show floor.

Ways to do that include:

  • Encourage exhibitors to arrive with news of strategic importance. Have them register a PR contact and make tools and resources for publicity available on-site.
  • Before the show even begins, provide exhibitors with contact information for pre-registered press. Having this list allows exhibitors to reach out to reporters in advance to set up face-to-face interviews.
  • Provide the media with a press room—a quiet space with free Wi-Fi and basic refreshments like coffee in the morning and soft drinks in the afternoon. Close the room to other attendees, except for those being interviewed (when accompanied by a member of the press).
  • Coordinate press “avails” for speakers, particularly keynotes. Give the press some time following a speech or presentation to question speakers.
  • Consider inviting key members of the media to participate in your conference track. Few people are better suited to moderate panels than members of the press, particularly if they write frequently about the panels’ topics. Media, generally-speaking, are neutral with respect to industry players, tend to be subject matter experts, and know how to ask questions. Doesn’t that sound like a perfect moderator?

For exhibiting companies
Exhibitors have more opportunities to meet many reporters over a short span of time at a show than in any other business setting. Be prepared to make the most of these opportunities. The resulting coverage will pay dividends that outlast many of the other benefits of exhibiting.

  • Bring some news that will be of interest to attending media. Ask yourself why a reporter would find your news of interest at this particular trade show? The best show news is strategic, meaning it’s big and directly impacts the success or failure of your company. A great example of show news would be a new product announcement; a terrible example would be promotional pricing—no one will write a news article about that.
  • Have a qualified spokesperson available for press interviews. Your CEO is a great option. A salesperson, I’m sorry to say, is not a good spokesperson as most reporters aren’t interested in a sales pitch and will decline the opportunity.
  • Anticipate the needs of reporters. If you’re announcing a new product, make sure you have product images available in high resolution in case they’re needed for print publications. If you’re announcing a new product that can be reviewed, make sure you have the ability to give samples or review kits to reporters so they can review it.
  • Be respectful of reporters. Not every reporter on the press list will find your news relevant to what they cover. Do some research first and contact only the reporters who will be interested in what you’re announcing. Be on time for briefings, yet don’t be too upset if reporters run late or cancel—trade shows tend to upend even the best-intentioned reporter’s ability to stay on schedule.
  • Get to know the reporters you’re meeting with. If you receive a press list from the show, make sure you review it to see which reporters are best suited to cover your company—some may not be a fit at all. Read some of the reporters’ articles before you meet with them to understand what aspects of your news will be of most interest. Follow up after the show. Connect with reporters on social media.

For media companies
Because most cannabis industry trade shows aren’t yet news-friendly, media outlets may not find it compelling to send reporters. Instead, they sneak in ad salespeople who’ve registered as “press.” Stop it! The subterfuge alienates show organizers and exhibitors. If companies on the show floor make good ad sales prospects, chances are their news will be of interest, too. Make the decision to send reporters and advertising representatives, and don’t allow anyone to confuse the two.

Wrapping it up
It doesn’t take much to make a trade show news-friendly. A news-friendly show sets in motion a virtuous cycle that helps the show, exhibitors, attendees, and the media. The more articles written “from the floor” of a trade show, the more people around the industry hear about the show and see it as an important place to be. That drives interest from more media to attend, which in turn makes the news-friendly show more valuable to prospective exhibitors and more interesting to prospective attendees, which in turn leads to increasing revenue for the show

(Canna Newswire surveyed 258 cannabis industry journalists from the United States about their attitudes toward industry trade events. The survey was conducted between June 28 and July 24, 2018.)

John Sidline HeadshotJohn Sidline is a principal with Canna Newswire, a service provider connecting news media and cannabis startups. He co-produces the CNvest conferences and Canna Newswire’s media showcase events, and leads Canna Newswire’s trade publication consulting practice. An award-winning communications innovator, Sidline frequently writes and speaks about the challenges faced by businesses in the cannabis industry.

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