I just returned from the ABC Kids Expo in Louisville, Kentucky and I learned so much about working with brands and have a whole new appreciation for how these companies work. These trade shows are primarily for vendors and buyers but there is an important media presence and as bloggers, we are part of that group. I have a few takeaways for those who may be interested in this very unique opportunity to connect with brands in a whole new way.
First, these shows are huge. At ABC there are more than 900 brands (a.k.a. exhibitors), thousands of buyers and a relative handful of media representatives. There was something like a million square feet of exhibits. Wear comfortable shoes. You will walk a lot! Understand that you will never see everything and don’t let it freak you out. Take your time and enjoy seeing all the really cool products being presented. I think I spoke to about 150 companies and that seemed like so many to me but it was just a tiny slice of what was there. It’s okay! While I did not meet everyone I had my eyes on, you get a nifty little book of all the exhibitors and contact information. If I see something I really like I can always follow up with an email in the coming weeks.
Second, there are companies of all sizes. There are small businesses where the inventor is talking to you and they are launching for the first time. This is awesome and a great opportunity to connect with the heart of a company that is growing. Then there are giant behemoths in the baby world like Graco and Fisher Price who have closed exhibits and require appointments. There is everything in between.
The Big Guys: From my experience it is best to make an appointment at the biggest companies, preferably with their PR representative. They are well schooled in social media and will quickly be able to tell you how and when they work with bloggers and often provide you with details of their blogger outreach. I got some amazing tours of new product lines and was really able to connect with someone face to face about how I blog and work with companies. I was also able to see what would be really exciting for my readers. I really appreciated all the time people spent with me.
The Medium Companies: These companies are established in the baby / kid world but seemed to have open booths where you could browse products and talk to a representative. Again, I always explained that I was a blogger and what I wanted to write about. For instance, I was on the hunt for narrow and safe car seats and I found a ton! This allowed the companies to show me what I wanted to see and highlight some of their other products. When a PR representative was there I was always introduced and again, I appreciated all the time they spent with me. I was very conscious of the fact that the goal of a trade show like this is to make sales and new customers so I tried to be very conscientious of buyers who were in groups with me asking questions and previewing products. I think companies appreciated this. There are opportunities for bloggers to work with these companies, but because their social media / PR teams may or may not be at the show, just take the opportunity to learn about the company and get the right name to follow up with.
The New Kids on the Block: Get ready for some fun! I had an amazing time meeting these first time exhibitors and smaller companies. They were in their own section and were excited about meeting bloggers. Many were just dipping their feet into social media with a Facebook page and sometimes a twitter account. They were excited to talk about how they could get the word about their company on the internet we love so much and they were not already drowning in blogger reviews and giveaways. In these booths I often met the inventor and owner. I met tons of moms and dads who had started their own companies and loved telling them from my heart how impressed I was and am by their accomplishments. You may even be inspired in this area to launch your own awesome product.
You can have some great conversations at these new booths and while the same “rules” apply for allowing them time as soon as potential buyers approach, you will have more overall time here.
Third, consider creating some sort of script. I had a great time meeting these companies but I wish I had a better plan for each type of company. Honestly, I had to figure out what I was going to say to large companies where I did not have an appointment after I got there. It took me a couple booths before I realized I should ask for the PR representative and even another to come forward and ask about opportunities for bloggers. I did not need my stats everywhere at all, but I was glad to have them in my head as I was able to give some basic information about my audience when asked or when appropriate. Unlike a blogging conference, these companies are not there to see you, so rethinking your tagline and basic pitch is advisable. Just make sure it makes sense for what you want to get across to these companies.
Always be yourself and be personable while remembering…it never hurts to be polished.
Fourth, enjoy yourself! You are seeing the best these companies have to offer and boy will you be impressed. Ask questions, let the companies walk you through their product lines and give honest feedback. I did giggle at times at things I found over the top or just silly, but I was still extremely impressed by the time, effort, creativity and genius that goes into creating some of these products. Trade shows are for bloggers who really want to see what companies have to offer and like to spread the word about the latest and greatest. They are also great if you are considering actually becoming a review blogger or a vendor for certain products.
Fifth, ask companies how you could work with them on an affiliate or drop-ship basis. I thought of this about halfway through my time at the show and I wish I had known this going in. Most of the companies there offer affiliate programs either independently or through a larger site. This is a great way to monetize your blog posts that relate to certain products that you use and love. I am exploring the tax implications of starting an actual retail store online and was very curious about companies that would drop ship, meaning that I would have no inventory for products I wanted to sell through my site. This is certainly not for everyone, but it does provide an additional option for monetization and support for companies you love.
Sixth, take some time to take in everything when you are done. Then start to organize your post show thoughts. I have separated the companies I met into categories based on how much I liked the products and then how detailed I want my follow up to be. I know that there is a different follow up for different companies and want to have my ducks in a row before I start.
Finally, follow up with all the companies and representatives and be as specific as possible in terms of how you can help. As a blogger it pays to learn that you are worth something and be able to sell yourself as the unique online presence that you are. For companies that indicated they have not worked with bloggers and do not have social media experience, be sure to include whatever expertise you have and provide an introduction to how you could help. Remember that as bloggers our sincerity is everything, so only reach out in this way to companies that you stand fully behind and products you really like. Keep in mind that follow up from you is essential considering that at these shows there are literally thousands of people. You may be memorable, but you could easily slip through the cracks if you don’t follow up.
Are you ready for your first trade show? It was oh so tiring but really so much fun and a fantastic learning experience. I will definitely attend another show and have my eye on the Toy Fair 2012 thanks to the recommendation of a few PR folks. Please let me know if you have any questions or additional advice. Of course, stay tuned for some of the fabulous products I found at the show!