Public relations professionals spend much time and effort helping clients establish a brand identity. They think about how customers will perceive the brand, what image to portray, and what the business stands for. The brand identity they help develop is built upon with every decision made and every product or service launched.

A company's communications strategy also plays a key role in reinforcing brand identity. For many, that includes logos, brochures, online presence, public relations, advertising or packaging. But what about tradeshows? Think about it. How often have you attended tradeshows on behalf of your client, noticed an exhibitor, and wondered: What exactly does this company do? What are they trying to communicate?

You're not alone. After more than 20 years of working in the tradeshow industry, I've seen that the disconnect often stems from treating tradeshows as individual events rather than integrating them into an overarching brand-communications strategy. But the sheer power of tradeshows to cost-effectively connect with hundreds—even thousands—of customers and prospects makes them an important  way of showcasing your client's brand.

Taking the time to strategize before embarking on a tradeshow program—and, in particular, exhibit design—is the most effective approach.

Here are four ways public relations professionals can help clients effectively maintain brand consistency at their next tradeshow.

1. Lead with your brand

Having a professional, engaging exhibit is important, but aligning it with your client's strategy and priorities is even more important.

Go back to those key attributes that define your client's brand. Is the client eco-conscious? Innovative? Dependable? Make that the primary inspiration for the exhibit design.

Let's take the eco-conscious attribute as an example: at its core, it's about conserving resources and minimizing waste. The booth design could reflect that by using lightweight, eco-friendly materials such as recyclable aluminum or energy-efficient LED lighting. And the marketing collateral might be printed on recycled paper or other earth-friendly materials.

2. Get all key stakeholders involved early, and communicate clearly

Engage your exhibit partner well in advance of the show to discuss overall strategy, and let the partner help you formulate the best way to let your client's brand shine. Discuss the key messages you want to convey and how you can bring them to life. Strategy meetings should include advertising and marketing stakeholders to ensure messages remain consistent across all communication vehicles.

3. Identify desired goals

Essential to any strategy discussion is identifying the ultimate goal for your client's brand at a tradeshow. Are you looking to reinforce your client's image, or launch a new identity or product? The answer will influence exhibit design—including overall structure, traffic flow, and graphics—and attendees' perception of your client's brand. For example, if the main goal is to educate attendees about a brand, the exhibit should include demo areas and perhaps a theater for presentations. If the focus is on closing sales for a product, include an enclosed conference room for private conversations.

4. Use effective messaging

There's a lot of competition at tradeshows, and many companies think creating an exhibit with a "wow" factor is the ticket to generating traffic. Although you certainly want your client's exhibit to be visually effective, it's critical to make sure the brand doesn't get diluted in the process. Instead, focus on creating clear, concise messages that support your client's brand attributes and resonate with the target audience.

Also, don't focus on just the technical features of a new product. Identify how those features can resolve a key business issue for the attendee.

Here's the bottom line: Looks matter in exhibit design, but using the booth to clearly communicate your client's business value is what will turn prospects into new customers. Though clients may think a booth is all about them, it's really about the audience they're trying to reach.

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The most successful brands are those that maintain a clear identity, offer powerful and compelling experiences, and deliver the right message to the right person. Taking steps to strategize and build consistency across all communications channels, including tradeshows, will go a long way toward building the credibility and awareness needed to drive your client's business.

Editor's note: This is the first in a four-article series on tradeshows. Subsequent articles will appear periodically in issues of MarketingProfs Today.

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image of Rob Murphy

Rob Murphy is the former chief marketing officer of MC2, a global exhibit and event marketing company. Check out the eConnections Digest blog and find MC2 on Twitter (@MC2experience_ and @MC2_FastTrak) and Facebook.