Monday, March 07, 2011

Bloggers and Trade Shows: The Inside Scoop

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Today I'm headed to the International Home + Housewares Show. It's a hot ticket and I'm delighted to be attending as a blogger and member of the media. Err, make that a guest of the trade. Confused? I was after learning about my change in badge status.

Did you catch this article last week at ShePosts about the Toy Fair tightening reigns on press credentials? Clearly I'm not the only blogger unclear on the ins, outs and expectations of trade shows. That said, I pride myself on always learning, and now I can share an insider's view.

With less than two weeks to go before the massive trade expo (we're talking 13 miles of aisles at Chicago's McCormick Place) Debbie Teschke, Public Relations & Marketing Communications Manager of the International Housewares Show, generously shared a few thoughts with me via an email interview.

I appreciate Debbie taking a few minutes to share her views, especially during such a busy time. It's always enlightening to get glimpse of the blogging world from those who like to work with us, but are not part of the community. That said, I've already asked her if we can talk later this month, so I can share some insights from my mom's eye view of the online social space.

And I hope you'll add your two cents in the comment section.

I'm breaking up this dense text with images from some of the exhibitors I've been tweeting or emailing in recent weeks. I have no material relationship with these firms nor am I angling for freebies. Remember, I don't even own a house right now.

Kim Moldofsky: Typically trade shows have several types of badges and designations for different attendees. How do you typically classify bloggers and why?

Debbie Teschke: Because of the increase in Internet media, including bloggers and Internet-only based publications, we added an "Internet Media" registration classification. Bloggers and editors/reporters who write/blog/video strictly for the Internet have this badge type. We feel it helps the exhibitors better identify the news media that visit them at the Show.

KM: As the number of bloggers has exploded, how has this affected your show?

DT: It has increased the exposure of our exhibitors to the consumer and it also has increased the number of people requesting media badges for the Show. To handle the increase of bloggers and Internet media attending the Show, we have added an additional person to our Show PR Team and now have two dedicated team members who work with the bloggers and Internet media before and during the Show. They provide them with Show information and background and assist with any stories or lifestyle trends or products they are interested in.

KM: Do you vet bloggers? Tell me a bit about that process.

DT: Yes, when a blogger registers for a News Media badge or contacts me about registering for the Show we research them first before approving them as news media. Two members of our Show PR team will vet them for me.

They check out their website to determine number of readers/website visitors, how often they post items, topics they write about, whether their focus is relevant to the housewares industry and if they fit our media criteria.

If they are on Twitter and/or Facebook, they will check how many followers and/or fans they have and their scope. If we determine that the blogger has relevance to the Show, we will approve his or her registration.

A blogger that is searching just for sponsors, advertisers or paying partners for their website is not considered news media for our Show. Our News Media badges are for editorial media only; we do not allow publishers, sales representatives or account managers to have News Media badges.

We try to police it as best possible, and if we hear of someone who was trying to sell something to an exhibitor while wearing a media badge, they will not be allowed to register as News Media for future International Home + Housewares Shows. For example, last year I allowed an Internet editor a Media badge. After the Show, an exhibitor emailed me to say this woman was more interested in selling her advertising than writing about her products. This year we changed her to a Trade Guest when she registered as News Media.

Trade Guests are allowed free access to the entire Show. However, Trade Guests are not allowed to take photographs on the Show floor. Only attendees with News Media and Internet Media badges with a white photographer ribbon attached may take photos on the Show floor and should ask the exhibitor’s permission first.

KM: Bloggers are members of the media and yet they are not the same as journalists. What do you expect of bloggers? Are there unwritten rules or are these expectations communicated?

DT: Bloggers want to be considered media, yet some don’t want to follow the same rules as editorial journalists. For example, some bloggers just want to review products on their blogs and solicit companies for products to review. They then keep the products or ask for samples to "giveaway" to their readers.

Newspaper or magazine reporters who review products do so either after purchasing the products themselves or returning the products to the company after they have been reviewed. They don’t keep them.

Also journalists don't ask a company to pay their way to attend a trade show, nor would they accept any offers from companies offering to do so. And many journalists cannot even accept a free meal from a company.

The Show is not open to the public and we allow a blogger entrance to help consumers know about the new products. I know that many bloggers are stay-at-home moms who want to write about their shared experiences or are people with an interest in something and want to write about it for the pleasure of writing and do it in their free time, not as a full-time job. And some do it as a part of their job. If a blogger wants to come to the International Home + Housewares Show as news media, we expect that they will view the Show as a marketplace of new product introductions and the place where retailers come to find the products they will sell to their customers to meet their lifestyle needs.

Walking the Show floor, you can feel like a kid in a candy store, but it is not a place to come ask for as much free product you can.

We expect a blogger to write about the products, mentioning their favorites and even ones they don’t like, just as a reporter might. Or talk about the trends they see in various products. But we do not expect them to walk the Show floor asking exhibitors for product samples on the pretext that they will "review" them. They also should not brag to their readers and other blogger friends about all the freebies they received and then proceed to tell them that they need to go to the Show next year to get what they can. (Note from KM: They have had issues with this in the past.)

KM: How have you seen bloggers make a positive impact on the show? I definitely noticed an uptick in chatter last year once some mombloggers were invited to attend the show!

DT: Yes, bloggers can have a positive effect on the Show and the industry. Bloggers who write about the trends and the industry help the suppliers and retailers because they can help create awareness and a demand/desire for a product. They also offer consumers insight into a marketplace not open to them. The bloggers who were brought to the Show by an exhibitor created chatter for that company and an awareness of the Show.

(KM: Here are examples of content I created as a result of 2010 Housewares Show.)

KM: What advice to you have for bloggers who want to attend a trade show?

DT: Read the Show's rules on attendance, including any codes of conduct. (We have a Code of Conduct for exhibitors and for attendees). In walking the Show floor and visiting booths, be respectful of the exhibitors. Their primary reason for being at the show is to do business with their customers.

Believe it or not, some do not want to interact with the media and aren't interested in publicity.

Do not ask exhibitors for products. And if they offer to give you a product, whether for review or just to be nice, be judicious in what you accept. Wearing a media badge and toting bags full of product around the Show floor can give the impression that you aren't there to cover the show for your blog or website, but to acquire as much product as possible.


Edited to add: I'm thrilled to see that there have been so many Facebook likes and retweets of this post. Because it's struck such a nerve, I'm going to continue the conversation at this week's Office Hour chat; click for details. The call will take place Thursday, 3/10 at 1:00 PM Central.


Amy @amymchodges said...

Thank you for this Kim. It's so good to hear from the source what they expect, but always disheartening when bloggers focus on "the stuff." I am curious about trade shows because I want to see what's new, what trends are and how companies are trying to meet consumers needs. If I'm reading about a trade show, I want to know what you found interesting and crazy, not what stuff you got!

Nancy Loo said...

Great points in a timely post, Kim! Hope to see you at the show.

Angela said...

Fabulous post - thanks for taking the initiative to get the "inside scoop" for us. Perfect.

MommyB said...

Very interesting. I sort of understand why they have different badges for bloggers, however I hope that someday maybe bloggers will be big enough to just be considered media in all events. I have never received different treatment because I'm a blogger (that I know of), and I actually have my Undergrad Degree in Communications and Writing, however I don't write AP style on my blog, my readers like reading my style, from my voice and I think personally I love getting the facts from the News, however I like reading editorial pieces from bloggers "real" people.

From my experiences none of the media has ever had to pay entrance to any event, including bloggers or journalists, typically they get invited to those kinds of things. I don't think all bloggers want to just get things for free, but it is sad that some of the bloggers are ruining the experience for the rest of us by making the event an opportunity to network rather than focusing on the trade show. At the very least get a business card and contact the companies later, after all you are working for the Trade Show.

Thanks for this post and bringing all these things to light, great to hear the perspective of "the other side"

Cat Davis said...

After reading the interview, I definitely feel like I handled my attendance to the trade show professionally. My experience consisted of a few photos of products I thought were interesting and highlighting those on my blog.

While I had the pleasure of one of the contacts made during the show turning into a great long term relationship, there was one that became quite a turnoff. Even after I expressed no interest in "samples or reviews" I was continuously hounded by email to review their product.

Overall, I think the Housewares Show can be a wonderful experience for bloggers that are interested in writing about trending products. It's most definitely not a "free sample" event, nor should it be.

If interested, here's my coverage from last year.

Kubit2me said...

Kim, this is a fantastic post, and one that I think anyone who's involved in a consumer-products trade show -- exhibitors and trade show guests alike -- needs to read and learn from. I help organize the blogger/media event at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair, an annual fair that's open to both consumers and trade. We invite bloggers and their families to attend our fair, and we're always looking for ways to build better blogger relationships. Thanks for sharing your insightful findings!

Carissa(GoodNCrazy) said...

On several levels here... THANKS for the inside tips.

I totally appreciate where the tradeshows would be coming from in light of bloggers vs traditional media.

And!! I most agree with your statement about learning more and more... srsly great to hear this. I've never been to a trade show, and this would totally help me decide if it was worth MY TIME as a blogger to attend.

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

Very informative! Thanks.

Anna said...

thanks so much for sharing all of this info - it's great to hear exactly what the organizer of a major show thinks.

my opinion is that as bloggers become more and more of a legitimate source of information, the definition of "media" will have to evolve to accomodate this new channel.

and, bloggers will need to diffferentiate between when they're covering something as press and when it is appropriate to solicit advertising/product/etc or other relationships.

Forgetfulone said...

Eye opening! I wish every blogger would read this. Clearly, bloggers and journalists aren't one and the same, and I don't like it when bloggers think that just because they have a blog, they are an expert on writing.

Chrissy Glen said...

Great article...thanks for the inside scoop. It's a fresh perspective hearing it from someone on the inside of the trade show as opposed to just hearing it through different blogger takes.

Jennifer Wagner said...

Thanks. It was great hearing this directly from the source. Every blogger that attends a trade show should read this.

Selfish Mom said...

This was so fascinating, thanks so much! I've attended several trade shows in the past couple of years and always wondered if I was really welcomed or just tolerated. Sounds like it's still up in the air.

Just one thing I have to take issue with though: there are plenty of "journalists" for big-name publications who write about products or services without ever mentioning that they were flown in on the company's dime, wined and dined, put up in luxury accommodations... A blogger would be hugely criticized for not mentioning this. True, the journalist didn't receive the actual product for free, but I think most readers would be interested to know about the pampering that came with the product info. For certain types of journalists it's totally common.

Meagan @ The Happiest Mom said...

Great interview and I really appreciate your posting it, Kim! I will quibble a bit with Debbie on this point:

"Newspaper or magazine reporters who review products do so either after purchasing the products themselves or returning the products to the company after they have been reviewed. They don’t keep them."

In my experience this is not always true. Not by a LONG shot. Of course, that is the policy at some publications, but many many magazines, including large, well-known ones, allow their editors and writers to keep samples.

I feel like this quote pits "bloggers" versus "real reporters" in a way that's not really accurate or fair.

Mom101 said...

Very smart piece Kim. Although honestly, doesn't this all sound like common sense? You want to be treated like media, you act like media.

Over the last few years, I've definitely heard folks at trade shows express increasing dismay that they are being hit up by bloggers for freebies. Attendees have to understand that those exhibitors, especially the small brands, have paid a lot of money to be there. They need to spend their time with visitors whose wholesale orders or media coverage will pay for the price of the trip for them.

I do want to point out though that it's not just bloggers who attend shows to "sell." There are always some idiots walking around with business cards, trying to hit up the booths with sales pitches for insurance or display cases or whatever. I wish the shows would go over those guys, because they're shameless.

Kim Moldofsky said...

I'm catching up after two days at the show. I agree with the many commenters who feel that bloggers are being called out unfairly. It's true that not all traditional publications return review samples. In fact, I spoke with a PR peep at the show from high-end company who confirmed the brand's pricey samples do not always find their way back.

As far as bloggers being tolerated or welcome, I think it depends on the exhibitor AND the blogger. I did leave the show with some samples, mostly because they were offered to me when I expressed genuine interest in the product.

For example, I lurve my new Kuhi Comfort travel pillow because I think this new product is all kinds of awesome (+ mom invented/mompreneur biz + made in the USA + it is machine washable) and it will fit naturally into my own story as I hop on a flight down to Orlando next week.

When I introduced myself to some other companies, they offered me a sample as soon as I said "blogger."

One exhibitor asked me what a blog was. While another asked if he could pick my brain about how to get the word out about a new product he's developing.

But as Liz noted, exhibitors are at these trade shows to make that Big Sale or find a manufacturer for their prototype and bloggers need to be mindful of that.

Not all exhibitors have PR peeps along, but if they do, a blogger needs to be understanding is their time is cut short because a writer for Good Housekeeping or Oprah mag comes along. (Though last year when the Oprah writer showed up just after I did, we toured the large booth and related product line together; there was no snubbing.)

That said, the samples I came home with are items I'm eager to share. There are also products that I didn't receive samples of that I'm also eager to talk about. I mean, how could I not love the Thricer, triple bagel slicer? (You have no idea how excited I was to learn such a thing exists.)

I think the bigger issue is when bloggers get hung up on free stuff for the sake of free stuff.

MorethanMommy said...

I'm SO glad you covered this. I've been trying to explain to people for ages that trade shows aren't press events and that we all need to be respectful of that. That said, I think they're a great opportunity for bloggers who cover products. Seeing new items and products from smaller brands is fun and provides excellent content.

Lisa said...

Okay, but here is my issue - I can't review the product and tell my readers about it if I don't have it in hand. I don't review press releases; I review products I've actually tried out.

Journalist also get paid. I don't get anything out of reviewing a product I buy myself. That has gotten left out too.

This Military Mama said...

I think this is a fantastic post! I was invited to one kind of press event {the official press event was the next day and the bloggers and big fans were the day that I went}. I was actually invited to be the guest of a friend who was actually invited by the company.

I had a blast, and while in the end it wasn't my kind of thing to blog about {cars}, I did. I think they showed us a lot of great things and I wanted to help promote them.

I also think Debbie pointed out some great "rules" on Internet Media and the difference between traditional media and internet media.

Thanks so much for this article!!!!