Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Media Relations Power-Play

By Robert E. Sheldon, APR, Public Relations Director, Creative Communications Consultants, Inc. (and PRSA San Antonio president elect)

December 10, 2007 – New Orleans, LA

For about the eighth time in as many years, I’m off to a trade show called Power Gen International, the premier world conference for utilities, industrial power users and manufacturers of power generating equipment. This time it’s being held in New Orleans – the first time I’ll have been there post-Katrina.

As in the past, I’m attending the show on behalf of Cummins Power Generation, the world’s largest manufacturer of diesel engines and the number-two supplier of power systems based on reciprocating engine technology. Caterpillar is number one in reciprocating engine power systems in terms of number sold, but Cummins excels at so-called mission-critical power systems – systems that provide standby and emergency power for hospitals, data centers, banks, fire and safety and government facilities.

My purpose for going to the show is to hold one-on-one meetings with key engineering trade editors who will also be attending the show. I primarily do “marketing public relations” for Cummins – which uses the news and information value inherent in products to gain editorial space, generate inquiries from potential customers. By getting editorial coverage of Cummins products, customer applications and technical topics, there materials also educate readers and build credibility for Cummins as experts in the field.

The number of editors attending this show (that draws up to 35,000 visitors from around the world) varies from year to year. One of the primary sponsors of the show is a magazine called Power Engineering – a techie but much-respected publication that draws engineering readers from the utility, electrical, electronic and industrial manufacturing market segments. As is the case with other trade shows that are sponsored by media, some competing publications are barred from attending. But, by and large, the media covering the power industry are well represented at the show each year.

Getting Ready

In preparation for the show, I first met with my client to get an overview of what was going to be introduced and displayed at the show. It turned out that several new generator products and generator control systems were going to be featured. These new items were not earth-shaking enough to deserve a press conference, but they did inspire a press kit that I would be handing out in my editor meetings.

Editors are busy at these shows with more than a thousand exhibitors seeking to get publicity for their products or services. Which brings me to the invitation letter that sent out to nearly 40 editors about three weeks before the show. The personalized e-mail letter invited editors to stop by the Cummins booth during the two and one-half days of the show and view and discuss the new products. The letter included brief (and hopefully tantalizing) summaries of the various new products in an effort to emphasize that we had information that would be of special interest and importance to their readers.

Editors are looking for “what’s new” at trade shows and don’t care much about what’s old. If the publication is product-oriented, the editor’s interest will be focused on new products. If the publication is more issue-oriented (say, those directed at upper management at utilities or industrial segments that use a lot of power), the editors will be interested in my client’s take on industry trends or how technology is changing the search for solutions.

The editor’s looking for new product information are the easiest to satisfy. Those looking for industry trend information have to be dealt with specially by usually arranging an interview with an appropriate representative from my client. While such interviews don’t inform readers about new products, they do raise the awareness of my client as an industry leader, which, in turn, builds credibility for my client in a very competitive marketplace. When you sell power systems costing millions of dollars apiece, it helps when your potential customers have confidence that they are dealing with an industry leader.

Of the 40 invitations that went out, I received prompt responses from about ten editors – which is about normal. As Cummins is a major player in the power generation industry, even editors I didn’t contact will tend to find the booth and seek out any press information that may be available. By the end of the two and one-half days, I expect that I’ll have met with somewhere between 10 and 15 editors.

Tomorrow will be the first day of the show.

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