Posted on Jan 24, 2013 |

By Brian Mahar

The cleantech and power industries have countless conferences and trade shows that offer networking, business development and educational opportunities. I’m not exaggerating. At Tigercomm, we maintain a database of conference opportunities that expands nearly every day.

But tight budgets and competing priorities force marketing and communications managers to make tough decisions about the right shows to attend. The challenge doesn’t end there. There’s pressure from upper management to ensure that they get the most out of their investment in the event.

Over the past several years, my colleagues and I have staffed, spoken at and attended dozens of conferences and trade shows. We pooled our experiences, along with conversations we’ve had with some cleantech industry leaders, to develop a list of ten tips to ensure your business’s conference and trade show program is a success in 2013.

Choosing the Right Conference

1. Match the audience to your business goals: As one of our industry friends noted about Solar Power International, it “draws in the C-Suite, the actual decision makers, a value-add to our C-Suite.” If the goal is to raise venture capital, target finance and investment conferences. Or if you are trying to highlight your technology’s proof of concept, a show that is targeted towards engineers in your given industry or field of work might be most appropriate. You’d be surprised how often we’ve heard about conferences not generating ROI for a company because their customers weren’t the attendees.

2. Location, location, location: If you’re focused on a particular regional market, conferences in that area are easier for your potential customers to attend. Likewise, leverage your own local assets. We’ve worked with several clients to set up field trips to their demonstration facilities that have given both potential customers and the media an opportunity to see their technology up close and personal.

3. Booth, sponsor, speak or attend: There are numerous ways in which companies can participate in conferences and trade shows. Booths provide an opportunity to show off a new technology. Sponsorships can get your brand before a large audience (I use my orange Enphase grocery bag every weekend when I go to the market). Speaking opportunities can highlight your industry leadership. And simply attending can get you in the same room with as many customers as possible, all at once. Depending on your budget and the importance of the show, a combination of these options can “surround sound” your targeted customer segment with your message and branding.

Preparing for the Conference

4. Target your potential customers: Going to a conference is more than packing your company golf shirt and hopping on the plane. Identify the top five or ten companies and people you want to talk to. Then make sure to do your research so you can talk to them knowledgeably about their latest activities and how your value proposition applies specifically to them. A lot of conferences actually provide online portals for registrants to network and schedule meetings in advance – you’re paying for the service so take advantage of it. And be sure to have a plan for following up with them after the conference.

5. Be clear about schedules: If you have a booth, make sure everyone knows who is working the booth, roaming the floor or in meetings and when. If you aren’t connected via a shared calendar like Google or Basecamp, a spreadsheet with assignments and contact info can work as well.

6. Build and strengthen reporter relationships: Conferences and trade shows are great places to meet reporters in person. Reach out to the conference organizers ahead of time to ask for the press list. If they won’t give it out or it doesn’t have many names on it, we recommend also reaching out to key industry reporters to ask if they’re planning to go. At the very least, it’s an opportunity to reach out and update them on what you’re up to, as well as learn what topics they’re currently focused on.

Getting the Most out of the Conference

7. Plug into social media: Many conferences use social media platforms to keep attendees updated or provide special notification for their followers. And, savvy conferences and companies are using social media to draw attendees to their booths or events. I picked up a great t-shirt from Schletter a few years ago because of a Twitter promotion they ran at Renewable Energy World North America. And I had a very helpful exchange with the organizers of Power-Gen International about what to see and do at the show.

Some key questions to think about: Does the event have an official Twitter hashtag for keeping up with latest events? Will there be a tweet-up? Does the conference update attendees through its Facebook feed? Is there a LinkedIn page where you can make connections online before the conference? When you meet people, do you connect with them on LinkedIn?

8. Bring a fully stocked conference survival kit: Comfortable shoes, lots of business cards, snacks and water (convention centers are notoriously dry places). If you can, have an extra shirt or tie available in case someone from the booth with the espresso machine spills coffee on you. It’s all part of being prepared.

9. Make time to eat: Conferences can be a marathon, so you need to keep up your energy. And avoid the junk food that’s around. As tempting as the candy dishes and cookies can be, you’ll be more on your game for that important customer meeting or reporter interview if you’re fueled up the right way.

10. Scope out the good parties: Often, the more relaxed setting enables better connections. And, after a long day of getting the most out of your conference investment, you deserve a free beer or glass of wine.

Brian Mahar is a Senior Account Executive at Tigercomm, where he develops and executes strategic communications and marketing plans for clean economy businesses and organizations. Ask Brian and the rest of the our team how we can add value to your business here.