Monday, August 13, 2007

Monday Marketing Memo

Creating and implementing a successful food-show centered PR campaign for your natural or specialty foods company

Food shows remain the primary opportunity and venue for natural and specialty foods manufacturing and marketing companies to show off their product lines, introduce new items, connect with distributors, retailers and brokers, and to network in general. These shows are the one place where you can have a very large, captive industry audience available to your company all at once.

In the natural foods industry the two primary food shows are the Natural Products EXPO-East, on the east coast in the summer, and the Natural Products EXPO-West, in Southern California, in the fall. For the specialty foods industry the three primary food shows are the summer Fancy Food Show in New York City, the winter show in San Francisco, and the mid-year show held in Chicago. Additionally, both the Natural Foods EXPO shows and the Fancy Food shows are "cross-over" shows, meaning that many primarily specialty foods companies exhibit at the Natural Foods EXPO shows, and many primarily natural foods companies exhibit at the Fancy Food shows. In fact, this "cross-over" aspect is an excellent example of the natural-specialty foods convergence we talk much about in Natural~Specialty Foods memo.

There are numerous other smaller natural and specialty foods shows, including distributor run and even retailer-run shows, but those above are the primary and most important food shows for both industries.

A food-show centered PR plan
One of the ways in which natural and specialty foods companies can leverage their food show participation and dollars is to conduct a simple, smart, low-cost public relations/publicity campaign centered around their food show participation. Doing this can result in powerful, high-impact publicity for your company and product lines with distributors, brokers, retailers and consumers. It's smart and inexpensive marketing and something few companies do--but should.

Below is a successful, real-world tested blueprint natural and specialty foods manufacturing and marketing companies can use to create a successful public relations/publicity campaign tied-in to your food show participation. This blueprint is simple and low-cost.

Pre-show: getting started
About four months prior to the food show you are participating in create a simple and brief public relations marketing plan. This needs be a pre-show, during show, and post show plan. In this plan you need to determine who you want to communicate with. I suggest it be distributors, retailers and brokers (the trade) and consumers who are generally in the demographic most likely to be the end-user/purchasers of your products.

Next you need to briefly detail how you will communicate with these folks. For the distributors, retailers and brokers I suggest a one-page letter to the key buyers and related executives telling them you will be exhibiting at the food show, listing your show booth number, and inviting them to drop by the booth to see the products which you will be debuting at the show. In terms of your own current brokers you should be in frequent communication with them anyway but send them the letter as well. Remember to personalize the letter to each person in the trade you send it to. You can include a product-line flyer or two with your letter but don't send them a lot of stuff as it won't get read.

In terms of reaching consumers, you need to determine who you want to reach, and how to reach them. Keep this simple. Since you're using the "free" media to reach them you don't have the choice as to which publications or broadcast outlets will write (or if they will write) about your products or company. You do have the choice however as to which types of media outlets you send your press release and related information to. Therefore keep it basic. Focus on newspaper and magazine food section editors and writers, producers at TV and radio stations who are responsible for food and lifestyle stories, and editors and reporters for food-specific publications such as Gourmet or Bon Appetite magazines, for example.

Make a list of no more than 40-50 media outlets and focus on them rather than mass mailing to hundreds. Additionally--and this is very key--put a particular focus on the media outlets on your list that are in the region where the food show is being held. If the show is in San Francisco, for example, put extra effort into working the Bay Area media. If in New York, focus on the metro and suburban New York media.

Pre-show: getting busy
Once you have this brief plan written (keep it to a maximum of about three pages) then it's time to get busy. First, about three weeks before the show, send out your distributor, retailer, broker letter to the people on your target list. I suggest sending it first by snail mail, then sending it about two days later via email. Some people prefer email, others snail mail, so this will cover both preferences.

Next prepare a one-page press release about your participation in the food show. Try to include some "news" in the press release rather than just saying your company will be participating in the food show. Good news angles for the press release include exciting new products being introduced at the show, anything with a green/environmental angle, organic, sustainable, a gourmet innovation and the like. Also if your company is involved in anything interesting-- for example, work with charities or environmental groups, has recently won awards for product quality, was featured on a TV show--put it in the press release. Anything with a "news hook" will increase your chances of getting print, radio or TV coverage.

Once the press release is finished you need to make a simple press kit. Use an attractive two-pocket folder to contain the kit. Along with the press release--which you want in the right-hand pocket of the folder--include any relevant product literature you have. Don't overload the kit with it though. Additionally if you have a couple articles that have been written about your company fairly recently you can include those in the kit as well. Sometimes media outlets like to see that another publication has thought enough about your company to write about it.

With the press kit completed and your target list of no more than 50 print and broadcast media outlets done, it's time to send the press kit. I suggest mailing it no earlier than two weeks before the show starts. This will guarantee it gets to the editor, reporter or producer a week or so before the show, which is just about right. If you like you can send a product sample along with your press kit, but it isn't required--and depending on the product isn't often practical. In addition, make sure you send your press release to the editors, reporters and producers via their email address as well as via snail mail. This is important as today's modern newsrooms operate electronically. You also can send your flyers and other related information electronically--and should. The same rule applies though--don't send lots of extra stuff. It's rather easy to make an on press kit and send it via email as a complete package.

At the food show: working it
You've now competed the pre-show part of your public relations campaign. You're ready to attend the food show. Both the Natural Products EXPO shows and Fancy Food shows mentioned earlier have press rooms at the show convention halls. Exhibiting companies can leave their respective press materials (your press kit) on tables in these press rooms. When you arrive at the show locate the press room and leave some of your press kits there. Check back over the course of the show to make sure you always have press kits there.

At the show you also want to make yourself available to any media folks who may come by your booth. Don't assume they either received your press release via email or snail mail, or that they picked up a kit in the press room at the show. Keep press kits at your booth in case a reporter or editor drops by. If you meet or talk to any press people at the show make sure to get their business cards for later follow-up. Do so even if you just meet them and don't have a conversation.

Also keep a list at your booth of all the trade contacts you sent your letter to. try to match up the names on their name tags with the names on your list. Thank them for coming by--even if they didn't do so because of your letter--and spend some quality time with them. Make sure you give them your business card(s) and get theirs. You will know many of these folks already but others you won't. This is a great time for some low-key one-on-one marketing.

Post show: follow-up
After the show is the time to do some follow-up. The first thing to do is to call any reporters, editors or producers you met at the show. When you talk to them on the phone just briefly introduce yourself, tell them who you are, and that you met at the food show. Ask them if they had a chance to read your press kit materials and let them know are interested in having them do a story on your company. That's it, keep it a brief, polite and simple pitch. If they tell you they aren't interested, thank them for their time and let them know you're available to them at any time if they want or need any information on your industry. Make a contact.

After the show you may also follow-up via telephone with some of the more key editors and reporters of the print publications that were on your list. I don't suggest calling all those publications on your list however. pick say the top 15 in terms of the probability of getting their interest and give them a call. You can also email them as well. Remember these are very busy people, and have scores of people just like you calling them to follow up. So keep it very brief and polite. Doing so will pay dividends for you over time. You might not get a story this time but when you see that reporter at the next show it might happen then.

The last thing I suggest you do is to subscribe to a press clipping service. These services track whatever publications you tell them to for you. You can have them track just 10 publications, 50 publications or literally thousands. In your case you would want them to track no more than the 40-50 on your list. You pay them based on the number of publications you instruct them to track for you. When they find anything written about your company in these publications they clip it out and send it to you. This can be done either electronically or in hard copy form. You just need to specify which form you want the clipping in.

By following this simple blueprint, natural and specialty foods companies that don't have large marketing and PR staffs (or no staff at all), or don't use an outside agency, can create awareness for their company and products which lasts far beyond the end of the food show. It's a great low-cost, high-impact way to leverage you food show participation and dollars--and an effective way to market your company over time. Larger companies with ample staff resources can incorporate this real-world tested and proven successful blueprint into their own plans (if they have them) and achieve an even more successful end-result.

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