The PR opportunities at education conferences

As education conferences kick off for the year, with The Telegraph Festival of Education and the British Education Studies Association (BESA) conference just passed and the British Educational Research Association (BERA) conference to come in September, Mango Marketing’s managing director, Sue Murray, discusses the opportunities for PRs in the education sector.

Over the past two decades the education sector has experienced an unprecedented level of investment, but the marketplace has changed tremendously over that time.

While local authorities used to offer a streamlined route to market for many companies, the picture is very different now. Getting in front of schools is a therefore a priority for most education suppliers, and education events offer the best opportunity to do this. But as the cost of exhibiting is unlikely to be cheap, it is absolutely vital to optimise all opportunities.

While figures vary, the majority of visitors to events research and pre-plan which company stands they are going to visit, leaving time at the end to wander around. This makes pre-event promotion a must, not just to promote the company’s presence but to give people a reason to visit their stand and have that all important conversation.

Working on the Bett PR campaign for the past 12 years, we have seen some companies do this well and others not-so-well. So here are the best bits of advice for getting it right:

Always contact the event’s PR team as soon as you book your stand

Ideally this will be several months before the event, as copy deadlines for magazines previewing the event can fall quite far in advance of the event and early contact will help you understand all the promotional opportunities available. Hopefully, as with Bett, these services are free of charge to exhibitors. The PR team should have already agreed editorial previews with the sector’s media and know the copy deadlines of each title.

Make the most of offers

Although stand costs, accommodation and travel all mount up, you can help boost return on investment by offering discounts that are only available to those booking or purchasing at the event or immediately afterwards. These could be standard ‘buy one, get one free’ offers, or’14 months for the cost of 12’; whatever you decide to offer should then be promoted in your news information, via social media and with the show’s PR team to share this with the target audience. Similarly, free advice and training can also be useful to draw visitors in. Ultimately, if you think about what could help your customers and then offer it, it should stand you in good stead.

Think of what will drive people to your stand

When planning your news message to visitors, always consider what will drive them to your stand. The fact that you are launching version 3.2.1 of your software is of no interest to teachers. However, the fact that your latest update means that teachers can save time and improve results is interesting, particularly if you can prove it. At all times, remember that in today’s digital world, your audience can look at your products online. You need to think about what will make them take a day away from school to come to see you.

Use social media to collaborate with a wider audience

When we interview visitors to Bett and the Education Show each year, we ask them why they come to the show. The most frequently cited response is “to learn”. Many exhibitors at these shows are very experienced at using the time to build relationships with their audience by offering advice and training on stand. In the weeks before the show, we recommend you use social media to position your company as open, helpful and ready to collaborate with its audience for the greater good. It can also be a good tool to strengthen existing relationships; in the case of Bett, tens of thousands of educators attend so it can be useful to arrange for current clients to meet you on your stand and have a free consultation/catch up session.

Catherine Lane, head of PR at Catherine Lane PR says conferences provide one of the best opportunities to influence the sector. She said: “Face-to-face engagement is one of the most powerful ways to influence opinions. The savvy PR person should therefore take full advantage of any conference or exhibition that is a must-attend event in their target audience’s diary.”

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