Five engagement lessons from Mobile World Congress

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Were you expecting a potential customer to walk by your stand at MWC and sign an order? Think again, writes Richard Fogg. You won’t find operators on the show floor. You need to rethink your strategy

Richard Fogg: If you’re blowing 40% of your marketing budget
on an event, you need a return: influencer relationships, prospect
leads and customer sales 
Further reading from GTB: 
Disappointed with MWC coverage? Timing is everything in getting interest from press

This was my tenth Mobile World Congress — I got a few off for good behaviour. It attracted some 85,000 people, 3,800 media and analysts and 1,800 exhibitors. And it’s been estimated — normally using a beer mat and a free pen early in the morning — that business-to-business mobile vendors splash out between 40% and 60% of their annual marketing budget on the event.

So when it comes to engagement, expectations are very, very high. And you’d expect, given the stakes, that the mobile industry would have MWC nailed as a military marketing operation. Sadly, that’s the exception rather than the rule — as evidenced by us receiving a call from a major brand two weeks before the show because its CEO wanted to launch a new product.

Because if there’s one thing that we need to get out up front when engaging at MWC, it’s this: firmly set and manage expectations and make sure everyone understands what success looks like.

Hint: it is not, and should never be, filling the diary of the CEO with media and analyst meetings. If you’re blowing even 40% of your marketing budget on an event, you need a return — influencer relationships, prospect leads and customer sales. 

You’re not Samsung or Facebook: do not compete with them

The chaps over at Lissted kindly made the above word cloud to demonstrate the noise vendors have to compete with. It’s the aggregated contents of the Twitter activity from MWC. Eventifier counted nearly 350,000 tweets — so more like 500,000 — during the event. There were 1,800 exhibitors — and hundreds “in attendance” — and yet only 15 brands are visible to the naked eye on the word cloud. Only two of them are not device or social media companies.

The point? You can’t get in the ring with these big brands once the show has started. If you want to influence B2B customers, prospects, buyers for the show you need to go early. Very early. Most vendors take out sizeable sales teams who book sales meetings six weeks or so in advance — these guys need air support. One of the most successful MWC PR campaigns we’ve ever run — in terms of engagement — was for Tellabs a few years ago. We went live three weeks out from MWC and the company had major prospects calling them for meetings.

But, whatever you do, don’t be yourself

Sorry, but if you’ve ignored all reasonable advice and opted to launch something at MWC, you can’t talk about what it is you actually do — unless you’re really cool, like Blackphone this year. You have to dress it up a little. You have to be on trend and tracking key themes.

This year it was issues such as smart cities, wearables, privacy and regulation that kept the major opinion formers up at night. It wasn’t the latest technical standard or network innovation. For example, keying into the smart cities theme elevated a client that was going to launch a new network product from obscurity to a speaker slot on the conference stage, as well as the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, the MWC Show Daily and the MWC TV channel.

Get out more

If your target buying audience is the operator community, there is one place you will not find them: the show floor. Gone are the days when a plucky tech vendor could land major deals as a result of a serendipitous booth visit. These individuals — and their cheque books — are either in meetings, conference sessions or one of the invite-only fringe events such as Hot Topics.

We know — based on our own primary research — that operators are most influenced to select vendors because of previously-held or peer relationships. If a vendor doesn’t have the partners or the access, a clever way of getting on operators’ radar is a handful of senior execs working a small number of select events during the show.

Couple up

The CEO has insisted you make a big splash at MWC, you are stubbornly insisting on being the leading provider of widgets no one cares about and you can’t get yourselves on the invite lists that matter. It’s either time to put your hand in your pocket and invest in research, or turn your account management team upside down and shake them for their contacts.

There are two workable platforms for engagement at major conferences: insight and access. Insight — via research or data analysis — to tell your audience something they don’t know can help chisel out calendar time. Access — basically access to an attractive customer, such as an operator C-level executive — can convince influencers to find the time to see you — and are very attractive when trying to secure conference podium slots.

Earn some, own some, buy some

Some of the more archaic publishers view PR pros as little more than vampires, feasting on their advertising revenues. But many are more savvy and have designed an array of sponsored products that deliver real value.

The point is, you cannot rely on solely earned media to make huge conferences a success. Owned media plays a very important role and provides much-needed curation capabilities for those with specific interests. But it’s paid media — with its own distribution — and sponsorships that can really make the difference at a show like MWC. Any engagement strategy must factor in all three.

MWC is one of the most challenging engagement environments in technology PR. But it is just a more extreme version of a thousand other trade shows. It’s about the setting the right expectations early, developing the right strategy, executing flawlessly and reporting convincingly.

MWC is an event in February that is bested between September and January. And with the call for speakers going live in June, it’s not long before the rollercoaster starts all over again.

Richard Fogg is managing director of London-based tech PR agency CCgroup. He can be found on Twitter @TelcoGeek . This article first appeared on In2 Holmes Report: