Spring is the season for education-focused trade shows.  From the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) to the International Reading Association (IRA), industry organizations are hosting their annual conferences, inviting educators and administrators to network, learn and share best practices.  For many educational technology companies, the biggest show of the year falls in late June, following this string of subject and audience-focused conferences.  That show is the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), presented by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

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This year NECC will be in Washington, D.C., starting on June 28th with a series of workshops for educators and hours of booth set-up for vendors.  For educators, administrators and tech directors, NECC will be a forum of activity – presenting, learning, sharing, and checking out the latest products.  For ed tech companies, NECC is an opportunity to showcase their best and latest innovations, developed with the hopes of making a difference in the academic and teaching success of students and educators.  And for another group – editors, reporters and bloggers – NECC will be a kaleidoscope of activity and information overload where vendors and educators alike highlight their stories and vie for a spot in future issues.

Not much has changed by way of intentions, but attendance has declined at the spring conferences, a trend that most likely will continue at NECC. The economy has short-changed us.  Districts are hesitant about sending too many, if any, staff to the shows.  And vendors are responding similarly.

So, what does this mean for your public relations and marketing efforts?

Trade shows and conferences were once one of the only places for exhibiting companies, potential customers and media to meet face-to-face.  We took advantage of these opportunities to set up meetings, pitch our best success stories, highlight our most innovative customers, and showcase our latest products.  With anticipated attendance on the decline, ed tech vendors need to start earlier and think virtual.

  • Consider hosting smaller special events, focusing on highly-targeted audiences.  This will save on costs, but require more hand-holding and research in months prior to the show.
  • When prepping staff who will be on the show floor, determine well beforehand the key messages you want to get across.  Make sure all staff members are prepped to answer questions about cost and how districts may be able to use stimulus funds to make purchases.  Also, know that professional development will likely be a hot topic.  Be able to answer the question: how can I help my educators actually use this product?
  • As for media, consider setting up virtual one-to-one meetings via Skype prior to or after the show.  These meetings provide a similar face-to-face environment and allow you to pitch exclusive news to specific media outlets, which may help secure coverage.
  • Become a part of the social media world.  Set up a Twitter account and participate in the conversation.  Read education blogs related to your interest area and comment when appropriate (not as a company, but as a representative of that company.  Always be honest about who you are.)  Create a corporate Facebook account and post information that adds value to your current and potential customer relationships.
  • Finally, be sure to post all media materials on your Web site in your online newsroom.  This will allow media, bloggers, and even potential customers to view and download the documents they need to better understand how your products can help teachers and students.

If you take anything away from this post – “the earlier the better” when it comes to preparing for NECC.