By Mariah Gauthier on March 22, 2024

Highwire’s guide to trade shows in 2024

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Four years after live, in-person industry events were shut down in light of the pandemic, 2024 is expected to be the year where we see user conferences and trade shows return in full force. But things have changed. Business is being done in new and unexpected ways as many organizations have found success experimenting with new tools and strategies to drive leads and build connections that were once largely identified at these events. The past couple of years have proved that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to business. For some companies, sales shifted to Zoom without missing a beat, and for others companies, we’re seeing businesses face harsh realities with layoffs and return-to-office mandates being enforced.

So when it comes to in-person events in 2024, what’s the right approach for YOUR business? 

Read on to learn more about how to leverage the major industry trade shows and user conferences that are set to make a return this year to make the biggest impact for your business. 

Media approach

The opportunity for media engagement at trade shows varies greatly from industry to industry and show to show. For many, tighter newsroom budgets mean there are fewer opportunities to attend trade shows that require costly travel. Others are doubling down on the opportunities to meet face-to-face with potential experts. In the cybersecurity space, we are seeing reporters taking fewer and fewer 1:1 meetings, and looking to tighten up their schedules in favor of attending educational sessions at key events. For energy and sustainability, we’re seeing top-tier and trade reporters eagerly jumping to attend CERA Week with many booking on-site weeks in advance and planning stories based on the discussions and trends they are hearing about. Attendance and strategy vary greatly depending on the show itself and your own goals as a business. 

Here are a few tips for making the most of some of the top trade shows of 2024:

RSA conference

The top security trade show of the year covers a wide breadth of cybersecurity topics. From massive booths in the expo hall, to keynotes from industry greats, and even a closing celebration by Alicia Keys, this year’s RSA will explore its theme of “The Art of Possible,” as the industry grapples with how to approach security amidst the boom of AI. RSA has changed dramatically over the past few years. Once considered a “must-attend,” event for all companies, RSA has shifted, and depending on your goals, it may or may not be essential to attend in person this year. 

When it comes to PR at RSA: 

  • Go beyond the trade show floor: In addition to the daytime activities at Moscone, a key piece of the RSA experience has always been the after-hours events. Whether it's hosting a panel discussion at a local lounge, a customer celebration party on a yacht in the bay, or a morning discussion over breakfast burritos, taking advantage of the opportunities to connect outside of the scheduled programming are critical. Media are especially interested in these unique and personable experiences when it comes to engaging with brands and executives, and these are a few examples of how to catch their attention.
  • Attendees are up, but priorities are changing: RSA 2024 topped over 40K attendees — more and more security professionals are attending this key event. But priorities for businesses are changing, as we’re also seeing several companies opt to NOT participate with their typical large scale booths. Many companies are opting to not spend their time in the expo hall doing demos, and rather taking advantage of the face-to-face time at networking events, and (along with reporters) spending time attending educational sessions to stay up to date on what's new in the industry, and learn more about what customers are really focused on. Prioritizing time to grab coffee, lunch or dinner with reporters in attendance is a great way to get that 1:1 engagement outside of the show floor.
  • Research is king: Marketing speak and product news will not always fly with reporters at RSA. While there are a handful of media who cover products launched at show, reporters are really looking for insights into the biggest threats of the year, and what to look forward to. Look to this in person event to build relationships with media, and if you are able to, launch threat intel or research that hits on the biggest trends in the industry this year. This is an opportunity to really cement your business as a must-know in the cyber world — if you can do it right. Seeding your messaging, data, and overall narrative through strategic and thoughtfully timed previews are well received by media who may be bogged down with a high volume of news during the week of the show.

Climate week

Every September, New York City comes alive as the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Week partner to unite companies, governments and non-profit organizations committed to driving climate action. With all the conversations and media in attendance, this is a great opportunity to showcase your brand's sustainability efforts. 

  • Contribute to the conversation: With so many announcements and leaders in one city, it's important to think through how your brand can add to the discussions in a different way. For example, does your organization have incredible data you can preview to journalists to go live during that week or can you convene partners and hold a media event alongside Climate Week? 
  • Authenticity matters: Sustainability as a conversation is evolving. Having an authentic voice is key. For your brand to be taken seriously by the tier-one and climate reporters that attend and write your messaging needs to be authentic. Be prepared to show impact – this can be anonymous data and customers and be prepared to provide a relevant perspective – no one is interested in a product discussion unless that product can be directly tied to impact.   
  • Keep the conversation going: After a week of conversations, news and presentations, journalists will find themselves with a mountain of notes from interviews. Remember that any conversation is just the beginning. Make sure that you have a plan or a PR partner to help continue the dialogue. What new information, perspective, customer anecdote or news element can you share to make sure that your brand stays top of mind with the journalist and that your conversation turns into a story? 


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KubeCon is a great event to highlight a brand’s IT and technical chops. With very technical sessions and attendees, there’s an opportunity to launch product-focused news at the show and connect with trade-level reporters for more detailed conversations on the space. 

  • Trade Publications Are the Way to Go: Given that the focus of the trade show is very technical, with breakout sessions largely focused on Kubernetes and cloud infrastructure, security and development, the audience that attends are technical IT and data reporters. This leads to a great audience for more technical/product-focused conversations, but not higher-level business conversations with C-Suite executives.
  • Let the Jargon Fly: KubeCon has a very technical audience of IT and data professionals, so if you’re applying for sessions lose the marketing speak. Successful sessions at KubeCon are technical and get into the interworking of products to give everyday developers tips to better perform in their roles. 
  • Community matters: The CNCF community is highly tight-knit and social - and typically has been more of a focus for community management and marketing, with evening happy hours and networking experiences frequently hosted by brands to tap into the individuals contributing to the community. There’s an opportunity to pair strong PR efforts with integrated marketing and community spaces. To stand out, consider hosting a private dinner/Q&A with both an executive and a technical expert on a key community issue. Make sure it’s framed as an engagement opportunity and thought leadership, vs. a marketing ploy, as developers are especially allergic to this approach. 

AWS re:Invent

At re:Invent, the best way to make a splash is to think of creative ways to showcase your brand. This huge AWS-hosted show draws a major crowd in the enterprise space, and it takes some strategic planning to stand out. 

  • Pre-briefs Matter: re:Invent is a huge show, and we’ve found that reporters' time is limited at best. It’s important to engage desired reporters 1-2 weeks in advance to secure a spot with them. 
  • Complement the host: re:Invent is an AWS-hosted event. Non-AWS companies wanting to meet with reporters should speak to their relationship and/or alignment with AWS to maximize the impact they can have. 
  • Host an experience: re:Invent is always in Vegas, tap into the experiences the city has to offer. (private dinners, coffee bar takeover, H&H near the show floor). Can you take over a restaurant in a high-traffic spot to host keynote viewings and interviews in a comfortable and tasty setting? Launch a coffee-bar takeover? Schedule a private dinner with media and customers?

Making a digital impact

To make the most of your tradeshow experience, you need a digital strategy to bridge the gap between the virtual and in-person worlds, as well as foster a sense of community and engagement. It's all about generating excitement and FOMO with your target audience, whether they're onsite or following the buzz on social media. Here are a few ways to maximize your digital footprint at tradeshows, with some pre-event, during-event, and post-event strategy considerations. 

  • Onsite videos: Maximize your SME/exec and community presence onsite by capturing Q&A style, behind-the-scenes, person-on-the-street, and AMA videos that can be used on social during and after the event.
  • Sizzle reel: Package all of your best coverage and moments from the tradeshow into an engaging sizzle reel that you can distribute across social and as part of your social advocacy strategy. 
  • In-booth activations: Draw traffic to your booth with fun and stunty activations, like a Kahoot-style trivia where attendees and reporters can test their knowledge and win sweet prizes, or set up a VR/AR experience so attendees can immerse themselves in a product demo. 
  • Influencer partnerships: Deepen engagement with attendees by partnering with an industry influencer to expand your reach and keep event momentum going post-event. Consider an influencer to host an onsite LinkedIn Live, tap them as a host of a Q&A video series, or have them live posting from social on the show floor. 
  • Surprise & delights and social snacks: Keep your digital audience engaged through call-and-response social prompts, polls, text-only posts, as well as surprise and delight giveaways to make them feel like they’re at the show.  

There are numerous ways to engage with your target audience at a trade show, and the right approach for one company may be different from the right approach for another. To learn more about what the right approach for YOU is, click here to see our event checklist. 

Published by Mariah Gauthier March 22, 2024