How to Act Big at NRF’s Big Show

December 6, 2023

Having worked in corporate communications for more than 15 years representing companies at all stages and sizes from small, pre-seed startups to large, publicly traded entities, I’ve always encouraged my clients to follow one rule: if you want to be big, act big.

Whatever your aspirations, acting like you’re already there and carrying yourself with the confidence that you’ve already achieved it will serve you well and lead to continued success.

In an era now dominated by digital communication and virtual interactions, I still find in-person events to be one of the most dramatic ways a business can move the needle. And when it comes to acting big, few trade shows offer the size and scale of NRF’s Big Show. Touting over 35,000 attendees with more than 16,000 retail professionals and more than 1,000 exhibitors covering more than 300,000 square feet, NRF’s Big Show serves as its own retail-centric, multinational town taking over Javits Center in New York over Martin Luther King weekend.

Many companies overlook trade shows, particularly post-Covid. But these events still play a crucial role in business growth and development, serving as dynamic stages where industry professionals converge, exchange ideas, showcase innovations and establish invaluable connections. Of course, this comes at a cost. Trade shows are often a big expense, involving significant investments in travel, hotel, exhibitor space and simply the cost to attend. 

Whether you have a big booth or you are simply attending to walk the exhibit floor, the easiest way to act big is by working with a PR firm to create buzz and excitement about your company.

Here are some of the ways working with an agency like Bospar can boost your show ROI.

Work with PR Experts to Pre-Arrange Media Briefings Anywhere and Everywhere

One of the primary reasons to attend trade shows is the unparalleled networking opportunities they provide. Not only are you able to meet with prospective customers, but you can also find yourself in conversations with industry insiders, investors, or potential partners.

However, if you’re only using the opportunity to meet with prospective clients or capital, you’re leaving money on the table. NRF is covered by some of the best retail reporters and analysts in the country and the world. And no one can help you get on the radar of media and analysts in advance of a show quite like a quality PR agency and PR professionals with experience.

Top PR people will have existing relationships with many of the journalists covering the show because they have attended NRF in years past – I myself have been to NRF’s Big Show seven times – and/or have established an expertise in the practice area. A PR firm can also help you better understand what’s important to media and analysts, and tailor your pitch to best serve both their needs and your own. Additionally, genuine face-to-face interactions and the ability to walk through product demos can be instrumental in establishing long-lasting relationships.

And here’s something that most young companies don’t realize: A PR firm can help facilitate these introductions just about anywhere. You don’t need to have a 1,000-square-foot booth to attract attention. If you have a good story, a good public relations firm can book briefing in the press room, a coffee shop or a hotel across the street. One NRF I set up a dozen briefings for a client who carried a prototype of their product around the show floor in a backpack. The following year their pilot was included in show coverage roundups by CNBC and The Washington Post!

Listen, Learn and Connect with Analysts to Stay Current and Move Forward with Confidence

Shows like NRF provide a comprehensive overview of the industry landscape and a forward-looking view to empower companies to make informed decisions to stay ahead of the curve.

If I had to guess, I would say that we will be hearing a lot more about AI on the keynote stages of every big conference in the year ahead. Staying abreast of industry trends like AI is crucial for businesses to remain innovative and competitive. And trade shows can serve as active hubs where the latest products, technologies and services are discussed, debated and showcased.

While these events provide a firsthand look at emerging trends, they are also a great way to determine your product market fit. A conversation with an analyst who studies the competitive landscape might help you to adapt and evolve your strategy in response to market demand.

Comb the Competitive Landscape with the Help of a Friend in Public Relations

Trade shows are also a great opportunity to check in on your competition.

Working with a PR firm can help you do a deeper dive. A PR firm can use tools to measure your share of voice compared to your competitors. Your public relations agency can also do some booth reconnaissance to gain insights into market trends and your competitors’ strategies.

Observing how your competitors showcase their products, interact with show attendees and position themselves can provide valuable intelligence that informs strategic decision-making.

Build Your Brand Visibility By Making a Splash in the Room Where It Happens

I could go on and on about the benefits of industry events – the educational opportunities, product launches, demonstrations, the energy and more, but perhaps what’s most enticing about trade shows is your ability to build your brand in the room where it happens.

Nothing can put you on the map quicker with a trajectory for growth and recognition than crushing it at a trade show. NRF provides an ideal stage for companies to showcase their brand identities, values and offerings in a visually compelling manner, even if it’s out of a backpack. Whether through booth displays, promotional materials or interactive presentations, businesses can create a lasting impression on attendees and stand out in a crowded marketplace – and the exposure gained often extends well beyond the event itself.

The visibility you gain among your peers and target audience from participating in an event like NRF is second to none – and it’s far less expensive than placed advertising.

At NRF, even a young company with limited resources can become so noteworthy, attract so much coverage, and build so much brand equity and recognition in one year that if that company doesn’t return to the event the following year people will take notice.

So, if you’re selling to retailers, considering attending NRF’s Big Show and looking to make a profound impact on your business results, ask yourself: How big do you want to be in 2024?

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About the author

Kevin Martin is a PR veteran recognized as an adept strategist who provides practical, creative solutions to real-world communications challenges. Kevin specializes in fintech, adtech and insurtech, as well as B2B companies serving retailers, CPGs and other industries. He has served on the board of multiple startups and nonprofits and is a proud Loyola University Chicago alumnus and season ticket holder.