Getting inside access to the business owners you want to meet is a big key to success. Even so, I’m always hesitant about giving advice in any area of business, primarily because I believe firmly in the principle that correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation.
Just because a particular strategy worked for me doesn’t mean that it’s bound to work for everybody else. I might think that I experienced success because I did X, Y and Z, but it might have had nothing to do with those things.
Maybe it was just pure, good old-fashioned, dumb luck.
So, how about this…
I’ll tell you the strategy we used to get a ton of free advertising, in front of thousands of business people who worked in our niche and exclusive access to owners and directors of some of the biggest players in our industry.
I’m talking full-page ads in industry-related literature, banner ads on related websites and sit-downs with business people on the kind of level that you couldn’t reach just by picking up the phone or sending an email.
I’ll simply tell you what we did and leave it to you to decide if what we achieved was a fluke or something that could work just as well for anyone…
Step One: Be useful to your industry
Our business was a website that provided resources for people that worked in the industry. It had a directory of suppliers, weekly news updates, a calendar of events, a forum and a weekly email newsletter that rounded up the latest additions to our website.
We weren’t the only website providing this service, and we probably weren’t even the most well-known, but we had a lot of content, a quick-loading website and it was a good place to get useful information.
We made an income from this venture by selling sponsorship packages (see PART TWO in this article series for more information on how we turned the website into a business).
Our content was factual, rather than opinionated, and we positioned ourselves as a portal more than a blog. But, critically, we weren’t somewhere people visited when they wanted to buy something. We were the place to come when someone needed FREE information. Whether it was the address of a particular business, the date of the next trade show or to see if there were any recent changes in legislation that could affect their business.
Step Two: Accept joint venture opportunities
With this kind of website, stick around for long enough and other companies will approach you to suggest some kind of joint venture. But there’s no reason to wait. If I had to do it all again, I would be the one reaching out.
At the time, I didn’t know much about joint venture opportunities so the invitations were a novel idea to me. We did some advertising swaps and, for a while, even hosted some homepage links from an SEO company (shh, don’t tell Google…). But the real fun started when we were contacted by event organizers.
With hindsight, this made perfect sense. Our audience was a mixture of the kinds of people that attended events, and the kind of people who advertised and exhibited at events. We were a very good fit for the trade shows and exhibitions who needed to reach as many people in the industry as possible.
The deal was virtually always the same. We would add the event to our calendar page, we would publish some press releases in our news section and we would feature them an agreed number of times in our newsletter.
In return, we would be featured on their website as a sponsor, complete with logo, description and link back. We would also appear in their event literature and be featured on advertising space in the event hall.
It’s well worth noting that these event organizers also sold sponsorship opportunities. But, thanks to our joint venture agreement, we enjoyed all of this exposure free of charge.
Step Three: Become a “journalist”
Once we had a reciprocal arrangement with an event organizer, it was a natural extension of this to request a “press pass” for the event (although, in practice, we were able to obtain press access even when a joint venture wasn’t in place).
If you’d asked me beforehand, I would have assumed that this kind of privilege would only be open to accredited journalists. I’d have been wrong.
But then, it’s not as if we were trying to get access to the Academy Awards or a meeting of the UN Security Council. A trade show or exhibition is organized by booking space and then aiming to sell enough stands, advertising and tickets to turn a profit. The event organizers are often desperate (in the nicest possible sense of the word) to find news publications in the industry who will be willing, not just to promote the event in advance, but also write about how great it was afterwards.
Agreeing to give us a press pass cost them nothing but opened up the potential – they hoped – for an industry-related website to promote them and their exhibitors.
So, what did a “press pass” get us?
It got us free entry, which is always nice. It got us access to the press room which occasionally included free food and drink. But, most importantly, it got us access to the exhibitors.
When a big company attended the event and wanted to make a big, noisy splash about a new product line or merger, who do you think they wanted to speak to? That’s right… the press. A group which now, apparently, included us.
We took the role seriously. We took photos, shot some video and when we got home we put everything online, including any press releases that exhibitors asked us if we would be willing to share.
The rest of the time? We walked the floor, introducing ourselves to the exhibitors and exchanging business cards. Where appropriate, we would sometimes mention our advertising opportunities but we didn’t want to abuse the privilege of access we’d be given. Mostly it was about shaking hands, exchanging contact details and following up after the event.
Essentially, we had become an advertising arm for the exhibitors. That was fine with us because it gave us some nice content for our website.
But, more importantly, it gave us legitimate access to the people we wanted to meet. Simply having the word “press” on our name badge, opened doors and paved the way for conversations that probably wouldn’t have happened if we’d simply be attending as delegates.
It’s not what you know – it’s who you know. No amount of telephone calls and emails, or even online advertising, can match the power of attending an event as “press” and meeting business owners face-to-face.
Could this strategy work for you?
I don’t see why not. Even if your main website is directly selling a product or service to other businesses, there’s nothing to stop you creating a separate website that provides free information, news and resources to your industry. Once you have a modest audience, you’re then in a position to contact industry-related event organizers and see what joint ventures you can put together.
Sure, it takes a bit more work than throwing a PPC campaign together. But if you want access to the biggest players in your market, this is a route that your competitors probably wouldn’t even dream of and is a superb way to quickly turn a fledgling business into a recognized player.
Of course, not every contact can be obtained this way. Sometimes there’s no choice but to pick up the phone and start dialing some numbers. In PART FOUR of this article series on business-to-business marketing, we’ll look at how to skip past the gatekeepers and how to improve your telephone presence, even if you’re not a confident conversationalist.