NRF 2011: Let the Countdown Begin


For all our non-retail clients and friends who may not be familiar, NRF – the National Retail Federation – hosts its annual conference and expo the second week of every January. The Javits Center bustles with two jam-packed days of exhibit halls that seem to go on for miles, keynotes from some of the world’s preeminent retail executives, live demos of all the latest and greatest retail technology, and of course, lots of parties. And this time, it all seems just a little more significant – the show coming up in January will mark the 100th year of the NRF conference.

For many of our clients, NRF is the most exciting time of the year – and even though it can be chaotic with last-minute prep during the holidays, we love attending NRF each year. Not only is it a blast, but it’s the only time we get to see many of our non-local clients face-to-face all year.

As of this writing, there are just under 100 days left until Christmas. And if you work in retail technology, you know what that means – once the last presents are unwrapped on Christmas Day, you’ll have 15 days until NRF begins. The race is on.

If you think consumers have it bad seeing holiday décor pop up in stores earlier and earlier every year, just imagine how soon retailers have to start thinking about the holidays – basically, as soon as the last gift is unwrapped, planning for next year’s peak holiday season begins. Similarly, each year the preparations for retail technology’s biggest show start a little earlier. We’ve seen NRF-related emails for several months now, and our clients have been actively working on NRF strategies for months, and marketing is kicking into high gear. Chances are, your planning is well underway by now ­– but here are a few PR tips to keep in mind in the run-up to NRF.

Don’t save your announcements until January. Most vendors spend months planning their NRF announcements. But why cram all your news into a three-day period? We counsel our clients not to save everything until NRF but rather to adopt a release strategy for before, during and after the Big Show.

Announcing significant customer wins and new technology in the months leading up to NRF is a great way to build momentum going into the show and to trumpet your successes to prospects. During the show, your news faces stiff competition from hundreds of other press releases, yet one or two newsworthy announcements can help drive booth traffic and create a buzz during NRF. After the show is a good time for announcements, too; editors’ inboxes will be a lot less crowded, many of your competitors will have emptied their arsenal of news at NRF, and your news will have room to breathe.

Don’t expect to brief everyone at NRF. While NRF presents a terrific opportunity for face-to-face meetings with key editors and analysts, you won’t be able to meet with everyone on your list. The top editors and analysts are in high demand during NRF and have tightly packed schedules; many of them will have their entire days booked in 30-minute slots starting at 6:30 a.m., and paying clients and prospects will have top priority. If you want to meet with editors and analysts, start early, realizing their schedules fill up fast. And respect the fact that they may not be able to meet with you; briefings before or after NRF can often be more relaxed and unhurried.

In keeping with this, we advise our clients to connect with key influencers in the months leading up to NRF. Schedules are more open, and it’s an excellent time to bring analysts and editors up to speed on your company’s latest products, customers and other developments. During these briefings, you can also lay the groundwork for a possible meeting or product demo at NRF.

Leave the PowerPoint at home. The editors and analysts you meet at NRF will likely be cramming 30+ vendor meetings into their day – which can mean an equal number of mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations. We advise our clients to scrap PowerPoint presentations during NRF. After all, if you’ve done your briefings in the fall, then an NRF meeting can be a chance to build a one-on-one relationship. Offer editors and analysts a comfortable place to sit (their feet will be aching!), bottled water, and treat them the same way you’d treat your most valued customers. Find out in advance what they’d like to focus on during the meeting: demo, product roadmap, customer announcements. If an editor is accompanied by a sales rep, be sure to give him or her equal time, too. After all, editors and analysts have to make a living, too, and many of the lead generation programs offered by the top retail and analyst firms can produce solid results.

Go social. I’m not just talking about planning your evening networking and entertainment schedule – though of course, that’s important, too – I’m talking about the trendiest (for better or worse) marketing phrase of the past few years, social media. At Ketner Group, we have dipped our toes in the waters of social media marketing with some clients, and have developed full campaigns with others. While I admit that for retail technology companies, the direct ROI of participating in social media can often be hard to measure, we’ve seen some great cases of valuable conversations and connections made through our efforts in this area.

The social media world is still difficult to navigate for many B2B companies, but it has become an undeniably strong force in marketing that is sure to only grow in breadth and influence. NRF will certainly be buzzing with talk of retailers’ participation in social media over the past year, so be informed and ready to engage with them about their social media efforts – and even just having an active presence in popular social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn can show social-savvy retailers that you “get it.”

Remember that NRF preparation is year-round. If companies prepare properly, NRF can get the New Year off to a running start. However, NRF is over after four days. What is your company doing the rest of the year in PR and marketing to help generate sales momentum and leads?