How to Conduct Product Demonstrations on the Road
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Visiting publications’ offices to demonstrate your product to reporters or editors improves the chances of having your product reviewed. This is because you’re operating under ideal conditions: their turf, your equipment, your expertise, and no time pressure.
Reporters are usually happy to watch a new product demonstration for half an hour. By engaging the people you encounter once you arrive, you may well have several other reporters (perhaps from news, reviews or features) attend your demonstration.
Road shows can be expensive, with airfare, hotel rooms and staff time, so allocate your resources wisely. To control costs, conduct road shows to targeted areas of the country that have the most press in a centralized location. Areas with a high publishing and broadcasting concentration include New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston/New Hampshire, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.
To help you plan your press tour follow these four steps:
1. Write the names of all the important publications you would like to reach.
2. Place a priority number next to the each of the publications
3. Write the cities that the top priority publications are located in (check mastheads, or Bacon’s Clipping Bureau).
4. Create a travel itinerary based on your time, resources and priority publications.
Check to see whether a major convention is scheduled during your tour, as it will steal away reporters and editors who may want to see your product. Call reporters about a month before you want to demonstrate the product, but don’t call on deadline day. (Use the Phone Pitch Worksheet earlier in this chapter to prepare for these calls.) Once you’ve agreed on a date and time, send a confirmation note and press materials to your interviewer immediately. The confirmation note should have the name of the company representatives who will be involved in the demo, their titles, the scope of the interview or demo, the time, date and place for the appointment, and any other information pertinent to your meeting or that will spark additional interest. (A sample confirmation note and template are provided at the end of this discussion).
Get directions, street by street, from whatever known landmark you’ll be traveling from (the airport or your hotel), including estimates of how long it will take to drive from one place to the next. Always schedule extra time between appointments: demos usually take longer than planned, especially when the press is really interested in the product. Plan on spending 30 minutes demonstrating the product. Then add 10 minutes (minimum) to set up and another 10 minutes to pack-up.
Bring your own equipment for set up. If you bring your own pre-tested equipment, everything should run smoothly. (If your product is computer related, keep in mind that some computer publications won’t let you place hardware or software on their systems. This is especially understandable, in light of recent computer virus scares. Other publications may have monitors that are not attractive or well kept. These machines will negatively affect the reporters’ perceptions of your computer products.) If power is required for your product demonstration, remember to carry extra extension cords.
Be sure to do a few dry runs in your own office before you go on the road. You need to know if it takes more than one trip to get all your materials from your car to the location where you’ll be demonstrating. You also need to know exactly how to pack and unpack your product smoothly. Your credibility slips if you fumble with your own materials. Ask in advance about access to the elevators, whether you’ll need to take the freight elevator, how fast (or slow) they are, how crowded they’re likely to be at the time of day you expect to arrive, and how to obtain a building pass to remove your equipment. It also pays to ask about parking before you go. You may have to walk a long distance from a garage to the office. In larger cities, the odds are high that you’ll have to park in a garage and pay a parking fee (from 50 cents to $25.00 depending on the city). Be sure you’re carrying enough cash to get out of the garage – few take checks or credit cards.
Take several extra copies of your press kit and photos of products in case unexpected reporters attend the demonstration meeting. If possible, carry additional samples of the product. Bring the same materials a consumer would find when buying the product. Some publications will work with prototypes or advance (beta) copies of products, but most want to see the final product.
Rehearse Your Demonstration
The best preparation for a successful road show begins at home. Conduct a practice demo for fellow workers in your own company. Have them critique your presentation. Be open and receptive to whatever input you receive – it’s much better (and easier) to put in corrections at home, than to risk a blunder in front of the people you need to impress favorably.
The people who attend your demonstrations will generally fall into one of these response types:
Students sit still during the entire presentation. They rarely ask questions. When the demo is over, they ask a few questions. They may not be well-informed about the product category. They sit, learn, and ask basic questions.
Inquisitors generally let you follow your script, but ask intelligent, pertinent questions.
Prosecutors have their own game plan in mind before you ever arrive. They know the product category and constantly ask questions.
Consultants think they know more about the product and the market than you do. (They may, so be careful not to overreact – especially defensively – to what they have to say.) They continually comment about each feature and tell you how it can be improved, co-marketed, bundled or forgotten.
Be prepared by practicing for each type of interview. Don’t get flustered by naive questions, or someone telling you how to run your business. Remain calm and flexible so you can adapt your presentation to fit the needs of each reporter.
After finishing the demo, borrow a technique from the salesperson’s tool box: ask for the “order.” Ask reporters when they plan to review the product, whether it will be a stand-alone review or a group round-up, when the article will appear, and what additional materials they need, such as photographs, names and phone numbers of users.
Follow each demonstration with a thank you note, and promptly provide any additional materials the reporters request.