Everything you need to know about going to a trade show
from a 30 year trade show veteran.
Deciding to go to a trade show
After you decide to go to a show your first decision will be what size of booth space to I need and where should it be?
Getting people to your booth
Trade Show Booth and Supplies
- Crates & Crate repairs
- Shipping Options
- Credit with your shipper
- Target arrival date
- Lift gates
Furniture for booth
Catering for the booth
- Product security – What will you do with the products at night? Take it all with us? Research this.
- In booth security options – order a “cage” to lock products up at night or design security areas into a new trade show booth when possible.
- Security guard – consider hiring a security guard for higher valued inventory.
- Existing brochures – do your existing advertising and sales support materials suffice to take to the show or do you need to do a new one specifically for the event?
- Show special – If you’re going to do some kind of a show special it’s always a good idea to provide some kind of “take away” that the customer can look at later when they’re (hopefully) reviewing all their trade show materials.
- Review strategy & objectives – I could write a book on this subject….no matter what printed materials you do at the show, consider how the show objective differ from your normal marketing objectives.
- Brochure production – Design, write copy and do layout – go through proofing process with management.
- Printing – get quotes and make sure you order what you’ll need for the show in plenty of time to get the items before the show. Consider hiring a print broker who knows where to get the best and lowest cost printing for you. A print broker can save you as much as 85% of what you’re currently paying for printing and often they don’t mind if you’re not printing 10 billion of something.
- Shipping of print materials – Print locally and ship to show or print at show destination?
- Price Sheets – do you need to do a price sheet just for the trade show or does your standard price sheet suffice? If you need a new price sheet allow plenty of time to discuss pricing issues with the corporate management team.
- Printing Price Sheets – Depending on how many price sheets you’ll need you will either photocopy or offset or digital print the price sheets. It’s cheaper to print offset or digital if you need anything more than a handful of printed prices.
- Shipping Price Sheets – Ship to show with trade show booth or send UPS in advance? Or ship Fed Ex (depending on time)
- Ads – Any ads for the show? Check with the show to see what advertising options they are providing to show exhibitors. Obviously you don’t have to advertise with them and you may want to consider doing some local advertising that is not “sanctioned” by the show management. You will just have to determine the pros and cons of each option and decide if it’s worth the extra price to advertise via the “show” channels.
- Show directory – listing? Has our information been submitted to the show directory? If so, has the booth number been changed since the initial show sign up? If so, has the directory printer been notified?
- Show website – review the web related advertising options offered by show management including website ads, email marketing and digital show book listings.
- Other marketing options – see show book for other advertising options such as bill boards, radio ads, magazine ads, local TV, press conferences, show news releases, editorial content that’s being distributed in advance of and during the show, etc.
- Photos of the booth – Over my career of 30 years I cannot tell you how many trade shows I’ve been to and how many exhibits I’ve designed, constructed and put up that I have NOT photographed. Quite frankly it was often because i just didn’t have the budget for that when all things were said and done but I should have done it for a hundred different reasons. Decide if you should hire the show photographer to photograph booth, hire a “non show” photographer or photograph your booth yourself.
- If you photograph your booth yourself, be sure and bring a camera (phone) and consider if any other materials are needed.
- Make sure you integrate any photos you take into a press program and social media marketing efforts.
- Hooks – creating a list of possible “hooks” for your press releases – a PR hook is something that ties your press release into current events, show happenings and other events & issues that will make your press release more than just a sales pitch.
- Press releases – Write press release(s); How many press kits will you need and how will you get them to the show?
- Press release distribution – either print or distribute digitally, depending on what show management prefers. Consider using an Internet press distribution company such as “PR Newswire”.
- Photos – include digital photos with your press release? If so provide a flash drive or some other digital method of transmitting your photo to the press staff.
- Folders – check with your show management to see if the attending press wants printed press materials or if they will only accept digital press materials. If you need printing materials, consider printing professional portfolio folders with your company logo or buy at office supply stores and print labels? (that latter option is pretty crummy….so in that case you might want to just do a digital press mailing prior to the show).
- Print labels – print labels for folders in-house or at a printer?
- Assemble packages – assemble packages to be left in the press room at the trade show. Most shows now days don’t even accept printed materials any more but check with show management to see how they’re handing press release distribution. Whatever that is – make sure you participate in that because the press coverage is essentially free.
- Web changes – what changes are needed for the show? At the very lease you’ll want to post the information about the show itself and let people know how to find you.
- Promos – It’s a good idea to do some kind of promotion at the show and tie it into your website. There are a million things you can do and what you do depends greatly on what what type of product or service you sell, your target market, your completion and many other factors., For this reason I highly recommend you hire someone creative to help you think of something creative and memorable and most importantly someone who knows how to handle web marketing & social media.
- Products & Services – Do you need to add new products or services (or the new show special) to the website
- Sales Support Website – do you have a sales support website for your sales staff? It’s a good idea to add copies of all the new sales support materials, promotions and promo materials to the website so your sales staff can not only see that you’re supporting them but also so they’ll know what items they have access to before, during and after the show.
- Other Site Changes – Other items may need to be changed or added to the website such as instruction manuals, show event calendars, booth staffing schedules, etc. If you have a section on your site for reps or salesmen, do you want to announce a sales meeting at the show? Time and date? Don’t forget to do the planning for this! (btw good idea not to serve to much booze before the sales meeting…I made that mistake once regrettably).
- Website Press Portal – If you’re having a press conference, perhaps you’d want to post the press releases and the conference information on the website.
- Show Specials – the website is an obvious place to list the info about any show specials you might be planning on having at the show.
Products for show use
- In Booth Inventory – Think through and inventory what you’ll need for the trade show (i.e., how many groupings of products are needed? How many display areas will you need in the booth? Do you want to make a grouping on the table or on the reception desk in the booth?)
- Ordering Inventory – Do an order form to your warehouse/order department for the inventory that will be needed for the show; remember this inventory needs to be re-checked in upon return so save all packaging at the show.
- Point of Purchase Displays (POPs) – Get a matching number of point of purchase displays (if the product that’s displayed at the show has such an item) and don’t forget to develop any signs that you’ll need to describe what your products are, the prices, etc.?
- Brochures for POPs – Also, get quantities of the brochures for each item on display, which can be set next to the product. (Do you need plexi-stands to display these brochures? If so, how many will you need?) And these don’t usually ship very well, this may need to be taken to the show by hand or have them shipped directly from the manufacturer to your hotel.
- Batteries – Do products require batteries? If so order and ship to make sure you have plenty before and during the show.
- POPs for Services vs. Products – if you sell a service rather than a product consider treating the service LIKE a product in that you’d create a point of purchase display (POP) for each service with the same types of signage and brochures that you’d put next to an actual physical product.
Hotel, Airline & Car Reservations
- List of Employees – Create a list of all the employees attending the trade show and assign someone the task of researching airline & hotel reservations for these people – if hotels are held with a credit card, put last day to cancel on computer reminder system so you don’t forget to cancel and get charged for rooms you don’t need. (who, if anyone, can be doubled up and bunked into one room?)
- List of outside reps that will be attending – hotels & reservations for them? If so, who will be paying for that? Get approvals from management on this.
- List of customers attending show – are you paying for any of them to attend? Hotel? Airline reservations?
- Itineraries – Send out itineraries to anyone going to the show
- Auto reservations – for all of above (reminder: send out memo to employees reminding them to bring their proof of auto insurance and a credit card with space for a deposit to rent a car).
- Auto shuttle from show to hotel – Rent a nice car and use it to shuttle your show guests from the show to their hotels. That way they won’t have to stand in the Taxi lines (like everyone else), they love you for it and save them a lot of stress. Also this will conveniently make all of your NON-customers take notice and wonder why they’re not your client.
- Give out “invitations” to the above shuttle – Tell customers where to find your shuttle and use this in your show promotions; advertise the shuttle and tell visitors to stop by your booth for a ticket for a free ride in your company shuttle.
- Order tickets – Order show tickets in advance to include in the mailing you’re doing to the customers & others that you’re inviting to the show. If you can get as many tickets as you want, then ask for them in advance so you can send them out to EVERYONE!!
- Other tickets – press conference, party for customers, sales meetings, events in the destination city for top customers (football games, baseball, see if there’s a special exhibit in the local museum and get tickets to that).
- Employees – Get badges for everyone attending the show from your company and of course everyone who’s working your booth, including your sales reps and other invited attendees.
- Customers – Don’t forget to get badges, if possible, for your top customers.
- Vendors – Also, you may need a few spare badges to get vendors/service providers into the show to deliver flowers, supplies, furniture (if those suppliers are NOT the “show” suppliers).
Booth work schedule
- Employee schedule – Do yourself a favor, schedule your workers to work shifts, and include your outside reps. Otherwise, the employees will end up having to work the whole show and be too beat to go out a night with customers and the reps will drift in and out of the booth and not be there when you need them. That way, if key customers show up, you can tell them the exact time when someone will be at the booth to meet with them.
- Dividing work into shifts – I recommend that the incoming morning staff be in charge of setting up the booth in the morning and the afternoon shift be the people most needed to wine and dine important customers. That usually means the marketing staff is there in the morning and the executive staff can show up a little later (after all they may have been out all night partying anyway and need to sleep in a little!).
- Schedule in advance – Make sure your employees and reps understand that you need their help BEFORE the show so they can work your schedule into their schedules. Obviously your reps and sales staff will need to have free time to meet with important clients and take them out to schmooze, but don’t let them use this as an excuse to not help you at all during the show. Letting them know when you expect them in advance prevents you from being “left at the altar.”
- Schedules to clients – Also be sure to send a schedule out to your customers before the show (perhaps when you send them their badges, tickets or invitations) so they can find out when their reps will be in the booth. Make sure this information is also online so any last-minute editing can be easily viewable by your clients and staff.
- Off-site events – Consider renting a hotel suite to hold customer meetings/press meetings. Schedule beverages & food; arrange for catering if so. You can usually find event spaces at the exhibit hall but sometimes it’s good to just get the heck out of dodge for a change in atmosphere.
- Off site event products – Make sure you have product or service displays (point of purchase displays) for whatever events are being held in this room. Don’t forget to include products that can be taken to this room to be put on display.
- Save money using employee rooms – You can use one of the employees rooms as a “suite” if you’re on a tight budget (but be sure to make your employees promise to keep the room clean for when the guests come over).
- Press conference or not? – Decide if you need to arrange to introduce our new
products and service at a press conference. It’s only a good idea to do this if you have something really newsworthy and interesting to say to the press….be careful not to gather a bunch of press together for no reason or your first press conference will be your last.
- Press conference support materials – If you decide to hold a press conference consider invitations, catering, press folders, press releases, press conference announcements, online press releases and all the other things that go along with any press event. Don’t forget you’ll want to have products or services with POP displays at the press event.
- Press list & announcement – Get list of press attendees to send a mailing to them in advance of the show. Make sure the event is listed on your website and consider releasing a notice of the event via PR Newswire.
Other things to remember
- Take sales materials for use at a “reception desk” in your booth.
- Take a cooler or buy at location to hide drinks under the reception desk (unless you’re getting the drinks from the show caterer and then you don’t have to hide them)!
- Buy flowers at show destination (at an outside flower shop, so it’s cheaper) – or if you’re short on time, use the show florist.
- Put a garbage can in one of crates for booth
- Take a vacuum cleaner
- Batteries and cell phone chargers
- Cleaning materials, paper towels
- Consider having a place for people to drop their business cards – possibly hold a contest if you don’t have some better promo figured out.
- Get the show badge scanner – it’s worth it to collect the data on the people who visit your booth in an organized manner.
- Schedule meetings in advance with Press and Ad sales people as well as the trade show management to discuss next year’s booth space; customers.
If you are going to a show, as you can see you may be better off hiring a professional to help you with your event. I cannot stress enough that you don’t have to feel like you can’t afford to hire someone like this. You seriously can’t afford NOT to hire someone like this because of how much they can help you to save. Feel free to contact me if I can help you in any way at: firstname.lastname@example.org