Planning for a trade show takes time, there are many things to organise and take into consideration in order to maximise your ROI – return on investment.  It is important to allow yourself enough time to complete all the necessary arrangements, we recommend you start at least 6-9 months before the event in order to plan everything properly.  To help you we have created a free exhibition planning template which you can download here.

The Exhibition Planning Process

The exhibition planning process can be broken down into eight stages. However, it’s not a linear process, you are likely to have multiple tasks on the go at once. The eight stages of exhibition planning are:

  • Booking the space
  • Designing your exhibition stand
  • Select your staff
  • Arrange additional items for your stand
  • Venue arrangements
  • Accommodation and transport
  • Pre-show marketing activity
  • Before you go last minute checks

1. Booking the Space

Make sure you do plenty of research to find the most appropriate trade show for your business.  It’s important to set your objectives for the trade show, what do you want to achieve – new leads?  More brand awareness?  Or network with others in the industry?  If your main goal is lead generation, a larger trade show will be the most suitable, however if you want to network and increase brand awareness, a smaller show may be more appropriate.

Look at the reputation of the show, assess the type of audience it attracts, will they be interested in your products or services?  Does it suit your budget and does the timing work for you?  You may like to visit the venue before booking to assess where the best space would be. Make sure you book early enough to secure your chosen space.

Most larger trade shows will charge around £300 – £350 per square metre for space, though smaller ones will sometimes charge less.  You should allow a third of your budget for booking the space, a third for your stand and the rest for other expenses like electricity and hotels.

2. Designing your exhibition stand

The most important stage to get right of the exhibition plan is designing your exhibition stand.  In order to stand out from the crowd and make an impact you need the best stand you can get for your budget. If you intend to exhibit at more than one show it’s a good idea to source a modular stand that can be re-used and reconfigured for future shows.

It is important to get the right exhibition stand contractor, you need someone who has been in the business for some time, is reliable and financially secure.  Make sure they can handle the whole process in house to avoid any unexpected costs or delays.  Look for client testimonials, not only on their website, but also on review sites like TrustPilot.  They should be able to show you their work and supply you with free 3D mock-ups and design ideas.

After you have chosen your contractor you need to work with them to design your stand.  This will usually involve a few weeks with the CAD team to set up the 3D model and any integrated features you require.  Then you will then spend 3-4 weeks with the designers to sort out your graphic panels.  This is an important stage as your graphics are the first thing people will see.  In all, the process should take around 2 months.  Your contractor should show you your finished stand fully built, and demonstrate how to build it if you plan to do it yourself.

Learning how to organise your next exhibition stand

3. Choose your staff

Now is the time to choose the staff you want to take to the show and make sure the dates are in their diaries.  They will need to be able to communicate well with customers and talk knowledgably about your products and company.  They should have the ability to qualify leads quickly and know how to present themselves well on a stand.  Train them at this stage if necessary.  You should make sure you have at least 3 or 4 members of staff to man the stand so that breaks can be covered.

Do you intend to use the trade show to meet up with existing customers?  A trade show can be a great opportunity to build on existing relationships and customers are the lifeblood of your business so it’s important to keep them happy.  You can show off your stand, or meet them for dinner afterwards, in which case you need to book a restaurant.

4. Arrangements for the stand

What other equipment to you plan to have to attract visitors’ attention?  You may want to arrange to have a TV running presentations or promotions.  Having iPads for attendees to interact with can be a good idea, it will also enable them to enter their own details if they are interested.  You could have lead gathering software to avoid having to enter all the leads manually after the show.  If you have the budget and really want to stand out, virtual reality can be a great way to demonstrate your products in an unusual way which will attract a lot of attention.

Do you want promotional items? These will take time to arrive so order them now.  Everyone loves a freebie so they can be a good way to draw in visitors.

5. Venue Arrangements

Read the exhibitor manual in full and make sure you fill in all the necessary forms before the deadline.  You will need to order your exhibitor passes, arrange electricity supply from the organiser, internet if necessary and furniture.  You may get early bird discounts for these items if you book them well in advance.  If you plan to exhibit at more than one trade show it may be cheaper to buy furniture yourself rather than hire it from the organiser. You will also need to sort out your entry for the show catalogue and look for any sponsorship or marketing opportunities if you have the budget.

6. Accommodation and Transport

You may be able to save some money by booking accommodation and transport in advance.  You may want to do this earlier, well before the show, to get the best deals.  Hotels also book up early at the venues of large events.  Once you have booked hotels, you need to sort out how staff will get to the trade show.  If they plan to drive you will need to arrange parking at the venue.  If they are going to go by train or plane they will need tickets and transfers to and from the station or airport.

7. Pre-show marketing activity

It’s a good idea to begin this 4-6 weeks before the trade show.  You should email all your prospects and customers to inform them of your attendance.  You may be able to set up meetings with them. Use social media to broadcast your attendance.  Link up with the show organiser’s pages and hashtags.

Another way to market your attendance is by writing and distributing a press release to relevant industry publications. This may get you some local coverage. It’s straight-forward to do this yourself for nothing – but if you want to outsource it we can help.  Quadrant2Design offer a free press release writing service to new clients to help with your pre-show marketing, get in touch to find out more.

8. Before you go

In the final few weeks prior to the trade show you need to finalise all the arrangements – confirm accommodation and travel bookings, make sure everything is in place at the venue, ensure your stand is finished and you know how to build it.  Check that the staff know all the plans and are able to work the lead generation software if you are using it.

Conclusion

Exhibiting at a trade show requires several months planning in order to get the best ROI.  Our free exhibition planning template should provide a guide for what needs to be done.  If it all seems too much we can help.  If you decide to use us to design your exhibition stand, our experienced project management team will be able to help you through all these steps.  Just call us on 01202 723 500 or email designteam@quadrant2design.com.