Each and every trade show is different, but there’s one thing that’s required across them all—and in massive amounts—that’s best described with Rihanna lyrics: work, work, work, work, work, work.
Unless your booth is a sad little setup consisting of a card table, banner and pile of branded koozies, there are bound to be a ton of logistics and labor involved in the planning and execution of your exhibit. And while we can’t account for every variable, we can offer strategies—from on our 12 for 12 audio podcast on the subject—to help you improve your process, minimize the potential for error, and get the most out of every event.
Ready? It’s time to get to work.
1. Know Before You Go
While “ask for forgiveness, not permission” is a suitable philosophy in some situations, showing up on the day of the conference and hoping for the best is probably not the best practice. Every trade show, venue, and even geography comes with its own list of rules and regulations, and to ensure the success of your event, it’s important to read and understand the fine print.
If you’re planning on handling logistics yourself, be sure to do your due diligence ahead of time to guarantee your setup process, execution and even show labor align with the existing policies. (As a starting point, you can find a guide to trade show union rules and regulations here.) Don’t want to worry about the rules? Consider putting the more complicated manners into the hands of exhibit experts, who already have experience with shows and contacts within cities.
“Each industry is very different, each city is very different,” says Sandra Braun, National Accounts Director of event marketing firm Nth Degree, referring to local contacts. “It’s really beneficial to make sure we are abiding by the rules and regulations in the cities.”
By hiring well-regarded event experts who specialize in minutiae, you can ensure that the t’s will be crossed, your I’s will dotted, and everything will be in order to ensure the show goes as smoothly as possible.
2. Go Local
Much like local knowledge is useful to help you bring your trade-show vision to life, it’s also beneficial to develop relationships with local vendors whose services you can call upon every time you return to a city for an event.
Using a local business for printing, lighting, audio needs, etc., means you can save on shipping costs, avoid the risk of items getting lost or damaged in the mail, and ensure that your materials are ready and waiting for you when you arrive. And once you’ve developed a relationship with a local business that you trust in a city with a recurring event—Las Vegas for CES or Austin for SXSW, for example—that’s one less decision you have to make every year,
Finally, it’s also worth noting that every company likes a loyal customer, and by giving the same vendor your business each year, you’re not only helping the local economy, you’re building a relationship that will likely result in favors, deals, and discounts down the line.
3. Reuse What You Can, When You Can
When it comes to trade show preparation and execution, there are a million moving parts—literally and metaphorically. And while each element is integral to the experience you’re creating, the more complicated your exhibit is, the more potential for something going wrong.
Simplification and streamlining are paramount to trade-show success, particularly when you’re working under a tight deadline, and one way to minimize stress and maximize efficiency is to save and reuse any and all segments of a display that you can. Click To Tweet Not only is this a more sustainable practice, but every part you already have, and therefore don’t have to order, is one less variable to consider—and, best of all, it’s already been tried, tested and approved.
This doesn’t just apply to physical materials, either. When it comes to creative, you shouldn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel every time. While there will be some repeat customers at different shows, very few people are actually going to notice if you’re reusing certain elements across events. 100% novelty isn’t totally necessary, so get as much mileage out of your kick-ass content as you can.
4. Plan Ahead
This isn’t a particularly revolutionary idea, but it is something that is worth saying (and repeating): plan, plan ahead. While there will always be last-minute changes and pivots, and not all content is evergreen—meaning you’ll have to create it closer to the event to ensure it’s relevant—the sooner you start planning and preparing what you can, the better your trade show season will be.
Take a look at a global trade show calendar and decide ahead of time which shows you want your company to attend and in what capacity. By planning the entire year or quarter ahead instead of deciding on a show-by-show basis, you can manage your time, team and budget more effectively. Then, start planning! At Nth Degree, for example, Braun describes a “war room,” where they have upcoming shows and projects mapped out so they schedule, manage workflow and ensure they have the people and resources they need to make every event a success.
As for deciding which shows to attend, well that’s another story…
5. Be Strategic & Selective
While in a perfect world, you could attend every conference in existence and see the insides of convention centers around the world (the real natural wonders, right there), spreading yourself too thin isn’t a good thing for your business, your bottom line or your mental health.
When it comes to trade-show presence, quality is more important than quantity. Thus, it’s essential to be strategic and selective about what conferences you attend each year, taking demographics, geography and timing into consideration to best invest your money, energy, and talent where it matters most.
Lastly, remember: the best part of the Digital Age is that even if you’re not physically attending a show, you can still join the conversation, so get creative and figure out how you can participate in an event without being on the trade-show floor.
After all, if Tupac can play Coachella from the grave, you can figure out how to make a splash at, say, the Canadian Furniture Show from your office in Phoenix, Arizona. Happy planning—we’ll see you there!
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