Planning Successful Exhibitions

A checklist to get your business ready for an exhibition show and help you make sure it's worth the resources you put it

Planning Successful Exhibitions

Having a plan is critical to exhibiting successfully at a trade show. Here’s a step-by-step guide of when to do what that can be the basis for your plan. And there are some hints and tips to help as well.

Not all exhibitors will need to do everything below, and your circumstances might alter when to do some of the things mentioned, so just choose those appropriate to you and shuffle things around.

Hints and tips for business show success

You should always ensure that your supporting web site pages and email addresses appear on every single communication item used for the show. Show invites and adverts, promotional gifts, brochures, flyers, visitor and press packs, staff badges, stand backdrops and signage, internal documents and communications. It will add significantly to the effectiveness of the show.

Of course, you need to provide content for the supporting web pages but that isn’t covered in detail here. Things and content to consider are:

  • Separate public and internal web pages?
  • Keeping the pages updated as the show date approaches and then during the show.
  • Web cam for during the show?
  • Be online during the show using a purpose built on-line chat room?
  • Marketing directives re: company colours, branding etc.
  • Product photos and descriptive text.
  • Objectives of show entry
  • Competitions and promotions at show
  • Participating staff photos and background
  • Enquiry form

Use a spreadsheet to prepare a budget. Allow space for actuals. Keep it updated. Apart from forming the basis for seeking funds authority, it forms a useful cross-reference to your plan – a lot of the things on your plan will be a budget item and vice versa.

Take a pocket digital camera with you to record moments for your in-house magazine or web site. It also can act as a useful substitute for a photocopier…

Prepare an “essentials” box. A few spare business cards, compliment slips, stapler, 4 or 5-way power distribution block, sticky tape, scissors, bluetack, superglue, penknife, screwdriver (flat & crosshead), first aid kit.

Prior to exhibition: Your timeline checklist

12 Months To Go…

  • Be sure you know why you are participating – set aims.
  • Prepare budget, Read contract carefully (get legal to give it the once-over): Understand terms and conditions, payment schedule, how space is assigned.
  • Select location: Consult floor plans, traffic patterns, services, and audience makeup.
  • Send in application and (first) payment.

6 Months To Go…

  • Set objectives for show.
  • Consider whether other departments are to participate. Liaise and inform, understand their needs
  • Plan show advertising. Don’t forget your website and / or intranet
  • Research and choose primary suppliers (visual décor / exhibit house, transportation / logistics company, installation / dismantle supplier).
  • Decide if new exhibit is needed. If so, begin design process.
  • Consider flamboyant décor to stand out from your competitors such as inflatables, branded flags, anything with high visual impact, even a visually exciting theme such as James Bond, Undersea, Jungle or Hades.

4 Months To Go…

  • Select staff for show and support staff back at base.
  • Determine travel arrangements, make hotel reservations.
  • Determine exhibit needs: refurbishments, tissues, fresh wipes, storage, essential spares.
  • Choose display products and reserve them.
  • Plan enquiry-processing procedures. Consider data capture, main & and alternatives, security & backup – those leads are valuable!
  • Develop floor plan for exhibit.
  • Communicate with primary suppliers (visual décor / exhibit house, shipping / logistics, installation/dismantle, after-show party) regarding services needed and dates. If you are going for a theme or set make sure the designer understands your product display requirements.
  • Get an estimate on costs. (Remember to keep you budget spreadsheet updated.)
  • Finalize new exhibit design. Coordinate theme with show-related advertising design (including website). Consider promotional gifts.
  • Carry out show-related advertising.

3 Months To Go…

  • Carefully review exhibitor manual and terms and conditions in the contract. Note target dates and restrictions.
  • Review exhibit floor plan and communicate any changes to stand / exhibit designer.
  • Reserve any additional meeting rooms (hospitality events, press conferences, after-show party, etc.)
  • Research & choose portable exhibit supplier if needed.
  • Plan any in-booth presentations / demonstrations / client meetings
  • Create list of required services, noting deadlines for early take-up discounts.
  • Distribute show plan to staff.
  • Select catering menu (for hospitality events, press events, after-show party etc.)
  • Meet deadlines for free publicity in the exhibitor guide / preview.
  • Submit authorisation form if you’re using exhibitor-appointed contractors.
  • Plan pre-show meeting.

2 Months To Go…

  • Preview new portable display / exhibit décor / theme. Request any modifications – keep to a minimum. Take lots of photographs.
  • Consider having literature designed specifically coordinated to the theme of the exhibit.
  • Complete graphics art / copy. Order product literature.
  • Order staff badges. Consider web address and / or email address on the badges
  • Update and liaise with other departments sharing the stand / booth.
  • Finalise enquiry-processing procedures. Create and order lead forms.
  • Prepare orders for: shipping / storage, electrical, after-show party, promotional gifts, floral, etc.
  • Follow up on all promotions, making sure everything is ready to ship by target date.
  • Prepare packs for the pressroom and stand / booth.
  • Check with staff on hotel reservations and travel arrangements.
  • Develop briefing pack for booth and back-office support staff, include web and email addresses.
  • Schedule training for staff at show and back-office support staff.
  • Send reminder to upper management about briefing meetings (in office and at show); include agenda.

1 Month To Go…

  • Make sure hotel reservations are in order.
  • Follow up on shipping arrangements.
  • Follow up on target dates with all suppliers. Allow for some slight shuffling of dates.
  • Make sure that display products / literature is available.
  • Set up an access-anywhere email account with the likes of hotmail, yahoo etc so you can send and receive email from the show. Let others in the company know what it is.
  • Prepare and send invites to customers. Include after-show party invites to VIPs. Make sure supporting web site address is included.
  • Send follow-up reminder to upper management about briefing meeting. Include agenda and supporting web site address.
  • Give out briefing pack and training materials to all staff involved in the show, both customer facing and back office. This should include the lead capture and enquiry process.
  • Prepare packs (including promotional gifts, if required) for giving to stand / booth visitors.
  • Hold pre-show briefings in office.
  • Prepare the schedule for in-stand conferences and for pre-arranged meetings at the show. Allow time in the schedule for ad-hoc meetings with invited clients.
  • Determine date and time for briefing staff at the exhibit. Review agenda, purpose and objectives of show, demonstrations, rehearsals, show specials, etc.
  • Start assembling everything to be despatched for the show. Keep a tick list as things are put by. You’ll use that after the show to make sure everything comes back!
  • Send all materials needed at the show by target shipping date

Just before and after your business show

Prior to departure…

Make sure you’ve got the following before leaving for the show:

  • Credit cards,
  • Copies of all orders and cheques for services paid in advance,
  • Phone numbers and addresses of all suppliers,
  • Tick list from above
  • Shipping manifest, return shipping labels,
  • Fire certificate and other formal documentation for exhibit,
  • Mobile phone recharger, pocket digital camera and spare memory stick(s),
  • “Essentials” box.

At the show

  • Confirm freight has arrived and that all contractors are on schedule.
  • Check hotel reservations for staff, as well as confirming meeting room bookings and catering orders.
  • Get to know the venue and find the service areas. Meet electrician and confirm date and time for electrical installation. Confirm telecomms arrangements – phone / internet connection points.
  • Supervise booth set-up. Take photos of completed exhibit.
  • Arrange staff treats such as luxury chocolates, fresh exotic fruit, designer fountain pens…
  • The day before the show hold pre-show briefing and final training for staff. Be especially positive in all aspects of staff communications at this time. You’ll set the mood of the staff for the whole show.
  • Take more photos.During Show…
  • Observe competitors and see what works for them. Conduct “mystery shopping” if you can.
  • Give staff time to visit the other exhibitors but watch out for poaching!
  • Have daily meetings with staff and unwind sessions at the end of each day or every other day. No hangovers!
  • Check after-show party arrangements.
  • Take lots of photos with that digital camera.
  • Reserve next year’s space.
  • Make arrangements for booth dismantle and shipping.
  • Ensure lead forms are shipped back to the office daily for processing following your defined enquiry process.

End of Show…

  • Supervise stand / booth dismantling. Refer to shipping manifest and tick list used to pack for show to make sure everything goes back.
  • Debrief staff.
  • Attend after-show party!
  • Handle leads.
  • Send thank-you notes.

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