Planning a Trade-Show Exhibition

Last Updated Jun 4, 2007 8:00 PM EDT

If you are considering exhibiting at a trade show, be sure you obtain proper exhibition support to get the best return on your investment. In most cases you will require professional help to design an appropriate stand, though this might not be necessary if you use a standard shell scheme or modular display system. It is also important to put together an organized, professional exhibition team.

What You Need to KnowHow do I attract prospects to the exhibition?

Trade-show organizers design exhibitions to attract a particular audience, which should match your own target audience. However, you should also contact prospects individually to let them know about your presence at the show.

Is it important to participate in a trade show if my main competitors are participating?

It depends. If you are new to a particular market, participating in a trade show can help you be seen as one of the major players. If you've been in a market for some time, however, you might find that other marketing strategies are more effective than trade show participation. Though trade-show organizers often use competitor presence to attract exhibitors, keep in mind that this alone is not a good enough reason for investing in an exhibition.

Is a trade show a good place to reach senior decision makers?

To answer this question, ask the exhibition organizers for a profile of previous attendees as well as current invites. This should give you a good idea of whether senior decision makers will attend. Generally, you will find that more junior people visit trade shows to gather information, not senior decision makers. However, you might members of your target audience at seminars that are frequently held in conjunction with trade shows.

Is it wise to tie up my sales team at a trade show?

A trade show may be a good investment of your sales force's time if important prospects will be visiting. In this case, an exhibition provides a low-pressure and relaxed environment for meeting these individuals.

What to DoEstablish Objectives

Participating in trade-show exhibitions is often tempting, but be sure there are measurable marketing benefits to participating before moving forward. Don't be lured just because your sales force thinks you should have a presence, or organizers say your competitors will be there. Planning an exhibition is time consuming and expensive. Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • Does trade show participation support your marketing objectives?
  • Will it provide a cost-effective opportunity to meet many prospects?
  • Does it provide a needed opportunity to increase your profile in the marketplace?
  • Do you require a public platform for your new product launch?
  • Do you need to participate to support distributors?
  • Is there a more cost-effective way you could use the exhibition budget?
Assess the Exhibition

Once you determine there are substantial benefits to participating in a trade show, take time to evaluate each individual exhibition you are considering. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • Does the event's audience match your target audience? (Ask the organizers for an audience profile if you're not sure.)
  • What types of companies support the exhibition?
  • What is the exhibition status?
  • Will participating in the exhibition enhance your own reputation?
  • Does the exhibition offer any unique marketing benefits?
  • Is the venue suitable for displaying your product?
  • How does the timing of the exhibition fit with your marketing objectives?
  • Is the cost of the exhibition comparable with similar events?
  • How will the exhibition be publicized?
Take Time to Plan

Careful planning is important to a successful exhibition. Here are some tasks that you need to allocate time for:

  • establish objectives;
  • design the stand;
  • select an exhibition team;
  • collect stand information;
  • publicize your participation;
  • deliver stand material;
  • brief the stand team;
  • capture visitor data;
  • measure success; and
  • conduct follow up inquiries.
Design the Stand

Most times you will need professional help to design an appropriate and professional stand, though this might not be the case if you use a standard shell scheme or modular display system. Here is an overview of the process for designing a stand:

  • decide on type of stand;
  • establish stand size and placement;
  • brief design consultants;
  • review stand design-ensure impact and practicality;
  • ensure power, water and other necessary services are available;
  • ensure audiovisual facilities are available;
  • place graphics and customer information; and
  • decide whether to provide a meeting area.
Notify Prospects

Though trade-show organizers will publicize the exhibition with their target audience, you can maximize the number of people you meet by notifying sales prospects you are planning to attend. Here are some things you can do to promote your participation:

  • advertise in the official exhibition catalog;
  • share free passes with key customers and prospects;
  • send notices of your company's exhibition plans to key customers and prospects;
  • contribute company information to trade press exhibition previews;
  • offer incentives to key prospects or customers visiting your stand; and
  • include exhibition information in advertisements and other communications material up to two months prior to the exhibition.
Gather the Exhibition Team

Putting together an organized, professional exhibition team will insure that you get the greatest possible benefit from your exhibition participation. Your team will be responsible for organizing your stand and staffing it throughout the exhibition. Be sure to brief the team fully on your objectives and your company's products. Also, establish procedures for interacting with stand visitors.

Develop Information for Visitors and Prospects

It is important to be cautious when distributing literature at your stand. Take care not to give away expensive brochures to low-value or unqualified prospects. Instead, consider developing a special, low-cost exhibition publication that can be distributed freely to visitors. You can then establish a process for recording and following up on literature requests.

Follow up with Contacts

Remember the exhibition is only the first step to turning prospects into sales. Here are some ways to follow up with prospects you meet through an exhibition:

  • establish processes for capturing information on all stand visitors;
  • consider incentives to encourage people to share information;
  • maintain a database of all exhibition contacts;
  • follow up with all exhibition contacts through telemarketing;
  • arrange sales meetings or send further information to promising prospects; and
  • continue to maintain contact with exhibition contacts.
Measure the Exhibition's Effectiveness

Always take time to measure the effectiveness of your participation in a trade show, so you can evaluate whether to participate again. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • How many new prospects did you develop?
  • How many sales meetings did you arrange?
  • Was the cost of acquiring new prospects worthwhile?
  • Did your participation in the exhibition increase your profile?
What to AvoidYou Fail to Exhibit for Good Reasons

Many companies do not evaluate carefully their reasons for participating in a trade-show exhibition. Salespeople claim the company needs to have a presence. Organizers point out that competitors are coming. These reasons alone are not good enough. You might be wasting your time and money unless you can establish measurable marketing objectives for your participation, and determine that participating in an exhibition is the best way to achieve them.

You Fail to Promote Your Presence

Always communicate with prospects about your exhibition participation before, during, and after the event. Provide incentives to visit your booth by offering opportunities to see a new product or win a prize. It is also advised to set up meetings in advance of the exhibition with prospects you really want to meet.

You Don't Follow Up

Collect business cards won't do you any good if you don't follow up. Be sure to capture people's contact and other information in a database and establish procedures for continued contact with them.

You Rely Too Much on Exhibitions

Trade shows are expensive, and they may not always be worth the cost. Take time to compare alternative marketing strategies and decide which strategy is most cost-effective for your company.

Where to Learn MoreBook:

Miller, Steve. How to Get the Most Out of Trade Shows. New York: McGraw-Hill-NTC, 2000.

Web Site:

Trade Show News Network: www.tsnn.com