Take it from a seasoned trade show manager; It takes an enormous amount of time and energy to properly prepare for a trade show. Successful trade show strategy plan is not something that’s done in a month or two. The exhibitors that are under that impression are the same ones you see on the verge of tears 2 hours before the convention doors open.

To curb prospective exhibitors from unplanned psychosis we published what we believe to be a solid 6-phase trade show strategy plan designed to help you have a stress free event and fully maximize your desired ROI.

Phase 1: 12 Months Out – Setting the Overall Strategy

As much as a year beforehand, your marketing team should be identifying the role that trade shows will play in the companies overall marketing strategy. Is the shows purpose to boost awareness, added sales, hold meetings or a combination of the three?

From this you can work backwards to derive an itemized trade show budget and forecast what your expected ROI will be. Working backwards in trade show planning is a tactic we find to be much easier for exhibitors that don’t know where to start.

Below Is a guide we put together specifically for trade show strategy planning. We use it as a solid place to start. Try it for yourself!

Phase 2: 9-12 Months Out – Defining Wants & Needs

It’s not only important to identify the objectives from a managerial perspective but also to get “buy-in” from all those involved with the event. You should also be:

Roughing out your “wants” within your booth space. This includes booth accessories, hanging banners, promotional collateral, display cases and any other custom fabricated exhibit items. This is also a good time to start exploring booth layouts.

Registering your exhibit booth space with the event organizer at all shows you’ll be attending throughout the year. While investigating, you should also inquire about any exhibit restrictions that may apply (height, sound or other booth restrictions).

Setting your promotional trade show marketing plan that will determine the methods utilized to reach your desired audience. Include; Pre, At and Post-Show objective plan. The plan should spell out everything from social media promos to lead capture options.

Phase 3: 6-9 Months Out – Determine the Exhibit Design

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With six months to go before the trade show, it is time to finalize your exhibit design and begin exhibit fabrication. Booth design will greatly depend on the size of the space as well as the product being marketed.

Trade show exhibit design can be a tedious process and should be thoroughly hashed out. Everything from graphic designs to electrical layouts should be exact and semi-permanent six months out.

Exhibitors should really take their time with this process and vet out any trade show planning manager that doesn’t directly satisfy all their needs including creative abilities, fabrication options, cost and projected delivery forecasts.

Phase 4: 3-6 Months Out – Break Out the Checkbook

With three months to go, it’s time to start spending money. Not only should you have ordered the production of the booth and promotional items, you need to ensure that they will be shipped to the right place at the right time. This includes completing all paperwork and payment requirements on time. You also make your initial determinations about sourcing staff and scheduling. Any training should also be scheduled at this time.

If not already done so, finalize any exhibit booth design changes, custom elements, exhibit lighting and obviously booth staffing. You should also double check exhibit shipping and delivery dates according to your trade show planning timeline. Nothing is worse than missing or late freight.

Phase 5: 1-3 Months Out – Finalize the Scheduling

The final month(s) before the event will see a flurry of activity but you shouldn’t be overwhelmed if you’ve kept up with the process.

Travel and hotel arrangements should be made now. As well, any parties, dinners or other event meetings to be held during the show.Check in on the status of your booth fabrication and production of promo material. There shouldn’t be any major changes here if you’ve followed the timeline correctly.

Phase 6: 1 Week Out – Reconfirm Everything

Measure twice, cut once! Check and recheck every detail that you can ahead of time. Once the trade show gets started, you’ll be out of the office and undoubtedly busy. The last thing you need on your plate now is dealing with problems that arise due to poor trade show strategizing and planning.

If you are the type of exhibitor that is obsessive about little details than a trade show management company may be up your ally. They can either handle all of the above phases or at very least, take a large portion off the table.

We find these types of exhibitors wind up with a much more successful show due the gained time to focus on what matters most to them.

Final Thoughts

The trade show industry is a unique animal. It’s hyper-targeting capabilities and huge demand has resulted in enormous year over year growth. This has in-turn caused a flood of the market with an overwhelming number of services to consider. Should you be struggling to find what is right for you, a trade show management company is probably a worthwhile conversation…. and we are all ears ; )