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Trade Show Preparation: Part One

Being a part of a trade show is an important decision for businesses and a significant element to include in your marketing plan — but it’s easy to get lost in all the details. Preparation is necessary for a successful trade show.

A trade show is an event where companies show their products and services to customers and potential buyers.

Here are a few of the many benefits of being involved in a trade show:

• Increase your profile and differentiate yourself from your competitors

•  Market current products and launch new ones

• Network and find new leads and clients

• Gather market research and learn about industry trends

We will address the first eight steps in this blog. The second blog, Trade Show Event and Follow-up, will cover the remaining steps.

Step One: Determine your goals and objectives

Identify one or two strategic objectives and determine the metrics you will use to measure your success. Answering the questions below will help you create the best objectives for your business.

• Why this event?

• How does this event make sense for your business?

• What do you hope to achieve? Are you launching a new product or moving into

a new market?

• What is your primary objective? (Use the question Why now? to help you determine

your objective).

Common goals of a trade show are

• Build brand awareness

• Build new relationships

• Gain new business

• Solidify current relationships

• Enter a new market

• Recruit channel partners

• Recruit new employees

• Generate X amount of MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads)

• Introduce a new product or service

• Generate RFPs (Request for Proposals)

• Achieve an ROI (Return on Investment) of X percent

Solidify your goals before moving forward since the next steps depend on them.

Step Two: Complete research to determine the best trade show to meet your objectives

The type of trade shows you participate in should:

• Bring you the best return on your investment

• Match the audience to your buyer persona

• Provide you with qualified prospects

• Fit your budget for cost per qualified lead

Consider these elements when completing your research:

• Ask your customers and potential customers what trade shows they attend

• Contact professional organizations and colleagues in your industry for suggestions

• Check online trade show directories or your Chamber of Commerce

• Ask the trade show organizer these questions:

  • What will they do to promote the event?

  • What was their total net attendance in the past three years, and what do they predict it will be the next year?

  • Which competitors will be there?

  • What’s the audience demographic (titles, industries, company size, buying authority, product interest)?

Step Three: Develop an overall master plan

Once you have established your goals and objectives and chosen your trade show, it’s time to create your overall master plan. This plan will drive the remainder of the trade show planning process.

The trade show master plan includes developing your overall planning schedule, a list of deliverables and tasks, assignments, and responsibilities with critical due dates.

You will want to identify the key opinion leaders, sales, marketing, and the management participants who will be involved. You also want to define the follow-up responsibilities for the event and determine the post-event reports.

Step Four: Create your budget

An event budget is the estimation of the cost of an event from the planning process until the actual execution and post-event activities.

Budgets are essential to keep you on track and prevent your costs from getting out of control. You want to understand all the costs involved, and a good rule of thumb is to take the amount you plan to spend and multiply it by three.

There are often costs you don’t think about, so as you identify your needs, consider the below categories to create your budget:

• Booth space (rental)

• Exhibition space (design, construction, prints, installation)

• A/V equipment (speakers, mics)

• Logistics (shipping, insurance, custom costs)

• Marketing (advertisement, brochures, gifts, sponsorship)

• Event promotion (before and during the trade show)

• Staff (wages, training, attire)

• Guest speakers (include speaking fees, travel, and accommodations)

• Catering cost (venues may require you to use their catering and minimum spending)

• Show services (utilities, carpet, WiFi)

• Contingency fund (to cover any unplanned situations)

Step Five: Promote

Promoting your brand and business starts before you get to the trade show. You want to attract potential customers and connect with current and past customers. How you choose to promote will be dependent on your goals and objectives.

Consider utilizing these marketing avenues in your promotion:

• Direct marketing to consumer

• Individual appointments and meetings

• Advertising and listing in event directories

• Media and public relations packages

• Marketing and sponsorship of events and functions at the trade show

• Social media

Promote your presence at the trade show by:

Step Six: Create a “WOW” exhibit designed around your goals

Your booth should reflect your trade show marketing goals, so fine-tune your objectives and communicate them to your design partners. Tell your brand story when designing your booth so the attendees walk out with a better understanding of your purpose. Setting up your booth to reflect your brand and goals allows for consistency.

Consider Including:

• Bold graphics

• Captivating product demonstrations

• Large signs

• Interactive components

When designing your exhibit, consider these elements to “wow” your attendees

When setting up your booth, make sure to:

Step Seven: Choose the right staff and train them

Choosing and training the staff is vital for the success of your exhibit because they are the ones who will be interacting with the attendees. They represent your brand, so you want them to be able to leave a positive impression.

The ideal staff are:

• Outgoing, personable, and polite

• Well-informed about your product

• Professionally matched to the interests and demographic of the audience

If you have complex products, consider having a mix of people with product knowledge and technical skills. If you can’t staff your booth with people who work for the company, some agencies can help find the perfect people for your booth.

Here are some basic categories of staff you may need:


• Welcome people to the booth

• Direct to specific areas of interest

• Hand out promotional material


Crowd gatherers

Lead gathering and sales staff

Step Eight: Order promotional materials for exhibit and promotion

Branded promotional items are an important part of your trade show experience. They increase booth traffic and amplify brand awareness, perception, and customer loyalty even after the event.

Setting up a display of your branded promotional items will draw attendees to your booth and allow you to interact with them.

Once the event is over, the attendees can use the promotional item daily, allowing your brand to reach even more potential customers.

Choosing the best promotional item can be challenging. Consider these elements when deciding:

• Audience: Understand your audience and choose items that are useful to them

• Weather and location

• Consider items that reflect the culture of the location of the event or an object that

would be useful for the type of weather

• Style of the event: Match the style and theme of the trade show

• Variety: Choose a variety of items so the attendees can pick which one they want

• Understand the trends: Pick items that reflect the exciting products in pop culture

• Reflect your brand: Understand your brand’s mission and choose items that represent

what you do

Here is a list of some of the more popular promotional items:

• Posters

• Signs

• Brochures

• Catalogs

• Price lists

• Videos and multimedia

• Promotional articles

• Gadgets

• Business cards

• PowerPoint and Keynote design


Trade shows are a great marketing opportunity for your business, but they take work and preparation to succeed. We have broken the preparation down into steps to help guide you. Check out the Companion Piece for further tips. Stay tuned for our next blog, Trade Show: Event and Follow-Up.

If you are interested in being a part of a trade show, but the task seems too big for you to put together, MLC Expert Consulting prides itself on knowing the ins and outs of the planning process. We would love to help you get the best return of your time, money, and effort for your next trade show. Call us today at 843.819.0102 or contact us on our website to discuss further.


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