Preparing for a tradeshow takes time and effort, which you may already know if you’ve participated in a tradeshow in the past. That being said, it helps to have a checklist on hand to make sure you get everything just right before the big day.
Below we’ve outlined the ultimate tradeshow booth checklist for you to use before your next show to boost your efficiency and marketing ROI.
Research the exhibitor space and show beforehand.
Do you know where your booth is located at the event? If you have the opportunity to pick your spot, think about selecting an area near the entrance where you can meet and greet people as soon as they walk in. Once you have your booth location nailed down, don’t forget to promote it. Advertising your presence at the event can drive more foot traffic.
Plan out your booth ahead of time.
You and your team should have a good idea of what type of graphics you will be using and how the space will be set up before the event. Will you have a custom exhibit or table top with a table cover? Will you have a booth backdrop? What about signage? These are all factors you’ll want to consider beforehand.
In addition, don’t forget about your marketing collateral. Your marketing team should have informational materials to give out to those who come by your booth and want to learn more about your products and services. After deciding on the right pieces, feature pamphlets prominently in literature stands or on tabletops so potential customers can easily grab them.
Engage in pre-show promotion.
Emails, social media, and direct mail are all ways you can drive traffic to your booth when the big day comes. Think about creating a marketing campaign centered around the trade show to raise awareness of your presence at the event before it officially kicks off. You can also often promote your presence with the organizers of the show itself whether that be via email or an advertisement in the conference agenda.
Come up with a plan to drive traffic to your booth.
Think about creating a giveaway program to encourage attendees to stop by your booth. Consider a raffle where you give away a prize on display at the actual event. An acrylic locked box can be used to hold the prize safely until it’s time to award it to the raffle winner.
You may also want to use tradeshow banners to drive traffic to your booth. If you want to go the extra mile, think about hosting a small event at your booth, such as a coffee hour, for networking with people who stop by your area. Finally, don’t forget about offering freebies to those who come by your booth. Marketing materials, such as branded pens and keychains, can help you stick out in the mind of booth visitors long after they drop by your stand.
Create a plan for collecting leads.
Will your team have lead scanners or will you be simply collecting business cards? These are questions you’ll want to have answered before the big day. Think about using a tablet to collect attendee information with a form that connects directly to your CRM system to streamline the lead collection process. Tablet stands and holders can be beneficial at your booth for this reason.
While planning a tradeshow does require a certain amount of flexibility, having this checklist on hand can give you the best chance at making the most of your marketing opportunity. Follow these tips and you’re sure to be off to a good start for your next show.
Marla Bracco is the content marketing manager for shopPOPdisplays where she focuses on content strategy and search engine marketing, designed to help the organization shape their web content around digital marketing objectives and priorities.
I can recall two recent ones at a marketing conference that really stand out.
The first was a full on lounge with free coffee and breakfast, ample seating, and newspapers. It was a genius idea because it flowed so naturally from the event floor. I sat down and didn’t want to leave after a long day. I remember that.
The other one was an AWS exhibit by Amazon. Amazon not only dominated the floor with their main exhibit, but they had a second one with a full on classroom. Yes, this counts as an exhibit, and it was packed the brim the whole show.
Which exhibits do I not remember? Practically everything else.
The truth is, if you’re not one of the top displays at a show, you’re not going to be remembered months later.
Of course more goes into it than just the cosmetic design, but that’s where it begins. You can’t make your awesome connection with attendees, you can’t do the demos, and you can’t collect leads if you can’t even get people to pay attention.
This is especially true for up and coming businesses that don’t have the name to draw a crowd on it’s own.
Between scheduling staff, arranging flights, planning material for the show, and everything else, the trade show exhibit usually ends up being just good enough.
Let’s break out of that together. Starting now.
Joe is the marketing director of Coastal Creative – a San Diego-based design and printing company. He’s always on the look out for the next great marketing strategy – both online and offline. His favorite trade show tip is to make connections with celebrities in your industry that are hard to get ahold of online. Check out the original graphic here.
TradeshowGuy Tim Patterson and Jim Shelman, General Manager of Classic Rental Solutions, tackle the topic of #tradeshow #exhibit rentals: how they’ve changed, how to customize and much more on this week’s edition of the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee.
One of my favorite newsletters comes from Bill Lampton, Ph. D., otherwise known as the BizComunication Guy. When I invited him on to the TradeshowGuy Monday Morning Coffee several weeks ago, he offered to interview me for his weekly show as well. It was a pleasure to reciprocate. Bill is great interviewer and as you might imagine a professional communicator.
When I first got into the exhibit industry in the early ‘00s, the company I was hired by, Interpretive Exhibits in Salem, was heavily involved in an exhibit for the Army Corps of Engineers. It was a permanent installation (still there) at The Dalles Dam in The Dalles, Oregon. The theme of the exhibit was “Tradeoffs” and it addresses the various parties involved in the needs and desires of the Columbia River. For every group that had in interest in utilizing the Columbia River as a resource, there was a tradeoff
of sorts. Sports fishermen, Native Americans and their fishing rights, shipping and transportation, recreation and so on – there were all sorts of groups that wanted something out of the river. The exhibit went into detail to explain each group’s interests and how they had to compromise, in a sense, to get a lot (but not all) of what they wanted.
That concept – the tradeoff – comes up in my mind frequently, and it can be applied to virtually anything that you are involved in.
Apply it to the tradeshow world: if you are willing to spend the money on a larger exhibit, the tradeoff is often that you must also be willing to hire a crew to setup and dismantle the exhibit, and you must be willing to pay more for shipping.
If you want an exhibit that can quickly be setup by one or two people, the tradeoff is that you must be willing to settle for a very simple design with limited bells and whistles and perhaps a lesser impact than something more complex.
If you want to have a professional presenter in your booth space pitching attendees several times an hour, the tradeoff is that not only do you need to invest in hiring that presenter, but you’ll need to make sure you have enough staff on hand to engage as many of those attendees as possible before they slip away.
It seems like we’re always giving up one thing to get another. We don’t live in a world where we have it all. Or a world where we have nothing at all.
We live in a world where we’re always calculating a tradeoff that works best for us.
Who says you can’t order a tradeshow exhibit online? I’ve seen a ton of sites that claim it’s easy. Just find the exhibit you want, upload the graphics, submit your credit card and voila’ – you have an exhibit coming your way!
The challenge with that plan is that if it works, it only works for smaller “off-the-shelf” items, such as banner stands and pop-up back walls.
When you order online, your choices are limited. You don’t know the quality of the products you’re getting. You don’t (usually) know where they were made. You don’t often know if you’re getting setup instructions in a language you can understand.
Instead, what is more likely – and a better result for both buyers and sellers – is when you find something online that you are interested in purchasing, that interest spurs a conversation. At TradeshowGuy Exhibits, we’ve sold a lot of exhibits to people that we haven’t met in person until finally meeting at a show. And we’ve sold to companies without ever meeting them. In a sense, they are buying, and we are selling, online.
But a true sale is only started online. For a buyer to get exactly what they want for a custom tradeshow exhibit, a number of questions have to be answered (see our 7 Questions You’ll Never Ask Your Exhibit House). Often there are conversations with a 3D exhibit designer. Maybe you’ll talk with a project manager. You’ll cover items such as how is it packed? how is it shipped? do you need to hire someone to setup the exhibit? and many more.
If you browse our Exhibit Design Search, you’ll see a BUY button. Go ahead, take a look. When you click the BUY button, you’re taken to a page that, once you fill out and click “send” starts a conversation. It takes more than a click to buy an exhibit.
So, yes, you can buy something online that is somewhat of an exhibit. But if you want a true exhibit, a custom exhibit, talk to your exhibit house.
When it comes to judging the time, effort and money involved in big tradeshow projects vs. small tradeshow projects, it may come as no surprise that small projects are often more involving than big projects.
Let’s take a look: let’s say a big project is either an island exhibit such as 20×30, or a longer inline exhibit such as a 10×30. A client has decided to move ahead with something that, to them at least, is large. If not large, then a very significant project and investment. The steps involved, once the decision to move forward, typically cover these areas:
Create and finalize the design
Create and finalize the graphics
Fabrication and walk-through of the exhibit
Crate and ship
Coordinate I&D (Installation and Dismantle)
Show off the new exhibit!
These are all certainly important and can be somewhat time-consuming. But from my experience, companies doing larger exhibits are often quite experienced at this process. They know the steps and know what to anticipate and when. There are questions that come up along the way, but they know what they want. They have a solid idea for the design, or if not, know what functional aspects of their new exhibit are critical to a successful show. There is a certain amount of nitpicking along the way, as there should be, to get everything right. But most questions are answered quickly, and the process moves on.
In smaller projects such as a 10×10, or a handful of banner stands, or graphic back walls, or even renting an exhibit, you’d the process would be quicker, easier. In many cases, yes. But not always. Sometimes the client is focused more on the budget because they are working with fewer dollars, and the amount of examining each step in minute detail becomes all-important. Or there may be someone involved that isn’t as experienced that has been tasked with the project. Which means that more questions often come up. Nothing wrong with that – it’s a good opportunity for a learning experience.
So which is more work – a big tradeshow project or a small tradeshow project? There’s no straightforward answer. Some big projects are much more work (for both the exhibit house and the client) than a small project. And some small projects eat up a lot of time and energy that is surprising for something that is so small. While big projects are, frankly, preferred, simply because one big project can be worth five or ten small projects, the small ones are very worthwhile, even the ones that consume more than their fair share of time and energy. Small projects handled with care and attention to detail shows the client that you care about them, not just the money. And these are often the clients that end up staying with you for the bigger projects that come up as their company grows. But from our perspective, small projects are worth it because it’s the glue that holds everything together. It shows you why you’re in business. It communicates to the customer that they’re not just a number – they’re a real, living, breathing company with real humans that want – and need – assistance in a world they’re struggling a bit with.
Where do you stand on the meanings of the terms exhibit vs. booth vs. stand? For years after my entry into the industry in 2002, I was under the impression that a booth was an exhibit and an exhibit was a booth. Since then my take on it has become a little more nuanced. I don’t think I heard the term stand for years.
According to Exhibitor Magazine’s online glossary page, a booth is an “area made up of one or more standard units of exhibit space.” Given that a typical unit is 10′ x 10′, that could mean a booth could be any size: 10×10, 10×20, 30×40, etc.
Exhibit on the other hand, is oddly, not listed in the glossary. The specific term exhibit is a little harder to track down. Some glossaries don’t even list that single word as a descriptive term. Freeman’s listing mentions exhibit booth as an “individual display area constructed to display products or convey a message.” So we’re getting a little closer.
Pulling your hair out yet?
The Freeman listing for booth looks like this: “a display designed to showcase an exhibitor’s products, message and business ideas.”
IExhibita.com has no listing for booth but says that an exhibit is “a display used to convey a message. A specific tool of the communications medium of exhibiting. Also EXHIBIT BOOTH.”
Insta Worldwide Group doesn’t have the single-word booth mentioned in their glossary, but they do say that a “Bis “the amount of floor space assigned to and occupied by an exhibitor.”
So what about the term stand? It’s common in Europe, and doesn’t get much mention in the USA. But does it mean booth as in floor space or exhibit as in the actual fabrication and elements sitting in the space?
Again with the hair-pulling. Oh, wait, I really don’t have much hair to pull.
Exhibitor Magazine says a stand is a European term for booth. The Insta Worldwide Group glossary says a stand is “an area made up of one or more standard units of exhibit space. In U.S.its called a booth.”
Now let’s add one more term to the mix: display. It’s not an uncommon word in the industry, and is often used interchangeably with exhibit, booth and stand. But if you look for a description of the single word term display, you won’t find much. Search for tradeshow display, however, and you’ll have hundreds of exhibit houses and brokers eager to sell you one.
So where do we stand? Oh, sorry. Where do we end up?
My two cents:
A booth is the space that an exhibitor rents from show organizers.
An exhibit is the actual thing that gets set up in the booth space.
A stand will only bite you in Europe so don’t worry about it in the USA.
A display, to my mind, is a smaller exhibit, perhaps an accessory such as a banner stand, or maybe a back wall. But you won’t go wrong if you say you want to set up a tradeshow display. Or a tradeshow exhibit. Or even if you want to set up a tradeshow booth. People will know what you’re talking about.
I couldn’t sleep last night, so I sat up and jotted down a few thoughts and observations from what I’ve seen in the past 17+ years in the tradeshow industry. I got to thinking about the exhibition industry, as it is often called, from both the exhibit-production side and the exhibitor side. What things do I observe in seeing how other exhibit companies work? By reading industry periodicals and staying in touch with industry colleagues?
There are thousands of exhibit companies competing for your business. They all want a fair share of business available from companies that are looking to upgrade or replace old exhibits. The industry supports a lot of very big companies, as well as a lot of companies that work with just a handful of loyal clients.
Profit margin for exhibit companies is substantial but there’s a very good reason. Things cost a lot. There is a lot of labor cost. Without substantial markup companies couldn’t survive for long. I don’t have enough information on other industries, but I’m told that the margin in groceries, for example, is razor thin. Same for gas stations. What they don’t make on the margin still makes them a good amount of profit due to the sheer volume of products they sell.
Yes, you can find lower cost items and companies willing to provide lower cost service but at what cost in quality and service? If you shop around to find the lowest price, are you giving up a warranty or guarantee, or are you trading a few dollars for an inferior product?
Some exhibit companies have large spaces and large staffs. Massive overhead means they need to keep developing new business and selling more things to current clients. I’ve seen those up close and understand that the pressure to produce can be immense.
Smaller companies such as TradeshowGuy Exhibits still need to generate profit to survive and thrive but are not driven to the levels as the bigger companies.
From a “making more sales” standpoint, there’s no one single thing that is the magic button to generate sales for exhibit companies working to drum up more business. I’ve talked to numerous sales account executives at different sized companies and they all say about the same thing: sales are hard to make, there is a lot of competition, no one thing works, so they all do a combination of what you might expect: phone and email prospecting, advertising (print and online), meet and greets at tradeshows, and networking groups. Some are more creative than others, some more persistent than others, some more organized, and so on. But they all love it, because they like making their clients look good when the exhibit is finally set up.
Lightboxes (aluminum extrusion silicon-edge fabric graphics) can be a bit tedious to set up, but damn, they look sharp.
From the Exhibitor side
Many companies seem to be somewhat naïve about how the industry works. Shipping, logistics et al are almost like a black hole mystery box. There is a world of moving stuff around from the warehouse to the show site that many people rarely get involved with. Those that are involved are always looking at ways to shave dollars. And to a person, I hear them say, “tradeshow stuff just costs a lot.”
Most companies don’t have a sense of how much things cost and how much extra cost will be added along the way. Think drayage, Installation & Dismantle, shipping, graphic design and printing.
Many companies fail to take advantage of all of the various steps: preshow, postshow, staff training, in booth activities, social media, etc.
More and more companies I work with are hiring labor to setup and dismantle their exhibits. I find that of exhibit crews, about one out of three is a real pro and knows exactly how things work. One out of three know pretty well what they’re doing. And the third hired hand is usually there just for his willingness to schlep heavy things around – and you hope they do what they’re told. I also find that many crews assume that with a simple glance or two at the setup instructions, they know how it works. Often it does. But I’ve seen a number of occasions where a lot of time could have been saved if they’d only read the instructions in greater detail. Time wasted on a tradeshow floor is expensive.
Growth can happen quickly with tradeshow marketing. Many companies I’ve worked with over the past few years have seen substantial growth and are regularly increasing the size of their exhibits. As Bob Moore of Bob’s Red Mill famously once said, “Tradeshows have opened doors to markets that we would not have otherwise been able to open.” Or something like that – but you get the idea.
Opportunity abounds in today’s tradeshow marketing world, but it’s easy to lose $$$ if you make a misstep. Larger companies with deeper pockets have a natural advantage, but that doesn’t mean they are always doing the best they can. Smaller companies with few dollars can still use tradeshow marketing to attract people to their booth with creative marketing, great interactivity, attractive exhibits and more – and still crack open doors to new markets. Which leads to more growth (see the previous paragraph!).
For those companies that do get involved in tradeshow marketing – and certainly not every company does – they spend roughly a third of their marketing budget on tradeshows.
From the Personal Side
I’ve been in the industry since April 2002. It took years for me to get used to the industry and a few more to like and then love the industry and thrive in it. I came from the radio industry, which from a sales standpoint, moved very quickly. Yes, there are deadlines which don’t move and keep you on your toes in the tradeshow world, but it’s not like the radio world where a sales person could come in and need something to be written, voiced and produced and on the air within the hour. Which happened frequently. My first impression of the exhibit world was that things moved at a glacial pace. Boy did that take some adjusting!
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to work for myself. That radio thing was great for 25+ years, but in the back of my mind I was trying to figure out how to be my own boss. When I entered the tradeshow exhibit industry on a fluke when the radio industry changed, I was still working for someone else. It wasn’t until the owner of that company retired and I was thrust into the unknown (ever try to find a good-paying job in your mid 50’s?), I figured it was now or never. I’m still surprised by how well it worked out. There’s no guarantee, of course, but for now it’s good.
I can do marketing, blogging, podcasting, prospecting, phone calling, meeting people at shows and following up regularly – and yet when it comes time for a company to purchase a new exhibit, it seems no matter how much I try to stay in front of people, it’s easy for them to go elsewhere. Again, back to that magic button: how do you manage to stay in front of a decision-maker so that you’re there at the exact time they need you? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
One way to differentiate myself was to write. Starting as a blogger in November 2008, producing ebooks and more, and finally writing a pair of books (Tradeshow Success in 2015 and Tradeshow Superheroes and Exhibiting Zombies in 2018) was my way of doing that. I couldn’t tell you how much it’s contributed to my success or helped make sales, but I like giving the book away to potential clients – and hey, a few even sell on Amazon now and then!
Another way to differentiate myself was to go back to using my radio skills. First as a guy who knew how to record digital audio and post it on our company website (anyone remember Real Audio?), and then as a podcaster on this blog. And of course, video is a gas, as well. My viewpoint is that the more real you are, the better chance you have of making a personal connection with someone who wants to do business with you. That’s always been my philosophy. Share who you are, what you like, and how you do things. In today’s world, making a personal connection is a way to get ahead.
How do you find great information – tradeshow tips – from people that go to a lot of shows and see a lot of exhibits? The first ting most of us do is fire up your favorite search engine and just plug in “tradeshow tip” or “tradeshow marketing tips” or something similar and see what comes up. If you’re lucky, you might find a link to an article on this blog (it happens a lot!).
Which beings me to this: you may not know about the great batch of tradeshow tips on our Exhibit Design Search. Seriously. You can find any exhibit or accessory that you’re looking for – and a bunch that you may not have thought about – but you can also find
The tips are grouped together for easy browsing in the following subheadings:
USA Tradeshow Regulations and Photos
Humor (always important when exhibiting at tradeshows!)
Becoming an Exhibit Marketing Expert
Displays and Exhibits
Design, Lighting and Graphic Tips
Fine-Tune Your Tradeshow Knowledge
General (But Important) Stuff
Something for Everyone
Easy to browse, easy to find something useful for your next show or exhibit. For example, under the heading Getting Started, you’ll find Ten Common Tradeshow Myths, which knocks down some rather daunting ideas that many people think about tradeshows. Like tradeshows are just a big party. Or tradeshows are a waste of time. Or tradeshows are just flat-out expensive.
One more thing before you head on over to check out the selection of Tradeshow and Event Tips. On each article, on the upper-left black bar above the article, you’ll see “+ My Gallery.” If you click on this link, you’ll add that article to your gallery, which you can access at the upper left navigation bar at the top of every page. Not only can you add articles, but you’ll find that +My Gallery button an each and every exhibit in the entire Exhibit Design Search site. After you’ve added articles, exhibit, accessories or whatever, you can share them with colleagues by clicking on the My Gallery link, find the Send My Selections tab and follow the instructions to share that collection you’ve created.