Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.
Best tradeshow marketing tips and case studies. Call 800-654-6946.

December 2013

Tradeshow Marketing Analysis, Part 2: Budgeting

Read Part One of this series here.

You can get lost in the numbers. But sometimes it’s fun – and enlightening.

Visitors spend an average of 8.3 hours in 2.3 days on a tradeshow floor, giving exhibitors the chance to reach thousands of potential customers in a very short time (Center for Exhibition Industry Research, 2008). 39% of visitors come to the same show at least two years in a row, giving exhibitors a loyal base of committed potential customers (CEIR, 2008). 50% of attendees already have a buying plan when attending shows (CEIR, 2007). And finally – decision makers love exhibitions: 87% of survey respondents state that national exhibitions are an ‘extremely useful’ source of needed purchasing information (CEIR, 2004).


Tradeshows account for an average one-third of a company’s annual marketing budget. Much of that money is simply flushed down the drain. Why? Because many company tradeshow and exhibit managers don’t have a thorough, detailed plan for each show and often the booth staff is unaware of the reason for even being at the show, other than the general ‘business-building’ excuse.

Companies continue to go to tradeshows in spite of the amount of money that is spent. In fact, the event industry is on the rise. Since the recession late in the last decade, most industries and events have seen climbing attendance.

Tradeshow marketing is attractive because the cost of reaching a potential customer face-to-face is $219 with an exhibition lead, compared with $1,039 without one (CEIR, 2009). Add to that the fact that as human beings, we relish the idea of meeting colleagues, vendors, clients and prospects face-to-face: two-thirds of visitors place a high level of importance on face-to-face interaction during the pre-purchasing stages of the buying process (CEIR, 2003). Executives cited conference and tradeshow participation returns ranging from $4.00 to $5.91 per dollar invested (Oxford Economics, 2009).

With all of those numbers floating around, it’s attractive to leverage a series of tradeshow appearances into growing sales, a burgeoning market and a healthy bottom line. If only we knew exactly where all that money was going, right?

So here’s a series of questions that you should ask yourself regarding your tradeshow marketing budget.

  1. What is your annual tradeshow marketing budget?
  2. What percentage of the company’s overall marketing budget does the tradeshow division make up?
  3. Who determines what the annual tradeshow marketing budget is?
    1. How often does that assessment take place?
    2. Is that assessment shared throughout the company, or is it generally kept quiet?
    3. Is the budget increasing, decreasing or staying about the same?
    4. Is your current budget enough for what you plan to do? What you’d like to do?
    5. What’s the breakdown of the budget?
      1. Booth space rental (shipping, drayage, other show costs)
      2. Booth upgrades, etc.
      3. Travel/lodging
      4. Promotion
      5. Giveaways
      6. Product samples/displays
      7. Other
      8. What is the company decision-making process for creating a new tradeshow booth?
      9. Does the company’s marketplace success directly impact your tradeshow marketing budget?

Items to include in your budget – feel free to download the COE budget (link):

  • Booth Design and construction
  • Show Services
  • Personnel
  • Advertising and Marketing
  • Shipping
  • Lead Gathering
  • Post Show Sales Data
    • Leads
    • Cost per lead
    • Number of known show sales
    • Average sale
    • ROI
    • Miscellaneous

Even if you aren’t the person who crunches all the numbers on a regular basis, if you can make yourself do this on a regular basis, not only will you understand the bigger picture much better, but you become more valuable to your company!

Download a free Tradeshow Marketing Budgeting Template from Communication One Exhibits here (Excel spreadsheet direct link).

Here’s the rest of the series:

  1. Where to Start
  2. Budgeting
  3. Pre-Show Preparation
  4. Which Shows to Attend
  5. The Booth
  6. Booth Staff
  7. Lead Generation
  8. Post-Show Follow Up
  9. Record Keeping
  10. Social Media Engagement

Tradeshow Marketing Analysis: Where to Start

Where to start with your tradeshow marketing analysis? Let’s try at the beginning!

Okay, dumb answer to obvious question. Or….perhaps not.

The beginning can be a moving target. As a young writer I never knew where to start a piece of fiction or article or project. Then someone said ‘start anywhere, begin now’ – and with that I realize that it doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you DO start.

But for the sake of argument – and for the sake of having some cohesive structure to this article and the next few, we do need to start somewhere.

And that somewhere would be on determining your specific tradeshow marketing OBJECTIVES.

If you’re already going to shows, you should spend time discussing them and confirm that they’re still worth going to. A large client of ours abruptly pulled out of a large tradeshow after doing the math and realizing that the show was not helping their business. Instead, their main business had shifted online and it made more sense to move the tradeshow dollars towards the online area which paid more dividends.

Another client stopped going to a major show for a few years while reassessing their tradeshow marketing objectives. They’re back now, but only with a renewed commitment and specific reason or being there.

If you have not been to a specific show, you should plan to attend without exhibiting to get a feel for it. Talk to exhibitors, get feedback on their experience. Ask a lot of questions. Watch visitors and see how they interact. Research your competition and see what their booth(s) look like. Imagine how your booth would fit in side-by-side with those exhibitors.

business chart showing success
photo by salfalko, some rights reserved

As for what your objectives might be, how do you determine them? After all, every show is different – at least a bit. Some are drastically different: different audience, different competition at each show, different orientation (location of your booth, promotion by the organizers) and other ways that shows differ.

Some common objectives might include:

  • Building your Brand
  • Entering a new market
  • Bringing home qualified leads
  • Sales, pure and simple
  • Recruiting partners
  • Networking with current clientele
  • Supporting vendors
  • Sign contracts
  • Develop RFP’s
  • Collecting new prospects to start drip marketing
  • Public Relations
  • Recruit new employees

To gauge the success of meeting those tradeshow objectives, some metrics you might measure include:

  • Number of demos given
  • Number of press mentions
  • Number of visitors to booth
  • Number of new leads
  • Number of applications for positions
  • Number of RFPs

How might you measure those metrics? Some would be manually counted by staff, some would be counted by scanning badges at the booth.

Here are some questions to help you determine your objectives:

  1. What are your main show goals and objectives?
  2. What is your secondary objective?
  3. Who in your company defines your goals and objectives?
  4. How well do you meet those goals with your tradeshow marketing?
  5. Understanding that each trade show has a different target market and a different mix of attendees, how do your goals and objectives change from show to show?
  6. What is your target audience?
  7. Does this show meet that target?
  8. What companies are your main competitors at the show?
  9. How do they stack up against you in terms of Booth size and scope, presence, staffing, pre-show marketing and visibility

There are no right or wrong objectives – only objectives that fit the needs of your organization. Once you determine those objectives, determine as well the metrics you’ll use to measure the success of meeting your objectives. And don’t try to do too much at a show. If you try to meet a half dozen marketing goals at a single show, your message and execution will be ill-defined. Focus on one or two main objectives and figure out how to best measure them.

Here’s part two: Budgeting

Want a free digital copy of my “Tradeshow Success” book? Click here.

An Open Letter to Veteran Exhibitors

Dear Exhibitor,

You are an experienced tradeshow marketer. You probably have been to many more shows than most of your colleagues. You’ve seen it all – from the small mom and pop shows decades ago to the sophisticated shows with several thousand exhibitors. You’ve seen goofy musical acts, professional product or service demonstrators in booths, wolfed down tons of free food samples, pocketed hundreds of free giveaways until you finally decided they were mostly just worthless junk.


And it’s a pretty good bet you know what works. You’ve tested pre-show marketing, booth staff training, having your best sales people on the show floor and you wonder why your company’s sales staff still has a hard time following up on all of those leads once the show is over.

So let’s see it: let’s see the results of those years of experience. What did you get out of it? By now you must have figured out exactly where the wasted dollars are – and you’ve plugged those holes so that every single dollar spent on tradeshow marketing makes an impact. Right?

Yes, let’s see the records of all of those tradeshows. No doubt – with your experience – you can pull out a 3-ring binder for every show for the past decade and answer any question about the show: how much was spent on booth space, drayage, travel and lodging, pre-show marketing, etc. – and can show us what the ROI was on all of those dollars invested.

3 ring binder

Heck, you can probably even show us in great detail with song and dance, the impact of your young social media team. No doubt they’re compiling stats on how many contests they’ve run through Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to the booth – and what the results of those contests or show specials are. They likely have a precise count of the number of photos and videos they’ve posted in relation to the show, and what the feedback was from them.

So: let’s see them. Let’s see all the results of your professionalism in action. If you can immediately pull those results up on your computer or grab a binder and hand to me – then you’re good. In fact, you’re awesome. You can go back to whatever it was you were doing before you started reading this letter. After all, you are the pro. You’re the expert – the veteran tradeshow marketer who’s been doing this for years. No one can surprise you. After all, you’ve seen it all.

But, if not – if you can scrunch up your face and say ‘Hmmm…I might admit that there are a few missing spots…’ I would ask: What exactly is missing?

Don’t have all the records you think you should? You’re not doing all that you really could be doing at each show?

Let’s suppose that it might be good to have a refresher on the various elements of tradeshow marketing – JUST to make sure that you’re not missing any pieces. After all,  it’s not a bad idea to see things from a new perspective, right?

So, from my viewpoint, here’s a list of what you might consider keeping track of in your tradeshow marketing endeavors:

  • Overall Tradeshow Marketing Objectives
  • Shows You Attend and the Specific Objectives for Each Show
  • Budgeting Figures
  • Pre-show Marketing
  • Public Relations Outreach
  • Exhibit Booth: size, age, layout, cost
  • Booth Staff: who are they; what’s their experience and training and overall level of knowledge of the tradeshow marketing efforts
  • Show and Booth Visitors: breakdown of each show in detail
  • Social Media Sharing: who’s in charge, what content gets shared, what are the results
  • Post-show Follow Up
  • Lead Generation: methods of collection, grading, distribution
  • Record Keeping
  • Final Overall Assessment

These bullet points can be broken down in great detail and the more detail you have, the more educated you are – and the higher the chances that you will have a more successful show.

Remember this: your competition is out there and many of them invest heavily in booth staff training, pre-show marketing, public relations, and social media engagement. They’re not fooling around. If you’re not looking closely at these items on a regular basis and keeping your tradeshow marketing assessment current, you could be slipping behind because it’s a good bet your main competitors are. Those competitors want to win – and they want to take away your current clients and customers. No doubt they’re doing everything they can to achieve those goals.

What are you doing with your tradeshow marketing to keep one step ahead of your competitors? Are you investing in an upgraded booth when the old one is falling apart or do you limp along another year? Are you investing in keeping your booth staff on top of their game with regular trainings? Are you investing in creating a great experience for your clients and potential clients at the next tradeshow, or do you just cross your fingers and hope that the status quo will be ‘good enough’ for this year?

Do you think your competitors are settling for ‘just good enough’?

If not, what are you going to do about it?


Tim Patterson signature




Tim Patterson
TradeshowGuy Exhibits
1880 4th Street NE
Salem, OR 97301
Toll Free: 800-654-6946

PS. If you need help performing a complete tradeshow marketing analysis or audit, click here.

Liven up and improve your events by finding ideas on Twitter!

Just a few moments cruising through Twitter and I grabbed a few good posts on how to draw more people to your booth and liven up your event. How? I just searched using the hashtags #eventprofs and #tradeshow.

Here’s what I came up with:

Twitter is a great resource for virtually every industry. If you know the most-used hashtag for that industry, it takes just a few moments to track down great ideas. And don’t forget to re-tweet the good ones!

Are You Maximizing your Networking and Marketing Opportunities at Tradeshows?

The following guest article was written by Chris Newkirk:

Tradeshows can be a huge expense for small business owners and although statistics show businesses can increase revenues and grow their customer base from events like these, many companies still struggle to attract attention and make trade shows worthwhile.

What are you doing wrong?

Networking involves a whole lot more than shaking hands and handing out business cards. If you view everyone as an opportunity and stop seeing them as people, chances are you’re going to strike out. Consider how you like to be approached. People can sense they are being targeted for a sale, opportunity or referral from a mile off.


Treat people like people and look to make friends and connections. Don’t approach people by asking them, ‘what do you do.’ Try asking questions that target them personally, can help spark a genuine conversation and can lead to a memorable discussion.

Ask open ended questions that are event specific and don’t bombard people with materials, information or sales pitches. After you engage them in conversation, before they leave ask them if they’d like to be added to your contact sheet, or what information they’d like you to send them.

Encourage visitors to find you on Facebook and if you have access to an IPad give people the opportunity to check you out your Facebook and Twitter profile. You can generate buzz by picking a hashtag for the event. Use banners to promote your hashtag—encourage people to help you get your hashtag and the event trending on Twitter!

Are you making a memorable impression?

Everything from the time you arrive and leave, the things you talk about and the way you use your display and products all can work together to make you memorable—or leave you dead in the water.

You’ve heard it a million times, arrive early and leave late, it really does work. Approach the early birds and try to become people’s ‘first friend,’ check back throughout the day and see how they’re doing. These people will remember you and can lead to referrals.

While you’re there make the most of your space. Do extensive preparation well in advance so you know what size the space you’re provided with will be and what regulations you might have for light and sound. Update your display if it’s old or if your banner stands are outdated or damaged. Consider spending more on displays that are less common and can draw attention to your booth. Even something as simple as a few laptops where visitors can browse products or the company blog will keep people at your booth longer and help draw a crowd.

A pretty booth won’t set you apart from the crowd though, they tend to be a dime a dozen. Try something fresh.

If you haven’t done it before, consider introducing the use of technology in your display. Informational kiosks are one way to remove clutter from your table and promote environmental ideals. IPads are a tool that you can use to display your entire product inventory or allow people to browse your company blog and interact on your social media sites. You can invite people to sign up for your newsletter or add their email if they’d like more information about your company, industry or product directly into a spreadsheet instead of using a paper sign-up.

The use of technology as allows you to engage with more people. If a larger group of people are visiting your space, you can invite some to use the IPad and kiosk while you engage directly with others giving you more time to form relationships without worrying about isolating other visitors.

Other ways to create an engaging space include:

-Enlarge your space using mirrors

-Use a projector to display video

-Take photos of your clients when they stop by and stream them on your projector or share them on social media throughout the event

-Suspend company products from the ceiling

-Incorporate lighting to illuminate your space

How are you following up after the show? Try reaching out through social media

If you have a company blog, writing a series of posts about the trade show and the people you met can be a great tool for networking. Share the post with people from the event and mentioned in the context via email and social media. Because they’re included they will be more likely to share the post on their own networks.

Don’t use follow-up emails to bombard people with a slew of sales information. Provide them with materials that demonstrate value like links to internet videos, industry information and special reports and educational white papers. Preface the email with things like, ‘I thought of you when,’ or ‘I thought you might be interested.’ The key is to keep in touch without coming across as pushy or simply trying to sell something.

Keep in mind some of your most valuable contacts may end up being people who have never been your customer, but instead end up sending a high volume of referral business to you.

The bottom line

Networking is about relationships. If you’re attitude, body language or display is unwelcoming or un-engaging people have no incentive to talk with you or form a relationship with you. Your end goal shouldn’t be to target everyone you meet to get their business. Instead your goal should be to form solid relationships so you can get business from everyone they know.

Author’s bio: Chris Newkirk works in marketing and sales consultation. Chris attends a number of trade shows a year and enjoys learning what methods work for companies in various industries and enjoys sharing his networking tips. 

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