Tag Archives: Planning

Tradeshows Do Work If Exhibitors Get Training (& Organizers Should Help)

Expo, conference and trade show organizers – do you really want to help prove that “trade shows don’t work”?

Trade Shows Work — When Done Right

I sometimes tell people – “it’s very easy to prove that ‘trade shows don’t work’.  You just do what way too many people do: don’t plan in advance, show up without pre-show marketing or training, and expect miracles”.

On the other hand, trade shows DO work if you do them right:

IF you have done a bit of homework to come up with a plan,

IF your booth is well designed (by a large format graphics designer, not a brochures or web site designer ),

IF your folks know how to work a booth, and

IF you’ve planned your followup in advance.

Plus include booth presentations and/or promotional marketing, or however it works best for you/your industry.

It will take more work, but it makes all the difference in whether exhibiting is an expense or an investment.

The Role of Show Organizers in Exhibitor Success (or Turnover)

As for those who organize shows?  If they do not offer some kind of support, especially to those who are new to trade shows, they are asking for higher exhibitor turnover.

I can’t imagine why more organizers haven’t figured out that it’s easier to create and keep satisfied exhibitors by having them well prepared than to try to get new ones to replace the ones who did them poorly and won’t return.

And yes, I have often given pre-show training.  The problem with some shows that do this?  They offer it the day of the event or a few weeks before, which is almost worthless except to remind people not to chew gum or sit down in their booths.

A webinar series some time in advance of the show would be the best idea to account for geography/time constraints.

Note – I’m writing this entry based on an answer I gave to a LinkedIn question on whether trade show organizers should offer support to their exhibitors.  Obviously I gave a definitive ‘Yes’!  And yes, we provide such trainings because it breaks our hearts to see money essentially wasted on great booths and exhibit design because of no or poor tradeshow strategy, preparation and training.

For anyone needing to get a better idea about how to exhibit, who does not have access to such support or training, take a look at this page and find specific areas for help:

Tradeshow Tips for Effective Tradeshow Exhibiting.

Or give me a call if you need support proving that tradeshows DO work.  I’ll be glad to help.


Deborah Elms is head of the Trade Show and Event Division of Imprinted Originals.  She is passionate about helping businesses and organizations create and retain customers through the effective use of trade shows & other face-to-face events.



Tip of the Iceberg

Are you new to tradeshows or having a tough time getting the results you’re looking for?

Success starts with understanding one key secret: the time spent at the show is only the tip of the iceberg.  Success or failure depends on what you do after and – especially – before the show.

Exhibitors with poor results often rely solely on the at-show efforts of their booth staff – often poorly trained and ill-prepared – to make a show a success.  They make the mistake of confusing logistics administration with true strategic planning.  They blame the exhibition management for not bringing in enough of the right prospects, or the economy, or the booth design.   Worse yet, they sometimes decide that “trade shows don’t work” and give up rather than learn how to succeed.

Great results can be had, in almost any situation, with proper planning, preparation and support, based on a clearly defined set of goals.

And since successful tradeshow exhibiting allows you to introduce yourself to new markets and new prospects, solidifies relationships with existing customers, and speeds up your sales cycle with prospects, planning correctly is well worth the time and effort.

High Level or Annual Planning

Planning for individual shows will be easiest if there is an annual marketing plan which includes an overall tradeshow plan, even at a high level.  Fortunately, you can create a good individual plan on its own, which can be used later to start an overall plan.

A high level plan:
– sets a consistent overall strategy
– helps you evaluate specific opportunities for fit
– suggests how & when different marketing approaches can reinforce each other
– creates a consistent framework for evaluating results
– saves time in preparing for individual shows

Tradeshow Planning: Setting Strategic Objectives vs Logistics Management

“Tradeshow planning” is often confused with handling the logistics of the show: budgets, deadlines, and the “stuff” involved whether it is the booth, the clothes, or the giveaways.

Preparing for the logistics is critical.  And costly if done incorrectly  – it only takes one show with missed deadlines, and rush charges for everything  from production to shipping to show services, to make this point clear.  This planning and tracking is often handed to someone who is good at handling details, which is appropriate.

However – the single most critical aspect of planning for a successful tradeshow is – to borrow a well known idea – to start with the end in mind.  (Thank you Dr Covey, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”)

The key is being clear about – and keeping a laser-like focus on – your business objectives, target audience, branding, strategies for implementing each objective, and ways to measure results.   All show preparations must be geared towards achieving these goals.

Meet the deadlines, of course.  But start at the beginning, with a plan to succeed.

An individual (or marketing campaign-level) tradeshow plan:

  • Sets specific business objectives to be met, aligned with overall strategic goals
  • Defines target audience, including demographics and key pain/purchase points
  • Clearly identifies tactics, goals and measurements for each objective
  • Establishes a budget and ROI rationale
  • Sets up a timeline including planning, logistics, marketing and promotional efforts, staff preparation to support goals, etc.
  • Provides a clear evaluation process

Let’s look briefly at each of these topics.

Business Objectives for Tradeshows

In the long run, tradeshows are all about building your business.  That may mean generating sale-ready leads, and it may not.  There are many ways to use tradeshows to support your business or organization.

Trade Shows Can Be Used To:

  • Generate quality leads
  • Reinforce existing relationships
  • Strengthen company, product or brand awareness
  • Reach the media or provide input for blog
  • Announce or measure interest in new products or services
  • Perform competitive analysis
  • Find vendors / potential partners
  • Use as “because” to contact customers, prospects and dormant leads

Target Audience

You need to specifically who you will be targeting at each show.  This is because your marketing message – the one that will move you towards your selected objective – must be based on the needs and interests of your target audience.    It’s all about WIIFM – “what’s in it for me”.  If you don’t know who, how can you direct your message?

You want your booth to be designed in a way that reaches out to the right people, filters out the others, and starts a conversation.  This is why one of the very first things we ask for when we prepare to design a tradeshow display is “who do you need to reach – at this show”.

Tactics, Goals and Measurement

“Build sales” is not helpful as an objective.

“Build sales by setting appointments” – that is actionable and measurable.  You can train your booth staff how to qualify attendees, how much to say in the booth, and when to move to “make a sale” of an appointment time.  If you’re handing out gifts, to know the correct moment to present them.   You can decide how to lay out your booth based on this goal.  You can determine how to word your marketing collaterol.

And before the show?  This goal now leads to specific pre-show tactics like promotional mail or email, offering them an opportunity to meet you in person.

Here’s a few things you can measure already in this scenario:

  • How many invited prospects came
  • How many additional people were attracted by other at-show activities
  • How many signed up for appointments
  • The results of those appointments
  • The number and size of sales resulting

Of course, setting appointments may not be the next step from a show for your business.  What is?  Select your objective, then determine what needs to happen before the show, at the show and afterwards to make it happen.

Know your objectives, set up tactics, make them measurable, and focus your efforts based on these.


There is a lot to juggle in preparing for one show, never mind if you have a series of shows.  You need to read and understand the show book, with its rules and deadlines.  Preparing a project plan with milestones and deadlines, is not a bad idea.  You may need to “rent” this service from your tradeshow provider, or you may be able to keep it in-house by getting the most organized person on your staff to keep track and pay attention when they say a deadline is looming.

Some of our tips can be found here:  TRADE SHOW PLANNING – A TIMELINE FOR SUCCESS


You need to evaluate every show.   Evaluate based on the objectives you set, for effectiveness.  Also evaluate your staff on how well they met their individual goals, and ask for their input on what could have been done better in preparing them, in setting up and executing on your plan.

The essence of a plan is to take a good look at how events can support the major corporate objectives, who will be reached, how and when, with what budget and in order to reach what measurable results.

Need help starting, thinking through, or implementing your plan?  We’d be happy to help.


Deborah Elms is CEO and head of the Trade Show and Event Division of Imprinted Originals.  She is passionate about helping businesses, non-profit organizations and associations create and retain customers through the effective use of tradeshows & events.



The Scene: Lugging a bag bulging with brochures and giveaways, a prospect heads towards you. Their glance roams your booth.

You have less than 10 seconds to catch their eye and convince them to stop. What do they see? Do your displays, brochures, promotional items, even the clothes you are wearing, carry a focused, coordinated message?

If someone approaching your booth knows – immediately – whether they should (or should not) stop to talk, then you have prepared properly.


1. Select your goals upfront. This is the number one key to trade show success. Make your objectives clear, quantifiable and easy to convey. Make sure your vendors helping you prepare know them, as well as those who will staff your booth.

2. Every decision you make must be geared towards achieving your goal. Displays, brochures, show apparel, and promotional take-homes must be selected and designed to all work together to (a) attract the right people to your booth, (b) help qualify your prospects and capture their contact information, and (c) leave a positive impression that will last beyond the final day of the show.

3. Decide how you will measure results, and what will be an acceptable outcome. Make sure the measurement method is reasonable and understood by your everyone in your booth.

4. Select your shows based on where your best prospects and current customers will be expecting you.

In addition to shows sponsored by your own trade and professional organizations, check out the following 2 tips for more ideas:



5. Build traffic to your booth in advance of the show. The simplest way is by sending letters or emails to invite current customers and key prospects.

A more involved, but even more successful, way to attract visitors is by preparing a promotion, such as sending them part of a custom puzzle, the cap of an expensive pen, or information on a raffle to be held. You want to send anything that will put your company’s name on their must-see list.

Consider setting up specific appointments during the show – this demonstrates respect for their time as well as reinforcing the business purpose for their visit. Plus you will be sure to get adequate time to spend with them.

6. Make up and follow a preparation timeline. Using a checklist will help ensure nothing gets forgotten. And, as a big bonus, you will avoid the surcharges that rushed orders and shipping require. Procrastination can be very costly.

For a detailed timeline:




There’s an awful lot to learn about what to do “at the show”, and most of it depends on planning and preparation in advance.

Here’s a Tradeshow 101 list of 10 “Do” and 10 “Don’t” tips:


  • Set up clear goals for the show. Your marketing materials should be focused on your message, and your banners and exhibit should clearly display exactly who you are and what you are offering.
  • Everyone in your booth must know the goal: whether it is new prospects, reinforcing existing relationships, or finding out more about your market. Clearly defined goals help you keep focus and track results.
  • Use good booth behavior. Stand near the front of the booth, make eye contact, and start up conversations. Never hide behind your displays and try not to block them either!
  • Everyone must know how to qualify and get information from prospects.  Ask for specifics.  “Why are you here today?”  Write down their questions, concerns, and interests – plus anything personal that will help jog their memory (and yours) later about the conversation.
  • Practice good communications – listen more than you talk. Learn how to disengage from unqualified prospects politely – thank them, show them you have noted their concerns, ask how they prefer to be contacted, and move on.
  • Make it interactive! Offer information, give little quizzes, provide tip sheets. Engage their brain and they will remember you. And you will learn more about them, which will help in your follow-up.
  • Have everyone dressed in synch with the exhibit theme or colors. With “identity-ware” staff or denim shirts, your company name should be on the left breast and, optionally, personal names on the right side.
  • Provide giveaways that remind your visitors of your products and services. They should be useful or striking, so prospects will take them back home or to the office, and see your name on a regular basis.
  • Anticipate typical questions and practice answers, including questions to ask in return. Rehearse demonstrations in advance. Hand out materials only at the end of presentations, to help you keep their attention meanwhile.
  • At longer shows, have daily meetings on what is and isn’t working. Keep your team’s morale up!


  • Don’t sit down, eat, or use cell phones in your booth. Don’t stand around talking with each other!
  • Don’t hand out brochures or giveaways without getting information in return. Annotate your leads as you go.
  • Don’t arrive without a plan for following up on leads. Send a thank you, possibly including a gift, to the most likely or most valuable prospects, and if you can remind them of your conversation, all the better.
  • Don’t have just anyone staff your booth without training and being brought up to speed on your objectives.  Deploy each person within the booth “ecology” based on their strengths.
  • Don’t overwhelm prospects with long answers when a short answer might do.
  • Don’t assume every prospect is a sale on the spot. Better to use your time to build relationships.
  • Don’t forget to introduce yourself to the other exhibitors – they are potential clients, vendors and partners.
  • Don’t say too much without knowing who you are talking to. Be careful about providing your competitors with business intelligence.
  • Don’t let your people focus only on the products or services they know. Make sure they know who to refer a prospect to, and how, for best results.
  • Don’t forget – trade shows are about putting your brand, products and services into tangible form for customers and prospects. Keep everything consistent, professional and on track with your show objectives!




We’re often asked about the timing for planning for trade shows.

Use the following template as a guideline.  Your actual timeline – and checklist – for each show will vary depending on its size, location, type and importance.

Long-range planning (annual)

  • Define overall trade show strategy based on corporate goals
  • Determine which shows will help achieve that strategy
  • Get information, including past attendee numbers, from event producers
  • Set a projected annual budget & get approvals

9 – 12 months in advance

  • Select and register for the particular show
  • Visit the previous year’s or a similar show if possible
  • Get exhibitor packet and review for restrictions, guidelines and deadlines
  • Select booth size and location
  • Investigate sponsorship, speaking and other opportunities

6 – 9 months in advance

  • Define primary objective for show and how results will be measured
  • Choose theme to develop
  • Develop trade show marketing plan
  • Set preliminary budget
  • Select vendor(s) for exhibit booth, clothing and promotional products

3 – 6 months in advance

  • Design booth display and marketing materials based on goals and theme
  • Select appropriate promotional products and booth apparel
  • Confirm timelines & deadines with event organizers and exhibit vendors
  • Determine staffing requirements for your booth
  • Identify strategies for attracting visitors to booth

2 – 3 months in advance

  • Develop advertising or other pre-show promotions
  • Develop demonstrations, educational and other support materials
  • Prepare media kits and staff briefing packets, if applicable
  • Obtain insurance if necessary
  • Make transportation and hotel arrangements
  • Make sure everything is on track and all orders are in

1 – 2 months in advance

  • Review progress on all projects
  • Implement pre-show promotional marketing
  • Define lead capture forms and tracking systems
  • Choose and train staff (behavior as well as products/services)
  • Prepare packets and letters for follow up

2 weeks to 1 month in advance

  • Preview exhibit and other components
  • Follow up on shipping, installation, and onsite services
  • Confirm reservations for housing and transportation
  • Pre-show briefings with management, product managers, staff
  • Continue pre-show marketing, set up & confirm on-site appointments

1 week before show

  • Confirm all arrangements
  • Review goals and final points with staff
  • Review “Exhibitor Do’s and Don’ts” with staff
  • Plan for contingencies


  • Booth staff travels early and gets plenty of rest.
  • Check booth set-up and equipment before show
  • Qualify all leads, capture and score information on each
  • Hand off leads to off-site lead manager for followup
  • Daily debriefings with staff