Creating a Trade Show Game Plan
Guidelines for a Winning Trade Show Strategy

our trade show isn’t likely to be a success unless you go in armed with a solid game plan. Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a winning strategy for maximizing the benefits of your trade show experience.


Goals & Budget
Before you start planning your booth, set a rough budget so you know what you have to play with. When doing a cost estimate, consider the importance of the event you are attending. Who will attend the event and how many leads do you think will be generated? It is hard to set a specific cost per lead as companies have different views on how much a lead is worth, but by making a rough calculation, you will get an idea of your budget parameters.

When the rough budget is set, write down your goals for the show and what message you want to communicate. Have a brainstorming meeting, with these goals and message visible, and discuss as a team how you are going to make them happen.

Decide early in the year what shows you are planning to attend. Register your company as soon as possible to get a chance to choose the best position of your booth. In general, high traffic spots include near the entrance or exit, by the food courts, or near the restrooms. Keep in mind though, that high traffic can also lead to congestion, and make it harder for qualified leads to visit your booth.

Establish clear goals and make sure everyone involved is aware of them. Prioritize your goals and make sure they are measurable and in line with your company strategy. Once you have a concrete idea of what you want to do and how you are going to accomplish it, then it’s time to nail down a more detailed budget.

Booth Concept & Design
It is important for everyone to make time for the planning early on as changes close to the event itself may be quite costly. Make sure that everyone involved agrees upon the concept and goals. After you have gone through the creative process and decided how you are going to portray yourself at the event it is important to stick to that idea. You may have to make some small changes along the way, as some things are not possible to do at some location, but make sure you stick to the core of your message and goals. If you make too many changes you will just end up with a nondescript booth that will end up costing you both money and leads.

For more info on booth design, see “Designing a Better Booth.”

Event Planning
• Appoint a project leader or an event coordinator responsible for getting things done. This person can then delegate and coordinate efforts in a timely manner.

• Get as many people involved as possible; the bare minimum are creative staff, sales people and the department manager. Again it is vital that everyone understands the reason why you are attending the event.

• Read the event program and make a time plan. Start your plan from the event date and work backwards. This way you will get a good overview of for the time plan.

• Make a detailed project plan with a checklist to make sure you don’t forget anything. Look at previous event to see what you did then and add that to the checklist. Then look at your plan and speak to the trade fair to see what else you should add to the list.

• Collect all orders, invoices and supplier information in a folder for easy access.

• Keep your spreadsheet with the budget updated so you can keep track of your costs.

• Make your reservations to the trade show before their deadlines to avoid extra charges.

• Have a meeting with the people that are attending the event and go through what you are going to do on site, your goals and how you are going to greet customers in the booth.

• Create a rooster for the booth personnel so they know exactly what to do and when they are expected to be in the booth. Remember to have a rotating schedule as it is very tiring to be in the booth for too long of a period. Plan breaks to make sure your staff greets the customer in a good mood. It will pay off!

• Plan and book transportation to the trade show as soon as you know how much material you are shipping.

Advertising & Marketing
• Find out how you can use the publicity and marketing channels surrounding the trade show to your own advantage. For example; the event web site, ads and newsletters.

• Send invitations to prospects and your existing customers. This could include a ticket to the event.

• Create a leads sheet – either digital or on paper.

• Train your staff on how to greet customers and establish some parameters for booth behavior (see also ”Booth Behavior – Do’s and Don’ts for a Better Trade Show Experience”). Make sure they are knowledgeable about the product or service that you’re offering. Establish a dress code and make sure it’s adhered to.

• Ideally, your company’s value proposition is so strong that it will bring visitors all on its own. But in reality, with a hall full of competitors you have to make your booth more attractive than your neighbors’. Give attendees an additional reason to visit you. Offer that little extra something. This could be anything from a calm corner for the trade fair visitors to sit down and have a snack to nice music, a contest, a seminar, a booklet on how to succeed in your particular field or a smart giveaways. Get creative. Whatever you come up with though, make sure its not just a gimmick but something that supports your overall brand strategy.

• Ask the organizer of the event what media channels are covering the event. Find out their deadlines and send images and news to them. With any luck, you may be featured in a magazine or other media channel before the event. Keep a multiple copies of your press kit ready at the show so you can hand them out right away should your booth and your message start getting attention from the press. You want to be ready to seize any opportunity.

Booth staff
Make sure you have enough staff for the duration of the event. It is important to allow for breaks, two hours booth time is considered standard for staff to stay alert and focused. The staff should also be aware of their specific role in the team.

A couple of days before the event, re-address:
• Goals
• Products and services offered
• How to handle questions and leads
• Dress code
• Transportation and hotel
• Representation and behavior when interacting with customers

Give everyone a written summary of what you agreed on. Consider a staff contest to encourage and motivate. Keep lots of water and fresh fruit in the booth to keep your staff healthy and happy. Try getting a hotel close to the trade fair so the staff wont have to travel to far to get to the location. Cheerful staff equals a stronger brand and more sales.

Keep your booth neat and clean. Appoint someone on the staff to be responsible for keeping the booth in good shape and making sure that all your materials -- brochures, giveaways, water or snacks, etc. -- are available to visitors.

Planning a successful trade show can present a daunting challenge, but these guidelines should help you map out a winning trade show strategy. And above all – don’t forget to have fun!

(images courtesy of Patrick, Wikimedia Commons and Official GDC, flickr creative commons)