Article Written By Mike Thimmesch.

Mastering the deadline-driven world of trade shows depends on great planning.

Yet all too often, important marketing planning gets overshadowed by urgent logistics planning. Because of the flood of deadlines, we get more distracted by the “what to do” rather than the “why to do” it.

Yet it’s just as essential to plan marketing things. Things such as your goals for the show, your marketing messages for your graphics and staff, and creating a promotional campaign that will get more of the right people to your booth.

Here are some ideas for your plan, either for a single show or for your entire program. Marketing and logistics steps are mixed together, as you need to do both to truly succeed.

6 months out:

  • Review Past Objectives:Evaluate previous year’s shows to see how many leads converted to sales, and your marketing return on investment. If you set different objectives, measure return on those objectives.
  • Set New Objectives: Set your top 2 or 3 objectives for the new year’s trade show program. The objectives don’t have to be “new” but you should always check your objectives are still relevant.

5 months out:

  • Set Budget: Adjust your budget based on what worked last year, your current financial state, objectives, and opportunities.
  • Select Shows and Booth Spaces:Evaluate your show schedule to determine which shows have the best match with your target market for the best value, and pick the spaces you will take in those shows (if you have not already reserved space).
  • Exhibit Evaluation: Review your current trade show display: If it still will help you achieve your current marketing objectives, keep it. If not, start researching exhibit builders and/or suppliers that can assist you with a new solution or a refurbishment of your current system.

4 months out:

  • Pick Booth Staff: Review last year’s qualified lead counts by booth staffer to identify the staff you want at your upcoming shows. Contact their managers to ask if they can attend. Ask your best booth staffers who else they would recommend.
  • Research Technology: Consider how you can integrate technology into your exhibit to help get more attention, tell your story; attract, engage and facilitate better conversations between attendees and booth staff.
  • Invite Exhibit Builders: If you are developing a new trade show booth, set appointments to meet with 3 exhibit builders, provide a brief and give them access to your key marketing decision-makers.

3 months out:

  • Review the “Show Book”: The book or webpage from the show with all the forms for ordering services. Find the forms for services you need, and create a master list of all the deadlines to order and still get the discount rates. Start earlier if the show provides it earlier.
  • Create Promotions: Brainstorm ideas for pre-show and at-show promotions that will help bring in a greater number of qualified leads into your booth, plus help your booth staff to engage attendees.

Two months out:

  • Choose Staffers: Finalise your booth staff choices.
  • Arrange Travel: Book hotels and flights for staff before rates go up.
  • Order Services: Order any show services you need according to your list from the show book.
  • Choose Your Exhibit Builder: Award the new build, and then continue to quickly and thoughtfully respond to their questions and requests for graphics art to ensure timely completion of your new exhibit.
  • Order Promotions: Select and order any promotional items you will be mailing pre-show. Some can take only a few days, some can take over a month, depending where they are made and imprinted.
  • Order Uniforms: If you are providing shirts, pants, and more for your booth staff to wear, order them now.

One month out:

  • Send Promos: Send the first wave of your pre-show promotion campaign.
  • Train Staff, Part 1: Set up first booth staffing meeting, to train them on your main client profiles and your products.
  • Order More Services: Order any final show services you need from the show book.
  • Order At-Show Promos: Select and order any promotional items you will be giving away at the show. Work out the most reliable and cost effective way of getting them to the show.
  • Finalise Shipping Plans for Exhibit:Finalise how you plan to get your display booth and other collateral to the show and make the relevant bookings.

Two weeks out:

  • Train Staff, Part 2: Hold your second booth staffing meeting, to review the booth staffing process and info about your new exhibit, promotions, technology in the booth, the convention city, and the show hall.
  • Send More Promos: Send the second wave of your pre-show promotion campaign.
  • Staffer Supplies: Pack all the supplies you’ll need in your booth for staffers, such as pens, clipboards, staplers, staples, water bottles, snacks, mints and wipes. Decide whether you will ship this in advance or take it with you.

One week out:

  • Prepare Lead Fulfilment: Create and gather your post-show lead fulfilment packets, and assign the team that will process the leads.
  • Verify Exhibit Arrival: Ensure your exhibit has arrived at the show or is on track for delivery.
  • Collect Documents and Backup: Prepare and pack a master book or data file with all your at-show contacts including your booth staffers, exhibit house, and local show city vendors to take with you to the show. Include art files for your graphics.
  • Verify Staff: Check in with all booth staffers that they are still all set to attend the show; get a substitute if needed.
  • Love Your Loved Ones: Be extra nice to your family and friends because you won’t be there soon.

At the show:

  • Be Your Best: Be brilliant, calm, hard-working, light-hearted, and creative.
  • Make It Happen:Execute your plans for booth staffing, at-show promotions, lead management, and booth logistics.

After the show:

  • Come Home: Give your family and friends souvenirs from the trip, preferably chocolate.
  • Say Thank You:Thank your booth staffers and vendors.
  • Fulfil Your Leads: Get promised packets out, and the leads into the hands of your sales force. Then keep checking on lead follow up.
  • Check Costs: Review your actual expenditures against your planned costs to see if you are still on-budget and the reasons if not on budget.
  • Measure and Analyse:Measure if you met your objectives, and figure out what went right and what can be improved.
  • Report Results: Let management know how well you met your show objectives, what worked, and what could be improved upon.

Give yourself the opportunity to succeed. Take the time to create a solid plan, then work the plan you created, covering both logistics and marketing activities.

About the Author:Mike Thimmesch is Skyline Exhibits’ Director of Customer Engagement, with over 25 years of Marketing and Trade Show Display Marketing experience.

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