5 Trade Show Planning Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Key Takeaways

​What? Trade shows are some of the most trusted tools of the marketing mix.

So what? Many times, marketers fail to create specific objectives per trade show or event.

Now what? Download​ The Ultimate Trade Show Planning Checklist​ to learn how to optimize your trade show goals.

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​​Trade shows and face-to-face marketing are some of the most trusted tools of the marketing mix. In a world of evolving marketing programs that require marketers to wear many hats, little time and energy is left to manage complex trade show and face-to-face marketing programs.

This article explores five common mistakes marketers make when planning for, executing and measuring successful trade show programs, with tips on avoiding these mistakes at future events to save on cost and increase results.

Failing to Set Measurable, Reasonable Goals

As with any marketing program – digital or traditional – creating measurable, reasonable marketing objectives and goals is critical to aligning time and dollar investments, and will help marketers understand if the investment was worth the return.

Many times, marketers fail to create specific objectives per trade show or event, especially when the primary reason for attending an event is, “our competitors are there.” However, there are many ways to quantify return on events, so long as a system is set in place to measure these data points. 

Common Measurable Trade Show Goals

  • Leads generated

  • Number of meetings with clients and/or prospect

  • Sales made or value of contracts signe

  • Quantity of brand impressions on a targeted audience

  • Sales generated 1-3 months after an event

Once goals are set, other aspects of trade show planning begin to fall into place, making goal-setting a critical first step to any successful program.

Trade Show Planning 

Not Giving Adequate Lead Time

Trade shows have many moving parts, including designing, building and shipping an exhibit, ordering show services, training and coordinating staff and more. Many times, marketers begin the planning process too late, leaving them scrambling to meet important deadlines.

Depending on the size of exhibit space, size and location of the show and other such factors, it is recommended to begin the planning process of your trade show 90-120 days leading up to an event. Within this timeframe, spend time outlining your goals and budget, planning promotional tactics and reserving space to take advantage of early-bird deadlines.

Trade shows are typically annual or bi-annual events, which gives marketers an advantage to planning. Evaluate all shows and events that fall in a calendar or fiscal year, and begin mapping out timelines to begin planning for the event.

  • Map all events out on a calendar

  • Group events by business unit and/or marketing objective

  • Create goals and marketing plans for each event grouping

  • Schedule “kick off” planning meetings 120-days prior to the event

For multi-show exhibitors, some planning to-do items – such as designing and ordering a trade show booth or training staff – may only need to be done once, leading up to the first event. However, it is still important to begin planning 90-120 days before each event to ensure space is reserved and budgets are set.

Download:​ The Ultimate Trade Show Planning Checklist

Budgeting for a Trade ShowGoing Over Budget

Every marketer’s nightmare, going over budget is – by far – the most common challenge marketers make when planning for and executing a trade show, and goes hand-in-hand with too-little planning lead time. Most marketers focus on the cost of the exhibit and the cost of the space when planning their event budgets, but these items generally only make up half of total expenses.

Additionally, missing early bird deadlines (due to too-little planning lead times!) can be the difference between under budget and “in the red.”

To avoid going over budget, create or find a trade show budget tool (Like this one) and use it for every event. If you create your own budget tool, reference past shows to fully understand all costs that went into the event. This should include items such as shipping costs, drayage (cost to move shipped items from the receiving dock to your exhibit space), lead machine rental, internet, installation and dismantle services, carpet/flooring and booth staff travel, lodging and meals.

Goal-Focused Exhibit DesignDesigning an Exhibit Without Goals In Mind

Trade show booths can be a large investment, with some larger exhibits costing as much as a house. Managing expectations from management and the needs of the sales staff, marketers are often left trying to balance overall look, feel and function with affordability.

The best way to avoid this mistake is to find an experienced exhibit partner, even for smaller, portable exhibits. Exhibit partners are experienced in the needs of exhibitors, but also understand how to reduce costs while still giving you the look you desire. Exhibit partners, also, commonly partner with ad agencies to ensure brand identity is carried forth in the produced exhibit.

Most importantly, exhibit partners will use your trade show objectives and goals when designing, building and delivering your exhibit. Designing with a goal-first approach will help you and your sales team focus on and measure objectives.

Assuming Every Show Was or Was Not Worth It

Perhaps the costliest mistake a marketer could make would be to fail to measure, evaluate and compare costs to overall return. Assuming every show was worth it – or, conversely, assuming that every show was not – can lead to unnecessary costs or missed opportunities down the line.

Setting measurable goals and planning a detailed budget can help provide insight into successful and unsuccessful shows, but it is critical that marketers set aside time after an event to truly calculate the return on investment.

Those Who Plan, Win

Trade shows and events have a lot of moving pieces, but also provide some of the greatest quantitative and qualitative returns on marketing investment. Marketers that set specific, measurable goals and allow plenty of time to plan for an event can reduce time and dollar investment while increasing return. For more helpful resources on planning, budgeting and executing successful trade show marketing programs, visit www.nimlok.com.​​