Planning a successful trade show – an exhibitor’s perspective

Trade show tips to take you to the next level

AMPM has been designing client trade show displays and coordinating show details for nearly 20 years. In fact, we sort of fell into the trade show business by accident but the knowledge and experience we’ve gained over the years has been invaluable to our clients. As anyone who’s ever been involved in exhibiting and attending a trade show knows, they’re a tremendous amount of work. Our trade show history includes designing panels for a simple pop-up tabletop display to designing, coordinating, producing and transporting a 20 ft x 40 ft display to China. After the first of the year, trade show season is in full swing for our clients. We hope these tips are helpful whether you’re planning your first or fiftieth show.

The early bird gets the worm…or the best booth

The most important item to remember is to PLAN AHEAD. Depending on the size of the show, registration can be open a full year in advance. Of course you won’t have all the answers at first, but start with the biggies. What size booth is needed? Is a new booth display needed? What else will be in the space? Many shows offer early bird specials for items – take advantage of these discounts as often as possible. AMPM uses a project brief and detailed spreadsheet that helps organize every last detail of our client’s show needs and highlights important deadlines.

Don’t blow the budget

Many of the questions above can be answered when establishing a budget. Budget determines nearly everything – booth size, structure and design, furnishings, giveaways and promotions. Some clients are surprised at the costs associated with attending a trade show. It’s not an inexpensive marketing tactic – but if executed correctly the potential for new business far outweighs the expense. Major budget categories include:

  1. Exhibit space (cost of booth space)
  2. Booth structure (rental or new)
  3. Booth transport/shipping
  4. Creative (graphic design, booth space planning, printing, video production, literature, presentations, etc.)
  5. Show services (furniture, AV equipment, flooring, cleaning, electrical, internet service, assembly/dismantling/labor, etc.)
  6. Giveaways
  7. Promotions/sponsorships
  8. Public relations
  9. Meeting room/catering
  10. Travel, lodging and meals

Set clear goals

Exhibiting at a trade show should be treated in the same manner as any other marketing campaign. Take a few minutes early in the planning process to establish goals and objectives for the show. What’s the overall show strategy? What do you want to accomplish? How many leads do you want to get? How many face-to-face meetings do you want to occur? How will success be measured? Adding a handful of specific objectives allows for easy tracking of goals. Establishing goals during the initial planning stages provides direction and focus when crafting overall communications.

Promote your booth before the show

Just because you have a booth at a trade show does not guarantee attendees will flock to it. You need to engage attendees to draw them to your booth. Planning a number of pre-show communications is essential. These include a personalized invitation to visit your booth, an email campaign linking to a custom landing page, news release, website updates, social media posts and much more. Other advertising options include sponsorship opportunities (i.e., logo on a lanyard, advertising on the show website or app) or promotional activities direct from the show. Depending on your goals and budget, it may be advantageous to participate.

Once the big day arrives and attendees flood the show floor, what will draw them to your booth? Depending on the type of product or service your company has to offer, you will need to engage and interact with attendees. Live product demonstrations or product displays and samples are very effective. Hand out branded flash drives to new contacts that include electronic versions of product brochures. Or try offering a unique giveaway that becomes the coveted item of the show (bacon-scented t-shirt anyone?). These draw curious attendees to your booth through word of mouth.

Once a new connection is made at your booth, make sure to ask for contact information to allow for easy follow-up after the show. There are a few different ways of doing this – good old fashioned pen and paper works, but digital badge scanners have made this a whole lot easier. Establish a strategy for a post-show follow-up process to capitalize on the contacts made.


  1. Pre-show: One month prior to the show, confirm all activities and deliveries.
  2. Post-show: Unpack and set up the booth structure to ensure all parts and pieces are accounted for. Order replacement parts immediately.

Finally, remember you can’t plan for everything. Inevitably something will go wrong. Whether it’s a shipping snafu or a broken display, take a deep breath, remain flexible and do your best to figure it out. Just think of the story you’ll be able to share back at the office!

See some of our tradeshow work