Timing is critical for trade show planning. There can be little room for error in particular for more popular trade show venues. Here’s an exhibiting task schedule to help you stay ahead of the deadlines. When you are planning for a trade show or event of any size, the logistical details may seem overwhelming at a glance. Do not get intimidated, there is are methods to ease the process.
One great method of retaining control of your program is to develop an “Exhibit and Event” timetable to help you stay on top of each critical task and event detail.
Think of this as your “to-do” list. The provided outline gives you a basic list of steps and details you need to track when planning for a show. Always keep in mind that the suggested time frame (three months out, two months out, etc.) is just that – a suggestion and have proven to be great places to start the bulleted tasks listed below.
Everyone’s exhibiting timeline is slightly different, and many of the listed tasks might be different in description depending on your trade show venue requirements. Use this guideline to outline the perfect structure for your process and exhibiting needs! Let’s get started.
12 Months out: time to start planning
• Determine the purpose your company wants to participate in the show.
• Select the floor space: Study floor plans, traffic patterns, services, audience makeup.
• Read the contract carefully: Understand the terms, show or venue rules, payment schedule, floor space assignment method (by product category, seniority, membership, etc.).
• Send in your floor space application and the first payment if it is required.
• Prepare your exhibiting budget.
Six months out from the show
• Determine your exhibit objectives.
• Select primary vendors (exhibit house, transportation company, installation/dismantle supplier).
• Decide if a new exhibit is needed. If so, begin the design process. (If using a portable, the design process may not require this much lead time.)
• Determine exhibit needs. If you are using existing properties refurbishments, additions changes from last years
• Plan your pre-show advertising campaigns.
Four months out: now is the time to make sure everything is aligned
• Select your booth staff.
• Make airline, hotel, and vehicle reservations if needed.
• Make sure your Uber or Lyft accounts are distributed to the proper team members
• Select display products.
• Plan inquiry processing procedures.
• Communicate with primary vendors (exhibit house, shipping, installation/dismantle) regarding services needed and dates.
• Develop a floor plan for your exhibit.
• Finalize new exhibit design.
• Execute show-related advertising.
• Email campaigns to your prospects and clients letting them know your booth number and benefits of attending.
12 weeks out
• Carefully read and review the exhibitor manual.
• Select a portable exhibit supplier.
• Review exhibit floor plan and note target dates and restrictions.
• Plan any in-booth presentations/demonstrations.
• Create a list of required services, noting deadlines for “early-bird” discounts.
• Distribute show plan to staff.
• Reserve any additional meeting rooms (hospitality events, press conferences, etc.) for those break-out sessions
• Select catering menus (for hospitality events, press events, etc.)
• Meet deadlines for free publicity in the exhibitor guide/preview.
• Submit authorization form if you are using an exhibitor-appointed contractor.
• Plan pre-show meetings. It is time to get the show ready.
8-9 weeks out
• Preview new custom exhibit.
• Finalize graphics art/copy.
• Order staff badges.
• Send information to other departments exhibiting in the booth.
• Create and order lead forms. Finalize inquiry processing procedures.
• Prepare orders for: drayage, electrical, cleaning, floral, etc. Take advantage of any to pre-pay discounts.
• Follow up on all promotions, making sure everything is ready to ship by the target date.
• Prepare press kits.
• Check with staff on airline and hotel reservations and travel dates. Make needed changes.
• Develop a briefing packet for booth staff.
• Schedule training for booth staff at the show.
• Send a reminder to upper management about briefing meetings (in office and at the show); include agenda.
4-5 weeks out
• Follow up on shipping orders.
• Follow up on installation/dismantle schedule; get an estimate on costs.
• Call to reconfirm airline, hotel and car reservations. Make needed changes.
• Follow up on target dates with all vendors.
• Confirm availability of display products/literature.
• Send all needed materials by target shipping date to avoid express mail shipments.
• Distribute briefing packet, including training materials, to all booth staffers.
• Set up and hold a pre-show briefing meeting in the office.
• Set up an in-booth conference room schedule for pre-arranged meetings at the show.
• Send follow-up reminders to upper management about briefing meetings, including agenda.
• Determine the date and time for briefing staff at the exhibit. Review agenda, the purpose of show, demonstrations, rehearsals, show specials, etc.
• Ensure that you have the following items before leaving for the show: traveler’s checks, credit cards, copies of all orders and checks for services paid in advance, phone numbers and addresses of all vendors, engineering certificate for the exhibit, shipping manifest, return shipping labels and additional badge forms.
• Phone numbers for all staff and vendor contacts
Upon arrival at the trade show or expo venue location
• Check on freight arrival.
• Check with the hotel about reservations for staff, as well as any meeting rooms and catering orders.
• Find the service area. Meet electricians and confirm the date and time for electrical installation.
• Supervise the booth setup.
• Wi-Fi passwords if available, or alternate contact avenues.
• Hold pre-show briefing and training for staff the day before the show.
• Work with the venue’s printers and exhibit experts if unexpected damage occurred during set-up.
• Photos and documentation of your exhibit for records. Lighting flooring and graphics are a great reference for future marketing.
Take care of these items the during show week
• Reserve next year’s space.
• Conduct daily meetings with staff.
• Make arrangements for booth dismantle and shipping.
• Arrange for lead forms to be shipped back to the office daily for processing.
Post show tasks
• Supervise booth dismantle.
• Handle leads.
• Debrief staff.
• Send thank-you emails and texts.
• Work with your exhibit house to get a detailed inventory and damage list of your exhibiting properties.
One of the biggest mistakes is not taking the time to thoroughly go through these critical steps or waiting until the trade show is just a handful of weeks away to prioritize efforts. There is no benefit in stressing yourself and your team to the point of friction when you can simply follow the provided timeline above
Chunking tasks is a proven technique that really will make your life easier when planning your next event. If you are an exhibit manager you can also hand a few of these down to subordinates to help with the process.
Matt Smith has been a professional Graphic and User Experience designer for over 28 years who works closely with trade show and event companies in the San Francisco Bay Area and Denver Colorado.