Timing is critical when you’re planning a trade show. There can be little room for error, especially for the more popular trade show venues. In this guide to planning your next event, you’ll find an exhibiting task schedule that will 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 first. Do not get intimidated and know that there are things you can do 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 guide to planning your next event 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 guide to plan your next event and outline the perfect structure for your exhibiting needs! Let’s get started.
12 Months Out: Time to Start Planning
• Determine that your company wants to participate in the show.
• Select the floor space. Study floor plans, traffic patterns, services, audience demographics.
• Read the contract carefully. Understand the terms, 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.
6 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. Note: If you’re using a portable exhibit, the design process may not require this much lead time.
• Determine exhibit needs. For example, consider if you are using existing marketing assets or require changes from past years.
• Plan your pre-show advertising campaigns.
4 Months Out: Now is the Time, Make Sure it’s 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 the 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 plans to staff.
• Reserve any additional meeting rooms (hospitality events, press conferences, etc.) for 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. Time to get the show ready.
8-9 Weeks Out
• Preview new custom exhibit.
• Finalize graphics and 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 pr-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 any necessary 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 confirm airline, hotel and car reservations. Make any necessary changes.
• Follow up on target dates with all vendors.
• Confirm availability of display products/literature.
• Send all necessary materials by the target shipping date to avoid express mail shipments.
• Distribute briefing packet, including training materials, to all booth staffers.
• 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 Venue
• 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.
• Obtain 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.
• Take photos of your exhibit for records. Lighting, flooring and graphics are all great to reference for future marketing efforts.
During Show Week
• Reserve your space for next year.
• 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.
• 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 we can make is not taking the time to thoroughly go through these critical steps or even worse, waiting until the trade show is just a few weeks away before prioritizing 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 will make your life easier when planning your next event. If you are an exhibit manager you can also hand a few copies of this guide out to your employees to help them with planning your next event.
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.