Getting Started: How to Plan for Trade Shows

Trade shows, exhibitions and conventions provide companies with a one-of-a-kind marketing opportunity to showcase products and capabilities and engage face-to-face with prospects and clients. In fact, a business can achieve more at one event than over the course of weeks or months of marketing through other mediums.

To reap the benefits of exhibiting at a trade show like connecting with key prospects and generating qualified leads, proper planning is needed. Successful trade show planning takes time, discipline and foresight. Exhibitors need to choose the right trade show for their brand, set clear event marketing objectives, design an effective trade show booth and properly promote their presence at the show.

This article will help you prepare for your next trade show by outlining the best practices for planning for a trade show, from setting a trade show planning timeline, choosing the right trade show for your company, and helping you become a better exhibitor.

Define Success and Create Trade Show Goals

The first step in trade show planning should always be outlining a clear idea of what you want to achieve by attending a trade show. In the planning stage, it’s important to set goals that can be tracked and measured. By having metric-based goals, you can evaluate the performance of each show you attend and make tweaks and adjustments to your trade show planning for great success at future shows.

Common Trade Show Goals:

  • Increase brand exposure
  • Tease & unveil new products
  • Build relationships with key prospects
  • Generate qualified leads
  • Discover emerging industry trends
  • Generate sales orders
  • Increase press coverage

How to Define Success:

Be realistic about your goals; it doesn’t do you any good to set unreachable goals. If you lack the manpower, money or time to achieve a certain goal, adjust your expectations to better suit your capacity and revisit the goal when you have the resources to achieve it.

Set benchmarks to keep your goals and expectations focused on past performance. Before you begin planning your next event, analyze your year-over-year numbers to see where you stand and where you need to go in relations to your goals.

Clearly communicate your trade show goals to your exhibit partner so they can design an exhibit that will help you reach your goals.

Check out the trade show booth designs Apogee has designed for its partners

Selecting the Right Trade Show

One of the keys to successful trade show planning is selecting the right event. With over 10,000 trade shows held annually in the United States, choosing the right trade show to can seem like a daunting task.

To make the show selection process easier, familiarize yourself with trade show opportunities within your industry as well as relevant trade shows on an international, national, regional and local scale. Make a list of exhibiting opportunities that best suit your company’s trade show marketing goals. After you have compiled your list of shows, highlight events that you believe will yield the highest return on your trade show investment.

Is Your Business in the Healthcare Industry? Check out Apogee’s list of Top Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical Trade Shows of 2019

Questions to Ask Yourself When Evaluating Trade Shows:

  • Is the show large enough to attract a healthy cross-section of prospects and vendors?
  • Is the show in the right place geographically to attract your customers?
  • Does the show date align well with your company’s ability to fulfill orders and follow up on leads?
  • Can you rely on the show’s management? Does the event have a long track record of success?

Setting Your Budget

Setting your budget is one of the most important phases of trade show planning. If you want to have an accurate trade show budget, give yourself as much time as possible to plan, and take advantage of early bird discounts from vendors. Remember, when setting a trade show budget, your objective should focus on being cost- and marketing-effective.

Tips for setting your trade show budget:

  1. Exhibiting space makes up 25-35% of the average trade show marketing budget. To save money on space, see if your event offers early registration incentives, which can save on the cost per square foot.
  2. Make sure you consult your “exhibitor’s kit” to pinpoint shipping cut-off dates. Having an understanding of these dates will help you avoid additional fees.
  3. Show services can be costly, so make sure you take them into account while planning your budget. There are many minor costs related to exhibit services that, if left unrestrained, will really add up.

Working with a small budget? Here are Apogee’s Three Cost-Effective Ways to Refresh your Trade Show Booth

Trade Show Planning Timeline

The longer that you have to plan and prepare for a trade show, the better the chances that you will be able to save money and avoid costly potential issues in the process.

Smart exhibitors often begin their trade show planning up to a year in advance of their event. When drafting your trade show timeline, you should begin by organizing your timeline into quarters or three month intervals. Place the most time sensitive items at the beginning of your timeline to make sure they are done promptly and organize less pressing items accordingly.

Plan Smarter with Apogee’s Trade Show Timeline Planner

Choosing Your Trade Show Booth

Your trade show booth is the centerpiece of your trade show program. Research the different types of booths that best fit your space and budget, from custom booth designs with technology-driven interactive displays, to modular exhibits and branded environments.

Tips for Choosing your Exhibit:

  • If you are unsure of what design will work for your, remember to keep it simple with your booth graphics and design features.
  • Design a trade show exhibit that helps visitors experience your product or service. Let them touch, see, feel, hear or taste your offerings.
  • Promotions, product demonstrations, giveaways and contests can drive traffic to your booth. When planning the design of your exhibit, make sure that your space has room for these in-booth activities.


Trade show carriers are a vital part of the trade show planning puzzle. Great carriers can make the logistical and strategic challenges presented by a trade show a breeze. If all goes well, you should have an easy time getting your items to the venue and back into to storage. Remember, planning in advance will save you both time and money, so make sure to do your research.

Questions to Ask Your Trade Show Carrier:

  • How long has your company specialized in trade show freight?
  • What services do you provide exhibitors?
  • How can I track my freight once it leaves the warehouse?
  • How does you company pack and secure freight?
  • Do your vehicles use air-suspension to avoid bumps and minimize shipping damage?
  • Can you have a comprehensive shipping quote that covers all your expenses, and can you have it in writing?

Tips for shipping:

  • Contact event organizers about preferred carriers/vendors for shipping and freight. This will lessen the stress of shipping your exhibit as you can rest easy knowing your carrier is familiar with the show.
  • To make shipping as painless as possible, schedule shipping to the show as well as return shipping.
  • Drayage is the cost of venue professionals transporting your exhibit from the warehouse to your booth space. Rates are typically based on weight. Incorporating lightweight materials – such as fabric graphics – can help save on the cost of drayage.

Test Everything, Then Test It Again

Testing your technology is especially important for display elements of your booth. For example, if you plan on using a screen to project Twitter feeds, test both the technology and the feed software the morning of the show (just like with your devices). Testing also extends to anything in your booth using power like lights, audio and or any moving parts.

The more often you attend industry trade shows, the better you will get at budgeting and planning for events. As you continue to hone your trade show prowess, you will be able to increase your customer base and your trade show ROI, making the investments of time and money you put into trade shows well worth it.

Start planning for your next trade show by talking to an Apogee expert today!