Plan for a successful year of trade shows and exhibiting with this trade show timeline planner.

Trade Show Timeline: Plan Smarter

In the busy world of trade show marketing, the best way to predict future success is to plan in the present. That means preparing for an upcoming trade show months in advance. Our “Trade Show Timeline Planner” will guide you through an entire year of successful trade show preparation, from choosing the right trade show or conference to attend, to preparing and designing your trade show booth that will stop customers in their tracks.

12 Months—Begin Your Search

Planning for a trade show a full 12 months in advance will give you peace of mind and help you stay on top of your deliverables. This generous time frame helps you to design a dynamic trade show display, select the right show and define your goals. But before jump right into the first trade show you read or hear about, consider these two questions:

1. Do trade shows align with my company goals?

Attending a trade show just for the sake of it can be problematic. Trade shows take up time, and while the right ones are certainly worth the effort, you should make sure the trade show you are interested in aligns with your company goals.

Define a clear objective or goal before you decide whether a particular event is the right fit for your company. Then, dig back into your marketing plan and decide which trade shows will provide you with the best return on your investment.

Here are a few common goals that exhibiting at a trade show can help you achieve:

  • Boost brand awareness in a new or established market
  • Establish relationships with customers to generate leads and sales
  • Network with industry professionals, investors or potential business partners
  • Gain competitive insight from other companies within your industry

Once you’ve established your goals, the next step is to find a show that matches your overall marketing objectives.

2. What trade show should you attend?

An effective way to determine which trade show to attend is requesting show statistics from different events. Viewing attendee numbers, demographic information, average booth space cost, travel expenses and a list of competitors who attended will help you determine if the show is right for your business. From there, you can compare different shows to see which offers the most benefits at the best price, and if the location and dates work for your team.

If your company has attended trade shows before, analyze the results to determine which shows offered the greatest return on investment.

Once you’ve selected the trade show you want to attend, set reminders for important deadlines.

Pro Tip: Explore early bird registration discounts to save money on a booth space and exhibition fees.

9 Months—Goals, Exhibit and Budgeting

Okay, so you have decided on a trade show, and have picked a show that will benefit your brand. Now it’s time to create definitive trade show goals and objectives! At the 9-month mark on your trade show timeline, you should meet with your team to set realistic and attainable trade show goals, trade show booth requirements and a solid budget estimate.

Objectives & Goals

As you begin the planning process, it is important to sit down and plot out one or more desired outcomes for your trade show or event. Goals can change depending on the show or current marketing objectives, like a product launch or promotional campaign.

Additionally, it is important to define success in order to analytically measure trade show results. Make sure to communicate these success benchmarks with your team so that everyone is on the same page. Once goals and objective have been clearly defined, then it’s time to begin working out the details.

Exhibit Design & Planning

By the 9-month mark on your trade show timeline, it’s time to plan for your exhibit.

When planning and designing a trade show display, you need to first identify how much space you will need to meet your trade show goals and objectives. From there, it is important to design with your goals in mind.

For example, if you’re launching a new product, then creating the perfect product display should be a priority. If the goal is to increase brand awareness, then a branded environment will instantly provide customers with an unforgettable experience and showcase your company brand and culture.

Popular exhibit options to consider:

Classic Exhibits are an excellent choice for showcasing your brand’s position.

Custom Exhibits fit your specific needs with a variety of display options that are tailored for your trade show goals. Custom trade show exhibits are more than a structure, they are a powerful marketing resource.

Modular and Portable Exhibits provide flexibility when you’re developing an effective trade show program by offering ease of use, lower operating costs, and the ability to reconfigure from time-to-time compared to other types of custom exhibits.

Rental Exhibits are perfect for when a single-use solution is all you need. Rental inventory allows you to present a custom look on a rental budget, plus rental displays can be enhanced with custom elements, technology and graphic alternatives that create a custom-looking environment.

Digital Exhibits – these days, everything has a digital component and trade show exhibits are no different. Digital exhibits make use of engaging digital tech such as video walls, augmented and virtual reality as well as interactive, touch-screen displays.

When the dimensional requirements for your exhibit are hashed out, the next step is to figure out the graphics and design components that fit within your space. Experienced exhibitors should also decide if their existing trade show display can get the job done – or if they need to rent or purchase a new asset.

Be sure to think outside of the box and discuss unique or custom exhibit solutions, like attractive product displays or an exciting virtual reality experience.

Smart Budgeting

Your trade show budget will determine much of what you can and can’t achieve, so solidifying a solid budget or a close approximation early on in your trade show timeline is crucial. Since you have already created your goals and understand your trade show booth needs, it should be easier to set an overall budget for your event.

Approximate breakdown of trade show costs:

  • Exhibiting Space – 30%
  • Show Services – 20%
  • Exhibit Design – 10%
  • Shipping and Drayage – 10%
  • Promotional Material – 5%
  • Booth Staffing & Travel – 20%
  • Miscellaneous Costs – 5%

6 Months—Create Buzz with Marketing

Once you hit the 6-month mark on your trade show timeline it’s time to start thinking about the marketing campaign you surrounding your event. Planning your advertising, direct mail, email marketing, promotional items and giveaways around the 6-month period will give you plenty of time to build the pre-event buzz essential for trade show success.

Advertising, Social Media, Direct Mail, and Email Marketing

No matter what your trade show objectives are, attracting attendees to your exhibit is key. To draw attendees to your trade show booth you will need to announce your presence to the world.

At around 6 months, you should outline which outlets you believe will help you best attract visitors and begin placing ads in them. Advertising online on industry sites and in industry publications can help drive attendees to your exhibit space.

Promotions & Giveaways

Promotions and giveaways are staples in drawing attendees to an exhibit space. Planning for promotions and giveaways depends on your budget, and what your event marketing goals are.

If you want to build product awareness giving away product samples and having in-booth demonstrations is a sure-fire way to draw a crowd. If you want to generate leads, having a contest and in-booth giveaways such pens, notebooks or treats works well. Simply have attendees fill out a lead form to receive their giveaway.

Contests are also a great way to get attendees excited about your brand and reward loyal customers with cool ticket items.


3 Months—Finalize Details and Training

At the 3-month point, you should have all of the major details figured out. However, there are many smaller tasks that need to be tackled before you can set sail to your event. The final stretch of your trade show timeline should be focused on finalizing these details, tying up loose ends such as travel and accommodations, training your booth staff and scheduling dinners and meeting with clients and prospects for networking.

Finalize Event Details

Last minute details can be a headache, so make sure to have a plan in place to confirm important dates with vendors and event coordinators. Be sure to double-check venue amenities, such as wifi and electricity. Check-in with your installation and dismantle service, as well as drayage, to confirm shipping logistics, move-in dates and set-up details.

Once these items have been taken care of, you should be ready to go!

Training Your Staff

A well-trained booth staff is the greatest asset an event marketer could ask for, so making sure your team is briefed and primed for the event is essential. Rehearse sales pitches, train staff members on products, discuss the branded messaging your organization wants put across and create a list of goals and procedure for your team to follow. Beginning this process 3 months out gives your staff enough time to train and get comfortable with their roles.

Travel and Accommodations

Traveling for trade shows can be difficult if you don’t make sure you have all of your ducks in a row. If at all possible, try to get a bundle on airfare and hotel rooms. Making accommodations at least 3 months in advance gives you a leg up in securing room and flight bundles, while also taking care of one of the more stressful parts of event planning by taking it off your plate early.


Attending face-to-face marketing events is all about networking and creating connections. To help your organization better network, consider sending invitations to current clients attending your event. These invites can be for a consultation or a dinner in appreciation of your ongoing relationship.

You can also reach out to prospects you are courting. Extending invites to prospects may help seal the deal or sweeten the pot. You should send out invites about a month in advance of your event. This gives your invitees enough time to respond confidently and also allows you time to secure reservations for dinner or the ability to create a personalized packet for consultations.


Ready to talk to an expert about planning for your next trade show? Contact us today.