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Navigating the 2024 Trade Show Circuit

As the new year begins, it’s time to prepare for the upcoming series of trade shows. Whether you’re exploring a new show to engage with a fresh audience or participating in a longstanding event for your business, the peak of the season is just around the corner! Your marketing and sales teams are probably deep in planning and execution mode to ensure all their t’s are crossed, and i’s are dotted. Given my ten years of experience managing events ranging from local pop-ups to national and international conferences, I am too familiar with the frenzy of trade show season. So far, I’ve led nearly 50 show plans, having worked both in-house for a collection of brands and by helping KnotMagic’s clients, who may lack experience or resources, to execute a plan from start to finish. In this article, I discuss the lessons I have learned and provide actionable takeaways to improve show success. 

Create a “Playbook”

When developing a comprehensive trade show plan that builds brand awareness and generates qualified leads, sit down with your team to keep everyone aligned and connect it back to the company’s strategy. Trade shows are a significant investment, so be mindful of where money is spent to help tie back to ROI. The timing of when you should start creating a plan truly depends on the show size, location, logistical difficulty, and whether it’s your first show. I have been a part of planning that has ranged anywhere from a week up to a year. No event is the same or equal in caliber; each has unique opportunities and challenges and should be handled independently. Each plan should include your objectives, an analysis of attendees, a list of marketing assets needed, a complete marketing campaign, travel arrangements, a budget, and an execution timeline. 

Common Missteps

While you may have a solid playbook, minor details can often be overlooked. Show logistics is essential to any trade show plan and should be handled with extra attention. Don’t assume the event coordinator or show decorator automatically provides you with everything you need in an easy-to-follow format. Typically, I’ve seen that’s not the case. Be sure to obtain show deadlines, policy information, and early-bird discounts for orders, such as furniture and carpet. Items like material handling and labels for post-show shipping are usually forgotten. Place these orders and prepare final documentation well before the show to avoid a scramble and extra charges; I’ve learned that the hard way. 

Key Takeaways

Here are some more tips to make sure your trade show goes off without a hitch: 

  • Checklists, checklists, checklists! Creating a list of what you need to pack and ship in advance or bring on-site with you is helpful. Include the little things like tape and pens, often forgotten and usually needed. I love carrying my Leatherman tool; a pro tip! 
  • Keep track of your spending in a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet will not only help provide transparency if you’re going over or under budget, but it helps build a history. That way, if you continue to exhibit at the same event annually, you can better predict monetary needs.
  • Be organized from start to finish. Print all pertinent show information so you have it handy while on the show floor. It’s easier to reference paper vs. digging through emails during intense situations. Include receipts, shipping details, contact information, and your prepared conference briefing document containing the team’s travel plans. 
  • Be prepared for plan B. Something will definitely not go according to plan, which is why the packet will come in handy. Be quick on your feet, breathe, and be ready to troubleshoot with solutions. 
  • The tradeshow work doesn’t end at 5 PM on the show’s last day. Follow up with both your vendors and leads gained at the show promptly. Add leads to your contact list and future marketing efforts for lead nurturing; your sales team will thank you.

This trade show season, don’t miss your opportunity to engage with new and current customers. Ask questions of vendors (phone calls are often best for faster responses) and stay diligent by reading the fine print details. 

Are you overwhelmed with where to start with your show planning, reach out to the KnotMagic team!