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Home / Tradeshows / The Ultimate Pre-Production Action Plan

The Ultimate Pre-Production Action Plan

Choose your message: What message do you want your exhibit to say to visitors? Pick the one impression you want your visitors to walk away with. The idea must be clear. Run a test to make sure that your exhibit communicates that idea to your target audience.

Should you have a theme? Depending on what you are offering, a "theme" exhibit will be very powerful! The theme must reinforce your message and should be creative and memorable.

Here are a few examples to consider: You can make a strong impression and draw a crowd with The Worlds Greatest (your business) theme. Here are a few other broad ideas: Movie and TV themes, (science fiction or comedy), era themes (the roaring 20's), sports themes, (baseball, football, tennis), occupational themes, (white collar, blue collar), and fantasy themes (fantasy island, amusement parks, the future).

Get Help!

Yes, you could do most of the show logistics yourself. But with the number of things that go wrong, you should consider calling professionals to assist you with show services. I have participated in over 300 shows in the last 20 plus years. When you call me, or any other expert, you must be prepared to answer questions. Here are a few.

Answer these questions and you will be farther ahead than most of your competition:
  • What are our goals for the show?
  • What is our budget for the show?
  • Who is our customer?
  • What is the show theme?
  • Does this show producer have a good track record with show production and follow up?
  • Are there other shows regionally or nationally that would be a wiser investment?
  • Is our competition going to be there?
  • What size exhibits would be best for us?
  • Who (what organization) will be next to and across from our booth?
  • What is our exhibit going to look like? (You must consider colors, carpet, pipe and drape, posters, banners, roof, sides and show regulations on size.)
  • Will it fit in our budget?
  • Who is going to represent our organization in the booth?
  • Who will be in charge of training the exhibit team? (More on this later).
  • Who will we use for back up if they fall out at the last minute?
  • What could we do with our exhibit and people that would be outrageous and fun so that our exhibit would have the maximum impact on the show attendees, and our people would be proud to represent us and remain motivated throughout the show?
  • Are we going to have give away gifts or trinkets? Such as: candy, media packages, a CD or DVD's ?
  • How many do we plan to distribute?
  • How many extras could we need?
  • Should we give away anything at all?
  • Will the show producer provide us with a list of the attendees?
  • Will it be hard copy, computerized in our choice of format, or labels?
  • Will there be a pre-show attendee list available so we can create an innovative pre-show promotion and invitation for advertising our exhibit?
  • Are we going to have a drawing?
  • Will it be a drawing for all the show attendees, or will we draw from the people who visit our exhibit and sign up or drop in a business card?
  • What is our time frame to plan for the show?
  • Who is going to set up and tear down our exhibit?
  • How are we going to ship it?
  • Who are we going to insure it with?
  • At which hotel will we make reservations?
  • Do we need rental cars?
  • Will we need to plan a hospitality party on an evening of the show?
  • Who will be responsible for planning and hosting the party?
  • How will we control the invitation list?

After you answer these questions, then ask the "WHAT IF" questions? Things like, if our plan "A" fails what is plan "B"? If we could wave a magic wand over our show to make it really special, what would we do?

And here are some tips on timing for your show hours:

  • Every show has peak and slow hours.
  • Every show has different aspects.
  • There are some predictable factors.
  • There will be slow times.
  • You should plan that time effectively to network with other exhibitors, plan short meetings with qualified buyers, (I have closed a lot of business opportunities before a show opens and during slow times at shows).
  • Rest and get recharged.

Here are 12 possible objectives for participating in the show:

  1. To generate leads.
  2. To maintain an image and continue contact with customers.
  3. To create an image and initiate contact with potential customers.
  4. To introduce new products.
  5. To demonstrate non-portable equipment.
  6. To offer an opportunity for customers to bring their technical problems and get solutions.
  7. To identify new applications for an existing or projected product by obtaining feedback from booth visitors.
  8. To build morale with its sales force and with dealers.
  9. To relate to the competition.
  10. To recruit personnel or attract new dealers.
  11. To demonstrate interest in and support of the sponsoring association or industry.
  12. To make sales. (The ultimate objective!)
Example: If your priority is generating sales leads, I recommend setting specific and measurable objectives, for the show. Here is a sample formula for getting leads.

Sales team X prospects X show hours = goals.

4 people X 4 leads X 24 hours = 480 leads.

You may choose a similar formula for how many demonstrations to make per hour.

If your objective is to write orders, then set an objective for how many you plan to write and pace yourself for the show.

Although not all of these objectives are at any particular trade show, they are all legitimate goals. The common objective is the first one - to make sales. Most of the time selling is not a simple process. It is rarely accomplished in a single step, as the result of a single contract.

Industrial purchases, buying a car or booking your meeting at a property is not an impulse buy. An organization develops an image and reputation over many years through multiple impressions. Advertising in magazines, newspapers, journals, radio, television, and the internet contributes to the decision making process, as do the comments from friends, relatives and peers in the industry.

One simple and creative way to be unique without spending a lot of money is to have really nice name badges that people can read. It is also nice to have name badges that don't ruin your clothes. Clips and pins can destroy nice garments. Consider using magnets, or badges that hang from your neck. Every outfit could have 'the best badge' so plan accordingly.

From the attendees' point of view, it is really nice to have a name badge with the magnetic strip that the exhibitor can swipe through a machine and coordinate contact information electronically.

Tips from the experts:

Patrick McGroder , publisher of The Perfect Wedding Guide said in a speech : Pre-show and post-show planning with the show promoter is the best way to maximize your trade show marketing dollar.

Jonathan T. Howe, Esq. from Chicago, Illinois' Corporate Council for Meeting Professionals International, offered this advice: "Read and understand the contractů all of it. Make sure your representation is able to meet the expectation."

Mark S.A. Smith, co-author of Guerrilla Trade Show Selling shared these insights with me: "Creative booth design is very important, but let's get real - good people who have experience with the product, service or company is the most important thing at a show. The future is moving more into bigger, better and more high tech gear for operational methods to share the message with attendees. Your people who are trained well will be your best selling point."

From the vendors who go through the bid process I have some really good tips for the planners of these exhibits from David Peters, President of Absolute Amusements Inc in Orlando. "Vendors really want you to succeed. Share your goals and theme so we can deliver maximum value for your trade show dollar. By utilizing our creative service we will increase your ROI every time."


Charmagne Anderson, Director of Conventions, Entertainment and Special Events for T. Skorman Productions Inc., Orlando, Florida, shared these good thoughts: "Change the location, break from tradition, be different, use casual surroundings, and create ice breakers. Give people new ways to network and share information."

Ken Presti, President of Presti Research and Consulting Inc., a Silicon Valley - based technology strategist said: "Hire the highest caliber professionals you can find, then share your goals, objectives, deadlines and dreams. Then, get out of the way and let them do their thing. Find and work with people you trust".

Bob Smith, President of the Jungle Marketing Group, shared these suggestions: "Be committed to pre-marketing and following up with a unique contact. Blanket letters waste money! Mail unique things to people who really did show up. If you are an entertainment company use entertainment that typifies what you do. And if you are selling entertainment, be entertaining."

Karen Segee, of Orlando, Florida and the past president of the Orlando Chapter of the National Association of Catering Executives told me: You never have a second chance to make a great first impression. Plan everything carefully, put your best foot forward, and deliver what your promise.

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