The Go-To Guide For Your Next Trade Show

The Go-To Guide For Your Next Trade Show


Few things strike fear in the hearts of marketing departments more than trade show season. The logistics alone could make Chuck Norris weep. Getting All The Things from point A to point B (maybe even throw in a point C for good measure) and then back to point A again, all while growing your audience and your bottom line? It’s not for the faint of heart (and no amount of roundhouse kicks can find misplaced boxes or a longer extension cord).

Exhibiting at a trade show is different from attending a trade show. Instead of strolling down miles of aisles, the focus is on spreading brand awareness and connecting with potential customers, all while wearing your least-ugly pair of comfortable shoes and secretly worrying about the emails piling up in your inbox.

Yep… trade shows are like an intricate game of Chinese jumprope. Go too high or too low and you’ll become a tangled mess. But trade shows can also be awesome if you have a plan in place.

We think the world needs more awesome, so we put together this handy guide to help make your next trade show a success.

Set a goal


What do you want to accomplish? Whether it’s a certain number of leads or sales or shoutouts on social media, write down a number that your team can rally around.

Create a budget


Costs add up quickly in trade show land. Itemize your list of known expenses and pad it by at least 25%.

Prepare as far in advance as possible


The early bird gets the better booth location. And the better rate. Getting bogged down by hundreds of details right before the show… well… it shows.

We like to create a trade show binder containing every piece of info we might need: venue logistics, city information, airport and transportation schedules and phone numbers, lodging details, contact info for the show, rules and regulations, a dedicated space for tracking numbers and delivery details, booth schedules… basically, everything. This binder is the Holy Grail of your trade show planning

Keep track of timelines


Seriously. Be meticulous about timing. An average promotional products order takes 5-10 working days to produce. Add on another 3-5 working days for ground shipping to the end destination. This means you need to allow for 8-15 working days to get your awesome swag to the show location.

Most venues provide a shipping timeframe for swag, booth and banners to arrive. If your boxes show up too early, there’s a risk of them becoming misplaced (or even refused). If they arrive too late, they could vanish in the  frantic pre-show hustle.

Start generating buzz


Put a content strategy in place. How will you let your potential crowd know you’ll be at the show and that they should visit your booth? Start talking about the show on social media at least a few weeks beforehand. Give hints and teasers for what attendees can expect at your booth.

How will you market yourself pre-show? Expos usually provide an attendee list to exhibitors. Plan to reach out to your crowd ahead of time via email and social media. Create anticipation.

The experience matters


What does your booth look like? Does it go beyond a navy blue table skirt and a fan of business cards and brochures?

Think like an attendee. What would make them stop for a chat? Maybe you provide comfortable chairs for them to relax for a few minutes. “Can I tell you about how we make people’s lives better?” you ask while they sip on a complimentary cup of cucumber-infused water. Create an environment where you can have an actual conversation.

Good swag also matters


Free stuff is amazingly popular. It’s one of the reasons why promotional products work. People love to matter. But… swag only works when you know what your crowd wants.

The point of a trade show is to get people excited about your brand and want to be a part of your story. If your booth is basically an assembly line of strangers walking by while you toss a 25¢ pen into their plastic show bag, you’ve missed the point.

Match your giveaway to your goal. Are you looking for 1000 basic leads or 150 well-qualified leads? Imagine attendees returning to their hotel room at the end of the day. They dump the contents of their bag onto the bedspread and began sifting through the loot. What do they keep? What do they toss into the incredibly small hotel room garbage can?

This is where the Keepability Factor comes into play. When your swag is thoughtful and tailored to the well-qualified leads, it makes its way into their suitcases and eventually their world.

Take notes


Every time someone hands you their business card, make a quick note on the back. What did he say? Was she wearing unique shoes? Do you know someone in common? Write down anything that makes you remember them. This will help you personalize the follow-up process.

We suggest creating a spreadsheet for trade show contacts and updating it at the end of each day with their business card info and notes.

Have a post-show plan


Always respond to your leads. Otherwise, what’s the point? Your window is 2- 3 days after the show. After that, their enthusiasm has likely moved on.



  • Is there an internet connection in your booth space? How about lighting and power sources?
  • Do you have display items (such as oversized signs) that require special handling?
  • What will you wear? A logoed shirt? Branded socks? Will all team members dress in congruence with your brand story?
  • Who is going to help with booth set-up and tear-down? No one wants to play Tetris with packing crates by themselves at the end of the day.
  • How long can one person staff a booth before they pass out from lack of food or a full bladder? Create a booth schedule and make sure there is more than one person to manage the flow.
  • Have you triple checked everything? Yes, be that weirdo.

Trade show success is measured by how much effort you put into it. Be thoughtful. Stay calm. Ask for help. And carry that dang binder with you everywhere you go.

Chuck Norris would be so proud.

Need help taking your next trade show from meh to whoa? We can help with that. Let’s chat!

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