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How to Manage Your Next Trade Show

Trade show management can be a simple process with accurate planning.

Managing a trade show takes work. However, with adequate planning, organization and effort, you can virtually guarantee a smooth event. Begin planning for your trade show as early as possible and start with assessing possible booth locations as many are pre-selected up to one year in advance.

Therefore, the first priority for any show you wish to attend is to find out what booth space is available. If you cannot secure a good location for your trade show booth, you may want to reconsider attending as a vendor. Rather, attend as a participant and determine the future value of being at that show.

Once you've secured a booth space/location, you can begin planning in earnest for the trade show. In most cases, planning 3 to 5 months prior to the event is ideal. This lead time can be used to identify your trade show strategy, pre- and post- mailers, personnel, tactical plans, and marketing approach (sponsorships, etc.).

The best place to begin planning for the show is by identifying your trade show strategy. Simply put, this is the way that you will position your company, products, and/or services at the actual tradeshow. What are you trying to accomplish? What specific outcomes are you trying to achieve? What resources are you willing to commit to the actual event?

As a result of your strategy, you can create specific marketing plans. Are you going to make a huge splash with a large booth, sponsorships, and events? Or are you going to simply have a booth? Regardless of which level of engagement you decide to have, you must plan in a similar fashion.

If planning a trade show for the first time, look for a tradeshow checklist that can guide you through a complete list of "to-do's". This makes the process of preparing much easier and complete than trying to think through all of the possible deliverables. In addition, you may want to add to your checklist any special events, sponsorships, or unique activities you need to plan for and the specific tasks you need to complete.

A good example might be a cocktail hour you're planning. What day would be optimal? What location will you use? Is there a contract you must sign? Who will cater the event? When should you send invitations announcing the event and to whom? Will you have informational cards or fliers at the booth to remind visitors about the event? and so on. Think through all aspects of the preparation necessary to deliver an effective event and plan accordingly.

Once you have your own checklist, create deadlines and identify the individuals who are responsible for delivering specific outcomes. The best way to begin the process is to identify tasks and responsible parties during a "kick-off" meeting with all individuals who are involved in the trade show or trade show preparation. During this meeting you can properly assign responsibilities and agree on appropriate timeframes.

After the process has been initiated, have weekly or periodic meetings to measure progress and review trade show materials. Each vendor receives a trade show book filled with forms that must be completed. When you recieve these forms, booth information, shipping, and sponsorship details are provided. You must select what show requirements you have such as electric, Internet connections, carpet, chairs, waste paper basket, booth cleaning, labor for set up, and so on. Fill out the forms completely and make a copy of them before submitting back to the trade show organizer.

After obtaining a list of attendees and doing a pre-show mailing to let your prospects and/or customers know that you will be attending the show (and where you booth will be located), review all open trade show related projects from start to finish, confirming their completion. Take care of any last minute details and proactively schedule a follow up meeting for the week after the trade show is completed.

Post Show Activities

Planning for a show is just the beginning. If you planned appropriately, staffed appropriately, and trained your staff to execute against a specific strategy or message, you should have generated trade show leads. Marketing should collect the leads, enter them into lead tracking software, send a follow up letter/communication, and distribute to appropriate sales staff.

No more than 2-3 weeks from the actual show, all open leads should be identified and measured in terms of engagement and interest. Create a standardized marketing and communication plan that is use to move prospects to conversions. If these prospects do not convert after multiple touches, suppress them in your database. Next year, if/when you attend the same show, be sure to recall these contacts and invite them to visit your booth.

Following these suggestions for trade show management can make the most of your trade show investment!

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