Tradeshows 101: Starting out on the tradeshow circuit

July 23, 2011 — Leave a comment

I did a simple Google search on managing tradeshows and I noticed a lot of stuff on tradeshow management was written by booth suppliers or vendors and there were none really written by company personnel (like me) sharing their experiences on and off the show floor. So here’s my series on tradeshows/event management.

Tradeshow Bookings start early

I will start with four rules that I use every year.

  1. Start early.Think 1 year. For those of you who haven’t gotten into the rhythm of the events tune, one year may sound like a lot of time. But it is true, a lot of things can happen before one year. For one, all the key slots/booth spaces for next year’s event get booked at this year’s show. So if you want a good spot for next year’s show, make sure you meet with your sales rep during the show.What if you weren’t at this year’s show or you decided to do the show for the first time? Then you don’t have a choice. Try to book the show as early as possible to get best pricing and a good location. More than the pricing, it is the location that matters.
  2. Know your vendors.There is a variety of vendors you have to be in touch with to make sure your tradeshow attendance is successful. The easy way is to use the general contractor assigned to the show to do everything. But even then, there are different vendors you still have to coordinate for everything to come together. The official contractors are also generally more expensive and you don’t get the benefit of working with select group of vendors, if you are in it for the long haul. Apart from the show organizer, I have four categories of vendors I have to get in touch with (for each show):Tradeshow - Booth Vendors
    • Booth Design & Build. They are one of the most important vendors you will be in touch with because they help you with the design of the booth and prepare the different components that go into the booth. It is important to give these guys good lead time for them to prepare the booth. You could either go with a stock design from their catalog or design a brand new booth for yourself, depending on how deep your pockets are and how much time you have. The contact from this company can become your best friend – because of the number of times you will be touch with him.
    • Freight/Shipper. These guys ship your booth from your vendor to the show and back. Generally, larger booths are shipped from the design house two or three weeks before the show. That means, you need to get your designs in place at least a month before the show.
    • Booth labor. These are the guys who setup the booth on the show floor. They are all under unions. Try to get all the work finished during normal working hours on week days. Off hours and weekends can be expensive. And make sure you have all your drawings shipped with the booth, so they know what pieces fit where. Yes, it is a good idea to be on the show floor when they are putting it together – so you can make any last minute changes or attend to any missing information/pieces.
    • Show services. These include electricity, Internet, lead scanners and they have to be ordered directly from show provider. This is easy to miss for the uninitiated and can be quite overwhelming but you need to order anything you need for the booth e.g. if you want power for your laptops or want extra lighting in your booth, you need to order electricity for your booth. Another important service you order from the official show contractor is the hanging sign you want to put above your booth. You can provide them with the printed materials for the hanging sign but it is only the show contractor who can hang it up for you. The earlier you order, the sooner you get into their queue. There is one show service that is easy to miss – booth cleaning. You need to get your booth cleaned before the show begins every day.
      Show services can include: Electricity, Internet, lead scanners, booth cleaning, carpet, audio-visual, food and beverage, plant and floral, rigging, lighting and truss, security, furniture and accessories, hanging sign, computer rental etc.
  3. Track your deadlines.If there is anything I hate about managing tradeshows, it is those three-month-before-show deadlines. They can come out of nowhere and derail any project you got going at that time. But it is a wild animal you learn to tame. My strategy is to increase the lead time on those deadlines and insert them into my online calendar when I book the show.There are two types of deadlines: Early-bird and show rate. It is the early-bird deadline I am talking about.Why should you honor deadlines? Simply because you get better rates. For example, you can get free broadband Internet access to your booth, at Interop, if you order them one or two months in advance. At Gitex, you get charged AED 70 (US$ 19) for any booth passes booked at the show, if you missed blocking them before the show (when it is free).As the show dates get closer, vendors can slap rush charges and higher rates for anything you need. So try meet as many deadlines as early as possible.
  4. Accept expensive. Even if you meet that early-bird deadline, chances are that 42” LCD screen would be cheaper to buy at Walmart yourself than rent it for three days at the show. But it would be foolish to concentrate only on the costs when you should be concentrating on making most of the show – that could be in the form of number of leads captured, brand presence, your message at the show etc.

Tradeshow Management    Leads - Tradeshow - ManagementTradeshow or event management can be highly demanding and stressful. But it can be fun and you know it was all worth it, when you meet all those people at the show, who picked your brochure, stood in line for a demo, picked up a tshirt or simply said thank you for the problem you solved.

Have you had experience setting up tradeshows and events? What rules do you go by?

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