Five Ways To Cut Trade Show Costs

There are two types of exhibit planners: those who save money on their exhibiting costs—and everybody else. Which type are you? Try these five techniques to save on show-related costs, and become a member of the mighty minority: the ones who get more for less, and make their exhibiting budgets go further on each and every show.

1. Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan:
What are your top five measurable objectives for your participation in a given trade show? Common objectives might relate to sales, branding and messaging, contacts with show visitors, promotion and PR, and managing expenses (pre-, post- and at-show). Yours may be different, but they should be determined well in advance of each show.

Your exhibiting plan needs to address each of these areas, and you and your staff should focus your efforts on achieving these objectives before, and throughout, the show (and don’t forget lead management after the show).

2. Pay Attention To The Little Things:
So many exhibitors come up short on the details, even when all the essentials are in place: good exhibit design, ample booth staff, attractive graphics, etc. But their messaging is poor, because it doesn’t resonate with the target audience at a particular show. Their literature doesn’t support the booth graphics or the overall show message. The staff doesn’t engage effectively with show visitors.

Work to get the details right, right from the beginning. Plan for an efficient exhibit, with a consistent theme running through all aspects of your participation in the show (at the booth, in the show guide, in advertising elsewhere in the exhibit hall or at the host hotel). Consider booth staff training if your people are reluctant to make contact with prospects. Everything you do to make your exhibit—and your people—work smarter brings a bigger return on your exhibiting investment.

3. Be Picky When Picking Shows:
Just because your competitors are exhibiting at a given show doesn’t mean you need to be there. Smaller, vertical market or “niche” shows may expose you to better prospects, save you money and give you a bigger presence on the show floor, which can help you achieve your objectives: stronger branding messages, more contact with show visitors (assuming there may be fewer of them, offering your sales force more face time with each prospect—resulting in a positive effect on sales), better opportunities for promotion and PR, and smaller expenditures all around, helping you minimize costs before, during and after the show.

4. Get Cozy With Your Show Services Manual:
There are always ways to waste money in the course of pulling off a show. The two you have the most control over are (1) services that must be ordered in advance, which your plan should include ordering and paying for at least 45 days in advance, or prior to the deadline printed in your manual, and (2) rush charges for anything. Overnight shipping, last-minute airline or hotel reservations, or hasty modifications to your exhibit or its graphics—all of these are budget killers.

As much as possible, your show planning should anticipate such costs and include the deadlines in your calendar. Your budget should also have a contingency category (generally 10% of your overall budget) to be used for things you just can’t anticipate, like when your show literature gets shipped to the wrong show, or the big boss decides to attend at the last minute and you’ve got to fly him or her in, provide ground transportation (or a limo) and rustle up a fancy room.

5. Engage In Espionage:
The best place to learn how to be an effective trade show participant is by working in the trade show field. At every show, there are scores of other exhibitors to learn from. As you’re setting up your booth, stake out how your neighbors and others on the show floor are doing things. During the show, do a little covert surveillance on other booths and how their staff members engage prospects. See if their messaging seems logical to you, and what you might do differently if you were in charge of their exhibits.

Put this sleuthing to work in planning for your next show. You might even want to start a journal of “best practices” you observe at every exhibit hall you find yourself in. You’ll be learning by doing; it’s just that others will be doing, while you’re spying on them.
Try these tips and see how your overall budget is affected, then let me know. And feel free to send me your suggestions or discoveries for best practices. I’ll be including them in an upcoming post, so I look forward to hearing from you.