Milestone Timeline for Your Trade Show Program

Create A Winning Trade Show Program Timeline: Month by Month Timetables for Success

The Trade Show Program Blueprint for Success

Exhibiting in trade shows is time consuming and potentially confusing, especially if you don’t know where to start or what to plan for. There is a constant string of deadlines that can result in additional expenses and headaches if missed.

Creating a timeline to follow from start to finish will take some work but is well worth the effort. Some trade show experts use the following blueprint for a calendar year’s worth of shows. Or, you can plan for each individual show a year out from the show date. Either way is effective as long as you are diligent about the deadlines for each show.

Follow this sample timeline and fill in the dates based on your show calendar to help keep track of what you should be planning and when.

12 Months Prior: Create The Trade Show Blueprint

  • Clearly define your marketing goals and trade show objectives
  • If applicable, review past shows to decide what worked and what didn’t
  • Research new show options and review the pros and cons of each
  • Strategically choose the most beneficial trade shows to help accomplish your marketing goals.
  • Determine a realistic budget for the show
  • As an organization, come to an agreement on what ROI and ROO means for a particular event.

9-12 Months Prior: Focus on Intentions, Goals and Objectives

  • Secure display/floor space at your chosen shows and determine the footprint size and exhibiting requirements for each
  • Acquire the official exhibitor guides from each show
  • Revisit and set specific goals, objectives and outcomes. Are you focusing on leads, direct sales, PR exposure, product launch, networking or social media reach?
  • Contact your trusted trade show display builder and begin discussing booth design for a new exhibit or a display refresh/repurpose of an existing booth
  • Compile your initial needs list for signage, promotional materials, staff clothing, and printed materials
  • Start creating a show-specific plan focusing on pre, during and post event marketing. Don’t neglect the all-important lead follow up plan to nurture those hard-earned contacts from the show floor.

6-9 months prior: Use Your Imagination

  • Work with your design house to create the desired look and feel of your booth. Your designers will be a valuable asset in this process as long as you clearly communicate your needs, wants and expectations
  • Discuss interactive technology functionality. Interactive needs lead time
  • Consider any special lighting, video, audio or product specific needs like running water, refrigeration, hand-washing stations etc.
  • Research promotional items that will make a lasting impression and help you stand out
  • Begin writing the “elevator pitch” for your booth staff. It’s never too early to start prepping for the interaction that will take place on the floor
  • Start making reservations if you are having parties or dinners outside of the exhibit hall

3-6 months prior: The Devil’s In The Details

  • Begin the early stages of your pre-show marketing initiatives, especially if you are inviting specific clients or media to your booth or events
  • Order promotional items and printed materials
  • If using video and/or interactive technology make sure the content is being developed so there is ample time for uploading and testing
  • Develop a staffing plan and schedule for the booth. Do you need to hire supplemental staff? Do you need to book flights, car and hotel?
  • Plan booth training classes for your event staff
  • Order all show services such as shipping, drayage, electrical needs and cleaning.  Be aware of advance discount deadlines. If using a trade show house for show services contact them to confirm that all necessary advance steps are being taken

1-3 Months Prior: Marketing, Marketing and More Marketing

  • Initiate all remaining pre-show marketing initiatives like email campaigns, blogs, direct mail, social networking, PPC and public relations, etc.
  • Confirm all travel arrangements
  • Reestablish contact with vendors, prospects and existing customers that you know will be at the show to arrange appointments, dinners or meetings
  • Execute staff training sessions to iron out any kinks and answer questions
  • Confirm the delivery dates of for promotional materials, clothing, marketing materials and any other collateral
  • Stay in contact with your display builder representative

1-3 Weeks Prior: Ready, Set, Go

  • Double check and confirm everything, especially delivery dates!
  • Make sure your exhibit, graphics and all supplies made it to the venue.
  • Create a follow-up plan for after the show.
  • Execute a final training session with booth staff. Or if hiring staff through an outside agency, confirm that they have the proper information.

Staying organized and aware of your timeline milestones and deadlines is the best way to keep on track and avoid the last minute craziness that rookie trade show program managers encounter. Remember: procrastination will kill your trade show program