Your Guide to Selecting the Right Trade Show

Managing a trade show program for your organization is an enormous undertaking and requires lots of decisions about branding, sponsorships, booth staffing and logistics. However, the most fundamental decision of all is selecting the right shows that are worthy of your marketing dollars. Selecting the most appropriate shows requires a measured approach using the following steps and avoiding shortcuts. It demands time, introspection, scrutiny and lots of research.

  • Conduct Extensive Research 
  • Survey Your Customers 
  • Create a List of Possible Shows
  • Meet with Show Management
  • Attend Before You Exhibit 

Extensive Research and Background Analysis

The first and most often skipped step of the show selection process is to survey internal divisions such as marketing, sales, product development and management. You need to start with a thoughtful analysis allowing you to make fully informed decisions. You should inquire about industry information to understand the marketplace and where your company fits into it. Find out where the company wants to be in the future. Don’t operate on assumptions that might be outdated and make sure you align with C-suite before you go down the wrong path. For example, you might find out that management wants to better position the company as a thought leader in your industry, requiring consideration of shows with speaking opportunities. On the other hand, if they want to increase visibility, a marketing manager might consider exhibiting a large number of shows with small booths. If the company sentiment is to take on a particular competitor, it might be appropriate to look for shows where competitors exhibit and go big with a large booth space and sponsorships. 

Survey Your Customers

Whether you use a formal process conducted by an agency or a survey by the marketing department, asking current and prospective clients about their intentions and behavior regarding trade shows can be extremely valuable information. Ask your focus-group participants what shows they plan to attend, the nature of their buying cycles, and their general awareness of your company and its offerings. But the most critical question is what level of interest the respondents have in seeing your company’s type of products. Attendees’ product interest is the best predictive indicator of a company’s potential for success at a trade show. By far it has the most correlation to at-show success than any other statistic that is measured. Just because your target audience is there doesn’t mean your offerings are on their shopping list.

Create a List of Possible Shows

Once you have gathered all of your analysis and feedback, assemble a list of potential industry trade shows. Include the shows the company has attended in the past, ones mentioned by clients and prospects and the ones from your research. This should also include shows found on competitors’ websites, search engines and directory sites such as Keep in mind, no single directory lists every single show so plan to use more than one. Your list should include data such as growth or decline of a given show, whether prospective clients say they plan to attend, and whether or not competitors have exhibited there in the past. If there are shows on your list that you know your company absolutely will not attend for whatever reason, they can be pulled. This might include shows in a geographic area that you do not service or shows that are organized by your competitors. The ones that remain should go through the next step in the process to review dates and timelines.

Meet with Show Management

A very important part of the trade show selection process is to schedule a meeting with show management and conduct an interview. To make a trade show earn its credibility, you must ask specific questions during this meeting. Because show attendance alone doesn’t make an event better than others, you should ask a series of questions that will help in determining the show’s real metrics. The first question should be whether or not the show has been independently audited. Shows that are audited are the most transparent events in the industry. Trusting numbers provided by shows that are not audited is a risk.  Other questions include a number of exhibitors, total show attendance, cost per square foot, attendee profiles, how many qualified buyers were physically present and if there are any conflicts with exhibit hall dates, times and educational sessions. Show management should also be prepared to provide a copy of the last exhibit program and directory and tell you how much pre-show marketing they are going to do. Inside the directory will be information about who the 10 largest exhibitors were and what products and services they provide; whether your competitors are exhibiting and at what level; and what size exhibit would likely be needed to create an impact. Inquire about the availability of booth space and where it is located in the exhibit hall. If space is not currently available at an event you can ask if they have a waiting list based on seniority, sponsorships or booth size. Last but not least, if the only spaces available are in bad locations, that may be an important factor to weigh in your analysis.

Attend Before You Exhibit

Once you’ve identified a list of potential trade shows and have conducted all of your research attend the show in person before exhibiting. You want to conduct a site visit, walk the show, talk to exhibitors, evaluate booth traffic and engagement levels. Some things look much better in the show’s marketing materials but the only way to really know is to see it firsthand. Walk the show floor. Attend the educational sessions. Observe the time attendees are spending at a large booth compared to a smaller space.  Evaluate how your competitors are positioned and performing. What does their exhibit look like? Do they have hanging signs and effective lighting for maximum exposure and impact? What new products are they promoting? Is there press coverage on the show floor? Lastly, find out if any of your customers or top prospects planning to attend and walk the show with them.

You have completed the trade show selection process and now have the tools to make informed decisions about how to spend your budget. You have aligned with the company’s strategic direction, analyzed the industry, surveyed customers, created a comprehensive list of potential shows, met with show management and attended the shows prior to exhibiting.  Now it’s time to rank the shows and begin your planning. Like most investments, there is a degree of risk involved in exhibiting at any given show. However, that risk is significantly diminished by implementing a disciplined show selection process.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published