Plan for the Return of Large Trade Shows: Stretching Your Exhibit Budget

Budgeting, How-To Tips

Trade shows are rebounding, but how’s your budget looking?

As events see the light at the end of a pandemic tunnel, start to expect a flurry of in-person activity this fall.

Like many companies, you may find yourself having to plan for the return of large trade shows on a much smaller budget. Not to mention as show organizers rush to rebook, some of the events you have traditionally attended might overlap.

Don’t panic. Stop and take a deep breath. You can – no, you will – make this work!

The power of partnership: working with your exhibit provider


Never has there been a better time to embrace your exhibit provider as a true partner. Leave behind the vendor/client mentality and see them for what they are – an asset to your team. As you begin to rebuild your exhibit strategy, give them a seat at the table. Be open, honest, and fully transparent about your challenges and budget situation.

The return of large trade shows are coming
The return of large trade shows are coming

We’re going to tell you a not-so-quiet secret. Your partner has done this before – a lot.

Your success = their success. Giving them the tools to get you back on your feet is in everyone’s best interest. 

The show will go on: deciding if an event is still right for you


Coming out of the pandemic, attendees will have to make some tough choices on which events they choose to attend; your organization might have to do the same. 

We’ve previously discussed analyzing past events to decide if they’re worth attending again. Likely this means conversations with show management to revisit who is coming. Look at the following:

  • Number of international attendees – will they able to travel and enter the United States by show opening?
  • Travel moratoriums – are companies approving business travel, and will they allow employees to attend?
  • What was your profit on past in-person events?
  • What was your cost per lead and your ROI on past in-person events?

Consider sitting out a year if needed. While we all want to see events rebound, you must make sure your tighter budget is spent in the right places to benefit your business.

Pencil me in: determining show priority and exhibit design


Equally as important as whether you’re participating in a show is how you participate. Remember, it’s all about maximizing your budget, so you must prioritize your presence to allocate the funds correctly.

Using your participation analysis, work with your partner to gauge event schedules. Map out move-in and move-out dates, plus key deadlines (shipping, graphics, etc.) Seeing events timelines in tandem will help decide how to customize your exhibit; choose where to use the booth assets you own or where rental properties might be the best call.

Next, pull out your notes from the conversation with show management on attendee demographics. That information is golden when you decide how to scale your exhibit. Smaller budgets are going to require changes to your old exhibit ways.

Here’s a couple of examples of what we’re getting at:

  • Let’s say you find yourself attending two shows in the same week. One is demo-heavy, and the other isn’t. It wouldn’t make sense to build demo stations for both. You’d want to send your demo stations to the demo-heavy show and then ask your exhibit partner to draw up plans for an additional, less costly booth for the second show.
  • Discuss whether all components of your old exhibit make sense. Your products or business model might have changed, requiring less display space. What about hanging signs? You’ve always used them, but are they worth it? Is it driving traffic? Does it get lost in a sea of signs?

Regardless of how long you’ve been exhibiting, these are going to be challenging changes to make. Take your time and make sure they’re the right ones for you.

Pack your bags: planning for onsite services


Remember how we started this blog by stressing the power of partnership? When it comes time to cross the t’s and dot the i’s before going onsite, this is where you’ll want to lean on your exhibit partner’s expertise. Let them do what they do best!

Strict management of onsite show services is a great way to control spending. Start with scrubbing the exhibitor service kit for savings, but don’t try to do this alone! Have your exhibit partner do this; they’ve read thousands of service kits and will know what to look for.

Thinking outside the box, especially when it comes to freight and I&D services, will be critical. If you’ve been completely upfront with your exhibit partner, they will be able to fit the pieces together perfectly – like a game of Tetris.

Things a partner may look at:

  • Labor – planning installation and dismantle to understand if one hour of OT could save 3 hours of ST. Think of it this way; they’ll know whether they can rob Peter to pay Paul.
  • Freight – making sure exhibit properties are built and packaged to receive the best shipping rates and make it to the advanced warehouse. Combine as much collateral and non-exhibit supplies onto pallets to avoid special handling charges. If needed, send materials to your exhibit partner to include in one larger shipment.
  • Rental – are there things that make sense to rent because they’re too costly to ship? (i.e., flooring)

The future awaits: creating more with less


Making a statement when you return to the trade show floor will require some creativity. We are happy to say that it’s 100% possible.

There is no better time than the present to unlock your creative energy while finding ways to do more while working with less.

There is no doubt that budgets will ultimately rebound. Until they do, lean on an experienced exhibit partner who offers outside-the-box solutions that deliver impact. If you’re ready to begin planning, reach out to to learn how to get started with EDE today.

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