Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Trade Show Management – Concept to Completion

Trade Show Management is an art. To produce a successful show takes strong vision, calculated
planning, organized execution, and countless hours. A Show Manager requires an extremely diverse skill set or a competent and skilled team, as they are working with various stakeholders, components
and a myriad of details.

There are four stages to the process: Planning, Coordinating, Execution and Evaluation.

The Planning phase consists of reviewing the current operations, setting goals and objectives, identifying stakeholders, choosing your team and creating a budget. Understanding who the stakeholders are, how important each group is and how valuable good relationships with all of them are is the key to a smooth running show. Whether it be your exhibitors, attendees, sponsors, suppliers, venue contacts, media, staff and volunteers, each group brings a unique perspective with different needs; many with expertise in their area you can draw from. Utilize their knowledge.

Planning your team is equally important – given the variety of areas implicated in a trade show including administration and finance, sales, communications and marketing, registration and event management you will undoubtedly encounter a wide range of skills and personalities and it is important to utilize their strengths and involve them in all the planning in order for them to buy in to your ideas.

Other components of the planning stage consist of:

  • Budget - including venue, all site expenses, speakers, marketing etc.
  • Regulations – labour, safety, disability, fire code, licensing, insurance, green practices, etc.
  • Logistics – this is one of the largest areas in the planning phase. It encompasses requests for proposals, site selections and floor plans, contracts, venue and service providers, scheduling, features and entertainment, AV, catering and more.

It is important to note that having a well designed, logical floor plan can make or break your show. If it is not well thought out, if exhibitors are not happy with their space/locations, if attendees can’t find features, if there are dead aisles, or if you haven’t followed safety, fire, or electrical regulations, you could be setting yourself up for disaster. I reiterate the value of all stakeholders – it’s important to keep them happy and coming back. A word of advice – keep the inspectors happy – it makes your life a lot easier.

Sales and marketing are another big part of the planning process. The first step should be to complete a Situation Analysis or a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) and from those responses look at market segmentation, ways to prospect and lead generation. Your marketing plan needs to be integrated, utilizing advertising, public relations, website, social and digital media. A marketing timeline should be created a year in advance and the different medians used depending on what stage of the plan you are in.

Creating a complete exhibitor prospectus which has all the pertinent information regarding the details of your show and the value of exhibiting is a must. Ensure everything the exhibitor needs to know is included: attendee demographics, logistics, floor plans and costs, conditions of contract, accommodations and travel tips, sponsorship opportunities and tips for exhibiting. The exhibitor guide should be equally as detailed with relevant information on setup, tear down, contractors, shipping, electrical, AV, security, material handling, storage, etc. The easier you make things for the exhibitors, the happier they are and more likely to return the next year.

The world of sponsorship has changed immensely. It is growing hugely and allows for much creativity. It is no longer signage and exposure; sponsors desire to be interactive and engaging. Constantly look for new opportunities to enhance your revenue. Research other shows and borrow their ideas.

The Planning, Coordination and Execution stages go hand in hand. As you are planning some stages you are also coordinating and executing others. The coordination phase consists of assigning tasks, timelines and personnel. How are things going to come together? It requires arranging tasks with all stakeholders, and takes the plan and prepares it for execution.

Executing is the coordination and managing of all logistics and the show as a whole. It is monitoring and controlling the sales process, ongoing tasks and the team while also identifying constraints and issues. The use of a project management plan and timelines is imperative to keep tasks on track and ensure completion of them.

The final stage which takes the least amount of time but is one of the most important is the

Once you have completed the tasks, settled all contracts, completed all reports, collected exhibitor and attendee surveys, it is necessary to evaluate with all stakeholders, to get their feedback and recommendations and analyze all the information. This will assist you in making improvements for future success. It is important to note, one successful event does not make you an expert. Many different situations and new challenges can impact your event, often unpredicted, so being prepared and proactive, as well as understanding your market and its conditions, is extremely important.

The trade show business is a lot of hard work, but exciting and rewarding and most importantly unique - as nothing is as powerful as face-to-face marketing!

Nancy Milani, CEM, CMP, has produced and coordinated over 200 events in the past 20 years from a variety of charity fundraisers, to professional sporting events, corporate events, conferences, trade and consumer shows. Nancy facilitates Certified in Exhibition Management (CEM) courses throughout Canada, US and Asia for the Canadian Association of Exhibition Management (CAEM) and International Association Events & Exhibitions (IAEE) and presents workshops and sessions in event management, sales and marketing for corporations and at conferences. 

Image courtesy of emptyglass at

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