Getting ready for a trade show can be overwhelming, even for those of us who are regular exhibitors. Early in my career, I was at a show every fifth week, which made life quite busy for a year or two. To make it simple for all of us, here's a quick and easy calendar of activities you need to keep in mind.
One year in advance
Most importantly, make sure the budget will be there. If you don't know if you'll actually attend, at least make sure you register for the call for papers or apply to speak. That way, you'll be able to make your mark without having to pay thousands for a booth.
If you are attending, sign your contracts and secure your booth space before all the good spots are taken. The back corner isn't necessarily a bad place if its near the bathrooms and the food since it’s all about foot traffic.
Based on the size of the show, you should book your hotel space now. Check into the cancellation policy. If it's flexible, you may want to book more than you think you'll need just in case your team or business has grown by the time the show rolls around.
Six months in advance
Try to time the release of a new product/version to coincide with a major show. If so, you'll have more to publicize.
As you already know the size of your booth, you need to start thinking about design and construction. If all you need is a tabletop or folding display you can put it off for another few months. However, if you will be having a large booth with furniture, you need to make that appointment with the designer ASAP. She needs to create the concepts with enough time for the fabricator to put the booth together. Then, your logistics person must plan on how to get it to the show and set up.
Choose your team – if not the actual people, at least get an idea of the numbers. If you already know who is going, check with your travel agent about flights, as the earlier you book, the cheaper the rates.
If you are traveling to a country requiring visas, start the process now. You never know how long government paperwork will actually take.
Decide on your giveaways, as you may need to have items custom designed or printed. Confirm with the manufacturer that they can be drop shipped to the show directly.
Three months in advance
Iron out the show messaging so you can get started writing all the related materials.
Bring your PR team on board. They need to be reaching out to media and analysts well in advance for both show preview content and meetings on site.
If possible, finalize all the personnel and their travel details so you aren't hit with major price hikes due to the popularity of the show.
Don't forget about the "show book." It's the volume of forms and deadlines that the show organizer has given you to make sure you have the things you need for your booth, team, and publicity like carpet, electricity, badges, press conference room reservations, etc.
Confirm the giveaway production schedule to make sure everything will arrive on time.
Finalize all the materials that you'll need. If you are making a movie, the script needs to be done yesterday.
If you are using a pop-up booth, make sure the design is in progress. If your booth is being manufactured, make sure it is on schedule to ship.
Ask all personnel who will be attending to check their passports to make sure they haven't expired.
One month in advance
Make sure you have filled out every trade show exhibitor form possible. Ensure every “t” is crossed and every “i” is dotted. You don't want to get there and discover that you have no electricity, let alone no monitors.
Confirm with the product team that the product you've been pushing is really going to be ready on time. If it is, finalize all the marketing materials. If it isn't, jazz up the existing products in a new way.
Make sure that anything that needs to be printed or produced is in progress.
Close the team. Make sure every person who is going has a hotel room, flight reservations, an international SIM card, and an international credit card.
Confirm that all necessary visas have been received or are in progress.
Ensure that the pop-up booth has been designed and printed and is ready to go. If your booth is being manufactured, make sure it is ready to be sent to the venue. Don't forget to send it!
Two weeks before the show
Train your booth team. Ensure that you have a written FAQ or script that everyone can review. Make sure everyone can demonstrate the products and can answer questions. Use role play wherever possible.
Make sure that everything that needs to be shipped to the show is already on its way.
Ensure the tablets are loaded with any forms that you want the booth visitors to fill out. Link these to your marketing and sales automation software so everything can be quickly uploaded when you get back to the show.
One week before the show
Ensure everyone who needs a foreign SIM has it. Make sure that all employees have at least a few hundred in the local currency, if necessary.
Confirm with the show that everything is set for your booth.
Make sure you haven't forgotten a critical detail.
Ask yourself the critical question: "Where is Murphy?" Something will go wrong. If you've prepared, it shouldn't be something major.
One day before the show
Make sure you're packed and ready to fly the next day!
Have a successful show!