How to plan effectively for successful exhibitions

I am writing a series of articles for exhibitors at We Mean Business, an exhibition organised by the FSB that takes place in Croydon in November.  After each article is published, I’ll be adapting it so that it is meaningful for whatever exhibition you might be attending.  Here’s the first one.


So you’ve booked your stand and think you have plenty of time to make arrangements for it?  Think again!  It may be only four months away – or perhaps it’s nine months away – either way, you have lots to do!

Get cracking today and follow this 8-point checklist that covers what you need to be thinking about and starting to arrange right now, in order to maximise your presence at a show and ensure that it is a great success for your business.

    1. Set objectives
      Think about why you are going and set yourself some objectives for the event.  What do you want to achieve?  Is it sales on the day?  Or do you want to generate leads for future sales?  Perhaps you want to create some awareness about a new product or service – or just for your company in general?  Do you want to develop relationships with prospects?  Or meet with potential partners or third-parties?  Once you have detailed what you want to achieve from exhibiting, you can then start to plan how you will achieve those objectives.  And after the event, you’ll also be able to measure whether it was a success for you by checking if it met those objectives or not.  Do make sure you set SMART objectives.
    1. Decide on messaging
      Relating this back to your objectives, decide what you want to be saying to you customers and prospects at the show.  Avoid the “Our XY widget is the fastest in the industry and is accredited to ISO 45786” type of messages.  Instead, promote the advantages and benefits your customers will see if they use your service or product.  Like this: “The XY widget will speed up your Z process, meaning you spend less time on admin and more time selling to clients”.
    1. Devote resources
      You need to plan what resources you will devote to the show.  Consider all areas: time, people and money.  Invest time now in planning and preparing properly and you will reap the benefits later.  Create a plan that covers who will do what, and when, and how much it will all cost.  How much money will you budget for the stand, literature and promotional items?  Who will man the stand and will you have sufficient resource “back at base” so that the business can carry on as usual?
    1. Plan your stand and graphics
      Again referring back to your objectives and messaging, start thinking about what sort of stand you will require.  Will you have a full scheme, a pop-up stand or just a table and chairs?  Do you need a literature holder or will you just place some business cards on a table?  What graphics and wording will you use?  Will you need to order some badges for you and your stand staff?  Above all else, consider what it is that will be compelling enough about your stand to make your prospects want to stop, pick up some literature and talk to a member of your staff.
    1. Arrange literature
      There are a number of items of literature that you may like to consider.  If you have the budget, have some invitations designed and printed.  Do make sure that the message and design matches your exhibition stand and overall branding for the show.  Or for a lower cost invitation, why not ask a designer to create you an e-invite that you can email to your customer base and prospects.  Check too if you have enough brochures, postcards and fliers – or whatever it is that will give the visitors to your stand some more information about you.  And make sure you have enough business cards too.  Perhaps you could print some case studies and testimonials.  Or you could produce a whole pack of literature for the best prospects.  Don’t forget the “call to action”; what it is that you want them to do.  Do you want them to visit your website?  Download your latest white paper?  Sign up to your newsletter?  Or perhaps order your product or service today to benefit from your latest special offer?
    1. Decide on freebies or promotional items
      Again, budget-permitting, you may like to give away some freebies on your stand: sweets, pens, caps, mugs – or something more extravagant.  The lead time for many things like this can often be as long as ten weeks or more, so you need to decide what you will offer and order them soon.
    1. Decide on a special offer
      What special offer or compelling hook will you give to make people want to come and see you?  I would urge you to think beyond just giving away a discount as this could devalue you and your business.  Instead, why not give away one of your services or products as a competition prize in a free draw?  That way, you will know that everyone who enters the competition is really interested in your product or service because they are keen to win it.  They may not be interested in paying for it – or they may not have the budget for it at the moment – but by entering, they are showing they want it.  That means you’re already half way there with them because they’re a part-qualified prospect.
    1. Create a promotional plan
      Start to plan how you will promote your attendance at the show so that it will encourage potential customers to come along and see you there.  Apart from emailing or posting invitations to your known contacts, what else will you do?  If you have a company blog, then plan to write a few articles about the show in the run up to it so that your readers know you will be there.  Use Twitter and your Facebook business page to promote your attendance.  If the show is using social media, “like” its Facebook page, join its LinkedIn group and follow its Twitter account, and then start to engage with other exhibitors and visitors.  Add the show logo and the news that you’ll be there to the front page of your website.  Check if there are any marketing activities being arranged by the organisers and see how you can tap into those.

These are the other articles in the series:

Article 2 – Promoting your exhibition stand so that it attracts a high number of quality visitors



  1. Simon Cripps says:

    Excellent, many thanks for that Claire. All really good common sense advice, which would have been forgotten. I will endeavour to start planning now !

  2. Thanks, Claire, all good advice. I wrote a guest blog post about making your exhibition stand outstanding, that adds some ideas about creativity. I hope your readers find it useful:

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