Lessons for the First-Time Exhibitor

October 30, 2014

Every year companies who have never exhibited are enticed by the prospect of great returns from attending a trade show. While many of these first time exhibitors achieve great results, many do not. They find that the post-show math often shows they did not achieve a positive return on their investment and the result is a reluctance to try again.  Exhibiting works. All the data produced by industry associations backs this statement up. But what the research fails to mention is that profit does not come automatically. It is the result of lots of hard work and planning.  If you are considering attending your first trade show here are a few pointers that will keep you on track.

1.     Do your homeworkchild_doing_homework.

Before you sign-up, make sure the show is the right vehicle to further your company’s marketing efforts. This means checking things out carefully. For example, don’t be swayed by large numbers of attendees. It’s more important that the show attract the right attendees. To understand the audience mix, talk to your show organizer, exhibitors from previous years and your customers. This will give you an understanding of the exhibitors and visitors this the show attracts.

2.     Visit the show first

It’s a good idea to visit the show you are considering exhibiting in before you make the commitment. This gives you a chance to gauge the audience as well as seeing how other exhibitors perform and the quality of their exhibits.

3.     Set realistic expectations

With some exceptions shows are not a place to write business. However they are a place to gather quality leads that can be followed up after the show.

4.     Allocate the proper resources

First timers are naturally hesitant before investing heavily in a trade show. What inevitably happens is that they go in the opposite direction and invest too little. This “Exhibiting on the cheap” approach doesn’t work. There is serious competition at a show not only from companies who offer similar solutions but also competition for attention amongst all exhibitors who are vying for the visitor’s attention. Cutting back on your investment with a “wait and see” attitude will produce a less than attractive display, the look of a less than serious company and the impression that you really don’t know what you are doing. Before you invest, talk to your show manager and show contractors. Also check the literature for industry research. This information can be used as a guide to allocate the right resources.

5.     Further your business network

The sheer beauty of a trade show is the number of people you can meet. First timers often make the mistake of limiting the potential of growing their business network to those they meet at their booth. The list can be greatly expanded beyond potential customers when you add meeting product experts, finding potential strategic partners and connecting with people in your trade association.

6.     Join a group

One way to minimize the risk is to be part of a group of other first-timers. Often governments form these formal groups when they participate in a foreign show and bring groups of companies under a country pavilion. Sometimes show managers will allocate smaller (and less expensive) space where groups of first-timers can get a feeling for the shows potential before they make a larger commitment. These incubator opportunities are not universal but if they are available for the show you are considering give it some serious thought.

7.     Don’t give up to soon.

So many ill advised attempts have been made resulting in a short-term loss of the original investment not only in terms of money but also time. This happens when an exhibitor tries a show and is unhappy with the results. The reason for this unhappiness is often a less than expected return on investment.

If you have done your homework well and have developed realistic goals, invested the right among of time and resources and done your job at the show well, knowing whether to stay or leave is based on a lot of imperial evidence rather than a gut feeling.


Exhibiting at a trade show is not for amateurs. It is a venue where serious and sophisticated marketers find spectacular results for their show investment. These seven simple steps will put you on the right path.

Guest Blogger: Barry Siskind, President and Founder of ITMC. Barry is a trade show consultanttrainer, speaker and internationally recognized expert in trade and consumer shows.



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