With over 31,000 registered trade shows globally every year where on earth do you start in choosing which one is going to give you the best return on your investment? And that’s not even counting smaller regional or un-registered events which run into several more thousand. It’s a question we’ve been asked over a dozen times just this week by delegates and clients who are starting out on their exhibition journey. So what did we advise them?


Not the advice you’d expect from an company that’s hugely passionate about all things trade show and makes its money from supporting businesses that attend them? But we’re nothing if not pragmatic and we absolutely appreciate that trade shows aren’t right for every business and certainly don’t ever work as a stand-alone marketing tactic. Trade shows work hardest when part of an aligned campaign delivering consistent, value-adding touch points to a target audience across a range of different mediums.

So Stage 1 is writing a marketing strategy that blends a number of different marketing tactics that will give you the most effective chance of achieving your business goals. For example, social media gives a fantastic platform to talk about what you’re doing at a trade show to a wider audience, whilst a trade show will give you interesting and dynamic content to talk about on social media – but you do need an audience to talk with across both platforms otherwise it’s a pointless exercise – like whispering in a really noisy room!


Again, not necessarily the advice you’d expect from a trade show consultancy but even if you’ve decided that trade shows could help you achieve your objectives don’t be too hasty in rushing out and booking space at the most obvious trade show for your industry. There’s some more work you need to do yet before you even start to think about which show you might attend.


I know I bang on about this ALL the time in Podcasts, workshops and blogs but it is SO fundamental in delivering and measuring an effective trade show. Before you even think about stand size, booth design or staff training think about what you want to achieve AND what you might be able to get back from a show.

For example, if you sell a product that is worth £99 per sale per customer, how many prospects would you to need to meet and convert to get a reasonable turnover? If your product retails at £99,000 per sale the numbers will be VERY different. Thinking about the numbers up-front helps you understand what sort of scale of trade show you need to attend – remember on average only 16-20% of all visitors to a show will be in a position to buy from you!

SMART Objectives also act as a great anchor for every other decision you’re going to make from here on in. Everyone in your business will have an opinion on every aspect of the trade show execution from how many people you have on your stand to whether you give away pens or ear buds. Having clear, focused and agreed objectives enables every decision to be made through that lens. Whenever an (annoying) colleague asks ‘Why are we doing that?’ you can easily respond as to how it specifically helps you achieve the signed-off objectives.

For more help and advice on Setting SMART objectives check out this blog.


Again something you’ll hear me say repeatably, is that trade shows suck up time, money and effort and lots of all 3. Before you even start thinking about packing your bags for the Las Vegas Concrete Expo, or the Sydney Sustainability Symposium, think about whether you business is financially and human resource ready for a BIG commitment.

Thinking about the financial cost to start, we have seen so many businesses sign-off £5-6,000 for a trade show budget and then spend it all on booking space on the show floor. With nothing left in the bank, they turn up with 2 pop-up banners and some business cards, having done no pre-show marketing, only able to afford to release one person for the stand, who’s tired and grumpy because the only affordable accommodation was a cheap B&B next to the strips loudest nightclub. A complete and utter waste of £6,000 and more ammunition for the doubters to cosign trade shows to the dustbin of marketing for eternity.

A usefeul equation for planning your trade show is to work on three times your space costs to deliver an effective event. So for example:

Scenario A: if your business signs off £20,000 to invest in a trade show, think about booking a space that costs about £6,500 leaving a healthy budget to execute pre-show marketing, staff training and good stand design. If anyone argues ”…but we need a bigger space” remind them that everything gets more expensive the bigger you go – more lights, more power, more staff, more graphics panels etc. – you might think you’re buying fresh air but it costs money to fill it!

Scenario B: if you’re working the other way round and pulling a proposal together to share with your finance team you can work backwards. Average costs in the UK are around £500 per sq m – although what you get included (e.g. power, furniture etc) will vary with each show. So a 3 x 3m standard shell would be around £4,500 so you would be looking of a budget of around £13,500 to execute an event really well. (And remember the difference between booking shell or space!)

From our experience, if you’re thinking of booking anything smaller than a 3x3m space it might be worth holding off on investing in trade shows until your business is ready with the investment to make it work hardest for you.

And it’s not just the amount of cash you’ll need to deliver a trade show well, the people hours rack up especially as you get closer to the show. So many organisations think trade show prep is just ordering some wall graphics and organising hotel rooms. To do it well the project manager will be spending about a day a week on planning and execution, from 18 months before the show to being an almost full time job in the last couple of weeks – especially if it’s an international show. And it’s not just the project manager’s time, the squad need training, the senior management team need briefing, the social media team need aligning – trade shows are most definitely not a one man job!

So in writing a blog about choosing whichs how is going to be best for your business to attend, we’ve not yet even got into talking about how you drill down to the specifics but these pre-planning stages are crucial in ensuring that whichever show you choose , you have the best shot at delivering the highest return.

If you’re reading this and thinking trade shows just aren’t worth the effort, think about the statics for a second:

85% of prospects are more likely to buy having experienced a brand at an event

51% of visitors to trade shows buy from an exhibitor within a year of the show

So if you’re attending a trade show that has:

5,000 visitors and your average product sale is £5,000

Around 900 visitors are likely to be in a position to buy from you – on average, 450 could do so within 12 months

So that’s £2.25m in new revenue in a year – think that’s worth making the effort for?

If you want some help in getting the best possible returns from the events you attend why not get in touch today via

Check-in next week for Part II where we’ll look at how you choose which show would be best for your business from the 31,000 shows happening globally!

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s