Lack of planning puts you at risk of making this terrible career-ending mistake

“Our biggest trade show of the year was coming up. And I realized that I was about to make a huge career mistake—being several weeks late on the design of our new trade show booth. I needed to develop a better plan to get our booth constructed by the deadline. If I hadn’t kept my boss in the loop, I might have been fired.”

Trade show deadlines are firm and often unforgiving. So, don’t be the event manager in this scenario—learn how to create a winning plan.

Solid planning meets deadlines, saves reputation

The process of building a new booth can be rewarding, or it can be a nightmare. Creating a successful new exhibit means making sure that planning is one of your most important pre-show activities.

You must plan in order to meet design, construction and trade show deadlines. Being as detailed as possible will keep you on schedule and help protect your company’s reputation in the marketplace.

Here are tips every event manager—especially newbies—should follow when taking on a new build assignment. Remember, the project is a substantial investment of time and money and one that you and your company will be living with for a long time.

Begin with a timeline

It’s a good idea to begin your plan as soon as you commit to space at a show exhibit. Depending upon the size of your exhibit, begin to plan at least three to six months before your estimated ship date. Start earlier if your exhibit is especially complex. First, establish a basic timeline for the project by working from when the exhibit has to be ready backwards to the present. Figure time for selecting an exhibit house, choosing a design, having your legal department okay any graphic content, building the booth and shipping it to the exhibit hall. Wise planners build in plenty of extra time to offset unexpected delays, which ensures you remain on schedule and meet delivery deadlines.

Set your budget

Investigate what your company has spent in the past and identify industry square-foot averages for design and construction. Once you know the cost for the exhibit space, a good rule of thumb is to figure all other costs at roughly three times that amount.

Build a trade show team

Involve internal (marketing and sales) management and other technical support in your team. External folks can include your exhibit house, marketing/advertising/public relations representatives and any other important subcontractors. Keep the team size manageable and consider using an FTP site to share information. This way, decisions can be made even as people travel. Don’t forget to include input from staff assigned to work the booth. These folks are in closest contact with your customers! Get feedback from the entire team on what they like/dislike about the previous booth and what they think would make for a more satisfying customer experience.

Select an exhibit house

Identify five or six exhibit houses that have the potential to meet your time and budget deadlines for design, construction and any service requirements. Develop a concise RFI to learn about companies’ design and fabrication capabilities; clients and trade show experience, particularly in your industry; pricing; availability to perform your work; and which personnel would be assigned to your project. Set a firm deadline for receipt of responses. Any firm that misses this first deadline should be eliminated immediately.

Next, issue an RFP to the few firms you’re seriously considering. Include information on your company and its brand strategies as well as details about your objectives for the new booth. Consider offering a budget range instead of a fixed amount in order to allow designers some flexibility in responding. Ask about rush charges and when they go into effect. Then, factor this information into your overall timeline.

Investigate each finalist company’s financial situation and make sure all are solid. And, check out references. It’s also a good idea to visit each of the companies’ operations and meet your potential teams face-to-face.

Design and construct on schedule

After selecting the exhibit house, confirm deadlines for concept, design, fabrication and delivery. Coordinate closely and regularly with your project manager at each stage of the process to ensure each deadline is met. In fact, regular follow-up and clear communication are as critical as planning in the delivery of a trade show booth that meets all deadlines for budget and delivery.

Putting your company’s best foot forward at a major trade event is critical for a host of reasons. Your messaging and booth display must clearly convey your brand and engage qualified visitors all while it should enhance your company’s reputation and stature in the marketplace.