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Last Updated: July 22, 2022

Kathleen Skelton, Director of Strategic Marketing The best laid plans of the FOC February Marketing Blog fell to a delay by irony. This month’s topic of trade shows is posting in March due to the logistics of our shows usurping much of the past month. One of the running jokes about my position as Director of Marketing at FOC is the dialog at the time of my hire. It went something like,

FOC: “Great, so you will manage our strategy, website development, content management, general marketing, news, press releases, promotion, lead generation, and social media.”

Me: “Perfect.” Handshake.

FOC: “Oh, and trade shows.”

Trade shows? Okay. I actually had a pretty extensive background, over twenty years, working at and consulting on marketing strategies that included trade shows. Personally having the experience of running a household and the logistics for a family of six, it seemed that it would be a simple transition to the logistics of trade shows. I do not remember exactly what I said because all of this was processing at that moment, but it must have been along the lines of “Yes” or “Absolutely” because I left that day with a new position and one that included trade shows.

Jump forward a few years … I find pride in how I handle my job, with competency, but trade show logistics feel like a constant challenge, void of any grace or evidence of professional growth.

I equate trade show planning to wedding planning but for a different bridezilla each time, with a new venue, contractors, state or country and it gets really fun when they overlap, which is often.

According to the marketing managers I stay in contact with, the average cost for a trade show is between $35,000 and $75,000 depending on travel costs and messaging needs (changes for different audiences). posted that according to EXHIBITOR Magazine, the average trade show budget breaks down as such:

  • Space = 33%
  • Trade Show Booths & Graphics (construction/refurbishment) = 18%
  • Travel & Expenses = 18%
  • Show Services (electricity, cleaning, drayage, I&D) = 12%
  • Shipping = 9%
  • Promotion = 8%
  • Miscellaneous = 2%

Regardless of whether trade shows make a marketing manager want to run crying or not, most B2B organizations have shifted their previous “advertising” budgets, including both print and banner ads, into their event budgets. When I worked on the media side, I was witness to that trend for many years. Even previous traditional lead-generation programs, like white papers and webinars, shifted dollars toward “live” events to allow an increase to attending up to ten trade shows and conferences annually.

With events making up more than 45% of many B2B marketing budgets and that trend in shifting allocations, there is a pretty big spotlight on trade show strategy and ROI … something I find elusive at times.

Tracking ROI is necessary but like everything else in life, the results are relative depending on objectives. ROI changes a quick assessment of a “huge success” to a calculation of leads vs. costs (booth space, setup, fees, travel, shipping, expenses). I like having ROI data, considering the actual CPL, cost per lead, can easily be thousands of dollars.

Even though an objective for a particular trade show might be simply to have industry presence, ROI is still necessary. Identifying that requires three basic factors for me.

  • Audit. Track where budget is being allocated vs. spent. Identifying expenses in last-minute shipping or missed discount deadline opportunities is important to the bigger picture and allows for CPL calculations that can potentially be adjusted/improved. This stage focuses on my performance as the trade show manager.
  • Metrics. Implement proper follow-up lead procedures for sales that include best practices for customer contact and pipeline tracking. This stage focuses on sales performance.
  • Evaluation. I consider this the bigger picture. Not all decisions can be made based on CPL alone but really evaluating the data against the strategy and objective is a critical step. Make a post-event meeting a priority and discuss the overall evaluation.

After this three-step process, the event (that will appear to have concluded) evaluation needs decisive plans before committing to the automatic “resign.” If there are red flags about the ROI of an event, this is the time to adjust. I have heard many times that companies will exhibit, despite their better judgement, for fear that an absence will show weakness or vulnerability. Skipping an event if you are not ready to give your best presence is a good business decision. Factors that can impact your branding include but are not limited to not having proper messaging, not having time to create the right presence, not having anything new to communicate or demonstrate, and not having the right staff available and/or trained. Bad branding takes a long time to overcome. If you are not going to nail it, do not put a poor and lasting impression out there. An alternative might be to participate without physically exhibiting. Attending rather than exhibiting to ensure meeting with key contacts and other participants is an option. This allows for a presence and way to collect industry and competitive information.

So what are the challenges that can make success so elusive for the planner and what are the solutions for them?

  • Click Here for more blog on trade show CHALLENGES 
  • Click Here for more blog on trade show SOLUTIONS

A quote that I use often is the infamous “Poor planning on your part does not necessitate an emergency on mine.” Ironically, if you are a trade show manager you own both the planning and the emergency so remember that many avoidable challenges at trade shows are a result of poor planning. There will always be things you cannot plan for or avoid but hopefully with some of the efforts listed in the Solutions section of this article, they will be fewer and farther between. Know the best practices, improve your processes and embrace this as an expertise, because it really is.


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