We can feel it. This is your year to plan out your trade shows proactively and efficiently. But in order to do this, you’ve got to understand your trade show planning timeline because you’ve got more moving parts than a tandem unicycle. What follows is your guide to getting organized and standing out at your upcoming trade shows, without becoming completely, utterly stressed out. 



1 year before the show – Start planning


Yes, one whole year! Many trade show specialists start planning early, but not early enough.  Preparation is the name of the game when it comes to maximizing your presence at trade shows. Start with your goals one year in advance. Decide on what KPIs you’re going to use to measure success, along with your expected budget. All of these important factors are going to fuel the planning you’ll do over the next year, so it’s crucial you lock ‘em down right out of the gate. 


9 months out – Secure your spot and make a plan


Now you’re nine months out. You have the same amount of time left to plan as it takes for a baby to develop and be ready for birth! Might sound like a lot of time, but while babies inherently know how to grow… the average company doesn’t inherently know how to get ready for an event. 

This is the time to button up your plans. Make sure you’ve reserved your spot as an exhibitor, and that you’ve read through any exhibitor materials that are available from the show. You should understand your strategy and goals already, so your job now is to translate into an actionable plan. 


6 months out – Design your booth and marketing materials 


This is when design finalizing should happen. Get with your trade show design partner and/or your marketing team and hash out the right messaging for the show, along with the graphics and designs that will best correspond to that. Determine what collateral you need to bring, and whether you can refresh existing material or need to create it from scratch. 

Don’t forget about important elements like your calls-to-action (since those should be specific, and in your collateral) and any landing pages needed. These might seem like simple things to nail down, but the truth is that these deadlines sneak up on you worse than your first gray hair. 


3 months out – All about bookings and materials


Ooh, you’re three months out and things are getting real. You don’t feel the squeeze, though, because you’ve been following this checklist religiously. Your marketing materials should already be good to go, but if any of them need to be finalized or printed, git ‘er done. 

At this point, you also have permission (a mandate!) to dive into the nitty gritty. Book your travel, coordinate your meetings, plan for your meals and reserve your conference rooms. This is key in your trade show planning timeline. 


1 month out – The final countdown


Four. Weeks. Left. Now, it’s time to turn your attention to your team and a few logistical elements. 

First, train your staff. They need to understand your goals for the show, and your messaging. They also should be looped into what your giveaways are, and any other details they should be aware of while manning the booth. 

Second, plan out your follow-up. So much time and money is wasted on trade shows that don’t get the follow-up they deserve. You can plant an incredible seed at a trade show, but if you don’t give it water or sunlight (post-show follow-up), it’ll never turn into a rewarding customer relationship. Make sure you have a plan for following up with people who stopped by your booth, as well as for those who didn’t. The more you can segment and personalize your follow-up, the better. 

Third, make sure your shipping is figured out. You should have your carriers selected, time frames solidified and costs finalized. Shipping is one thing that can screw everything else up if it goes awry. 

Fourth, make sure your show services orders are placed. Early bird pricing usually ends about a month prior to the show, so you’ll want to be sure you (or your trade show partner) have placed orders for things like setup and dismantle labor, electrical, internet, hanging sign rigging, etc.


1 week out – Finalize it all!


In your last week before leaving for the show, double and triple check everything. We can’t emphasize this enough. If someone else on your team was responsible for getting the collateral there, make sure it got shipped. If a third-party agency said they’d book your travel for you, verify that everything is all set. These details are too important to leave unchecked. 


Post-show – Follow-up and measure


Whew. You made it through your year of planning, and the trade show itself. Now what? Immediately after the show ends, launch your pre-planned follow-up tactics. Then, measure the response you got from the show. Did you get more sales? Book more lunch and learns? Upsell more current customers? Make sure you have a clear grasp on the ROI you achieved on this show so you know whether it’s worth a similar, decreased or increased investment in the future. 


There you have it. Follow this event planning checklist, and you’ll be golden for your next trade show. Contact us if you have any questions or would like a partner in making your next show your most valuable.