Growing up, a favorite phrase of my mother’s was:
“Watch your pennies and the dollars take care of themselves.”
In the world of trade show exhibiting, that adage holds up. The best way to “watch your pennies” is to have your arms firmly around your trade show budget. With all the details and associated costs that go into executing a successful exhibiting experience this can be easier said than done. We can help get you prepared by giving you a road map of things to consider when conducting your trade show planning. Let’s take the journey together, looking at typical exhibiting expenses and the decisions that affect your spend.
A Bird’s Eye View of Trade Show Expenses
Before you start putting numbers to your expenditures, it may be helpful to see a general breakdown of typical trade show expenses. Keep in mind that these percentages are just a guide and can shift dramatically based on your actual needs and selections surrounding your trade show strategy.
EXHIBITOR Magazine’s 2019 Outlook Survey yielded some results that helped shed light on how your trade show dollar gets divvied up. The Center for Exhibition Industry Research’s 2017 study results show similar percentages in their analysis of trade show expenses:
A Closer Look
Let’s take a deep dive into these expenses. First up, the area where you can see the most fluctuation in the spend…exhibit-related and technology integration costs.
Exhibit Space – 32%
Exhibit space accounts for the largest slice of the pie and will always be a substantial line item in your trade show budget. Booth space can range from 25 – 38% of your total trade show budget. This figure is often used to ballpark overall spending by multiplying this dollar amount by three. Use that as a guideline, not a hard and fast rule.
Given the cost of exhibit space, it’s important to carefully consider the shows you feel are most critical to reach and connect with your target audience and achieve your sales and marketing goals.
“I like to advise our clients to begin by clearly defining their goals for the year and evaluate each show to see how well it aligns with what they want to achieve. It’s better to attend fewer shows that reach the right people and delivers on the best return on your investment,” said Exhibit Systems Executive Vice President, Dave Jentz.
Exhibit Design & Construction / Graphics – 14%
There’s a lot that goes into creating the right trade show exhibit for your organization. Before even beginning the design process, it is important to consider your overall goals, think about your audience and their needs, and consider the best ways to connect and engage with them in meaningful ways.
This portion of your trade show budget is highly variable and is based on whether you build something custom or customize using modular structures, the level of technology you desire, exhibit footprint, and more. Think of it like buying a car. Are you looking for an economy, mid-range, or luxury vehicle? What bells and whistles do you want your car to have? Plus, are you looking for greater in-booth engagement?
If you incorporate technology, the price can jump up quickly. These additional considerations can significantly impact and change your budgeting price range. That’s why it’s critical to be crystal clear on your target customers and how you can best engage them to drive awareness, preference, and/or purchase consideration.
When evaluating your budget for this expense, be sure to amortize the cost across a number of shows you plan to attend. This will give you a more realistic picture of the per-show cost of the exhibit you create.
Let’s look closer at some things to consider and ideas to control costs as you approach this wedge of the trade show budget pie.
Size & Configuration. The cost of a trade show booth increases along with the size of its footprint and configuration. The larger the space, the more opportunity you have to go big; there are fewer height restrictions and you have the ability to add hanging ceiling components. I feel a bit like Captain Obvious saying this but… smaller booths will have a smaller price tag and an inline booth will not be as expensive as an island booth. If you exhibit at multiple shows that have varying exhibit spaces, you may need flexibility and a booth that is built for scalability so you can expand and shrink your exhibit with greater ease.
Clearly understanding the exhibit space(s) you are working with and venue restrictions will help avoid missteps in the design process. Do you have a backwall to contend with? Do you have obstructions like poles and structures from the venue you need to contend with? What are your height restrictions? Pay close attention to traffic flow by identifying main aisles and entrances.
Materials. Where to start?? Your selection of materials has impact beyond just the look of your booth. It is tempting to only consider the aesthetic without fully understanding the cost implications of the decisions you make on materials. For example, size and shape are important! Often materials come in standard shapes and colors so sticking to those can save you money. If you’re looking for unique finishes, consider the price comparisons on more standard options before making final selections, it can help your bottom line.
It’s an often-overlooked aspect of choosing exhibit materials, but what you select can add cost to your drayage (material handling) expenses. The heavier your exhibit is to ship and move, the more expensive it will be to ship and receive your crates at the show. Work with your exhibit house to discuss options for selecting lighter materials for the exhibit and its shipping crates.
“One way to keep drayage costs down is to use fabric graphics and modular display options rather than heavier wood structures,” suggests Pete Linn, Exhibit Systems Sales Representative.
Technology. Today, technology plays a multi-purpose and indispensable role in exhibiting at trade shows. With regards to your exhibit, technology can be used to grab attention, showcase a product, service or explain a process, entertain and engage your audience, and create a multi-sensory, experience. Before incorporating technology, develop a quick plan. What is the goal of using technology? How do you want your audience to use or engage with the technology? How does it support or enhance your team’s in-person engagement efforts in the booth? Is it to create a wow factor to enhance brand perception? Are you using technology to demonstrate a product or service? Is it to introduce a new product launch? The possibilities are extensive.
Understandably, the technology choices you make play a big role in your design and costs. Aside from renting or purchasing the tech (charging stations, monitors, augmented and virtual reality, touch panels, etc.), you need to account for additional costs such as rigging, electrical, special handling, on-site technical support, and content creation. On the flip side, using technology can provide a way to save money if it replaces the expense associated with displaying your products, especially if your product is oversized, heavy, and difficult to ship.
While an investment, the payoff can be worth it. Experiential marketing is the name of the game and technology can support that effort seamlessly. Thanks to creative use of AR technology, Coca-Cola made booth visitors part of the action at the FIFA World Cup in Zurich and gave them a lasting memory from visiting the exhibit.
Here are a few more fun examples of using technology to create experiential marketing in booth for trade show visitors.
Graphics. Having the right, high-impact, eye-catching graphics in your trade show booth is vital to standing out on the trade show floor. When it comes to content on graphics, remember, less is more. Make it visually interesting, let your in-booth team and supporting marketing tell the rest of the story.
One way to manage your graphic costs is to ensure that all the right stakeholders have signed off on the design prior to beginning production. This helps minimize any re-design costs or worse, re-printing costs.
EXHIBITOR Magazine has an excellent article on four factors that can impact your graphic design costs.
Promotion / Marketing – 7% + Staffing – 14%
Pre- and Post-show Marketing / Asset Creation. Generating interest before, during, and after a show takes time and effort…both of which come with costs. Be sure to consider out-of-pocket marketing costs for development and printing of literature, show handouts or prizes, video needs and beyond. Are you featuring a new product or service, what launch pieces will you need to get your message out before, during and after the show to customers and prospects? To save money, think about how you can leverage social media and other digital technology to reach people where they spend the most time and get the most bang for your marketing buck.
In-booth activities and demonstrations are a variable cost, increasing or decreasing based on the timing and type you plan to provide. A simple prize drawing will be less expensive than renting a photo booth. Other elements of entertaining booth visitors should be factored into your estimate as well. Are you providing food and beverages? Will you host any special events for VIPs, such as a cocktail hour or reception?
Staff Expenses. Your costs for staff training and travel will vary depending on the number and experience level of the team members in your booth. At a minimum, you should invest time with your team to establish ground rules for booth etiquette, share show goals you’ve set, and reinforce key messages to be shared for each show. If you plan to facilitate more in-depth training, be sure to factor each person’s time commitment for training in addition to any materials you plan to prepare and provide. Calculate lodging, meals, entertaining of key customers, and transportation costs (including air or ground transportation to and from the show site). Don’t forget to include any expenses for staff apparel (shirts, hats, etc.)
Show Services – 14%
Well, it’s time we talk about the most exciting aspect of planning for a trade show…logistics. After surveying our sales team, one unanimous piece of advice was to plan ahead and order all relevant show services before the deadline, it will save you money and headaches. You’d be surprised how often this becomes an issue. Here’s a table that will help guide you as you think through the show services aspect of your budgeting:
|Shipping & Handling|
|Drayage / Handling||
|Installation / Dismantle||
|Electrical / Internet||
|Flooring / Furniture||
Other – 7%
Yes, we must have a catch-all category for all those exhibit-related expenses that don’t fit neatly into any other category! This ranges from training from lead retrieval to storing and managing your trade show assets and every other miscellaneous cost associated with exhibiting.
Lead Capture / Retrieval Devices. Will you be renting scanners, lead retrieval devices, or paying for access to add a lead scanner app on your phone? Does the venue provide this service? How many people do you want scanning badges? Make sure you pay for enough retrieval scanners/licenses, so visitors aren’t waiting to be scanned. These are a few of the questions that you’ll need to answer before estimating this expense. Outside of the tool you’ll use to manage leads, there are a few other factors to consider. This article takes a closer look at six considerations you should weigh before selecting your lead retrieval solution.
Storage / Asset Management. This is a logistical piece that is often overlooked when estimating expenses for exhibiting at trade shows. Many organizations, especially those who don’t exhibit often will choose to store and manage their own items. Beware of the time and effort with this approach. Someone needs to bear the responsibility of checking over items after a show and ensuring they are cleaned (or repaired) prior to storage. Having the square footage necessary to house a trade show display can also be a challenge, as is keeping track of where each element has been stored.
Exhibit Systems offers a turnkey program that has proven to save clients time and hassle. Our team cleans and/or refurbishes items, tags them for easy identification, and stores them in a clean, climate-controlled facility. Our online asset management program allows for easy tracking of not only stored items, but of trade show schedules, logistics, and shipping. Available 24/7, so clients can easily manage their trade show assets at all times. You can learn more about this service here.
Are you still with me? Whew! There is a lot of information to consider as you map out your trade show budget. The only way to ensure that you are prepared and budgeting properly for trade shows is to have a clear view of the expenses that go into a successful exhibiting experience. Our trade show experts have seen it all and have insights and insider know-how to share while delivering a stand-out experience for your customers and prospects. If you want professional guidance as you tackle the myriad of details and their associated costs, get in touch today! The Exhibit Systems team is ready to help guide you through the process.