Timelines and budgets for international trade shows are such a key element of success that they warrant a post all of their own. Exhibiting at international trade fairs is an expensive venture with a lot of complicated moving parts, so you need to ensure that you can be as well prepared as possible for all eventualities.
As I mentioned in part 2 of this series, the earlier you can actually start with your preparations, the better. This not only gives you more time to do your research, as well as hone your strategy and goals, but also allows you to take advantage potentially of early bird deals for hotels or exhibition space.
Of course, these timelines may change a bit if you are a regular exhibitor at a specific international trade fair compared to when you are just starting out and thinking which fair would be best for you to visit.
Table of Contents
15+ months in advance
Set your Strategy
What role will exhibiting at international trade fairs play in your overall company strategy and your international expansion plans?
What goals do you want to achieve by attending these events?
Make sure that you get the necessary internal buy in (this is something that you’ll have to loop back to again also once you have set the budget but it’s good to get the approval from on high to the idea of participating at international trade fairs before you go ahead with all of the necessary preparation work. This phase could be timed differently depending on how your company works & whether you need to present a full business case right from the beginning in order to get the necessary buy-in.
Decide which international trade fair will be most suitable for your needs
Will it be an event that has global implications for your industry?
Or a fair with regional importance such as eg. SIAL Shanghai?
The focus could also be on supporting your local importer at a fair with an international character but in his home country.
Of course, often a fair will tick 2 of those boxes and be a combination of supporting your local team and attending a regionally or globally important event.
12-15 months before the event
Book a contingent of hotel rooms & restaurants
Of course, this is easier if you are a repeat visitor to a particular fair, but it can be worth doing even if you’re not sure about your exact requirements. Hotels and restaurants get completely booked up around the time of the most popular exhibitions and usually also raise their prices, so the earlier you can book (with a cancellation option) the better.
Decide on your objectives
Set specific SMARTER objectives in as much detail as possible. If you’re looking for a new importer in Vietnam then you might decide to target 5 meetings with potential partners, but your goals could also be defined in terms of publicity or even in terms of sales (especially for products sold directly to consumers if it’s a more local fair).
Set the Budget
Based on your defined objectives prepared a detailed budget forecast (you can always refine it later). It should include the information about how you intend to measure the achievement of your objectives. I tend to the opinion that a pure ROI calculation is seldom feasible when exhibiting at international trade fairs but you need to find a way to evaluate the success of the project afterwards.
Attend as a visitor
If it’s your first time thinking about having a booth at an international trade show and you’ve never attended that particular show before, it can be worth taking the time to visit a year in advance to check it really is the right show for you.
This allows you to see what kinds of stands your competitors are using (& what works best), look how the visitors flow through the various exhibition halls & generally get your bearings in the city where the fair takes place. You can check out hotels & restaurants too & see how practical they are in relation to one another, or the expo site (nobody needs a 2 hour commute when exhibiting at international trade fairs!)
Register & Reserve Your Stand Space
You could argue a case for this being done even earlier, but assuming you want to visit the show first before committing, you should plan this part in advance & then pull the trigger immediately on your booking after the fair visit is done.
Think about how much space you need based on your defined objectives (& your budget).
Do you need to have a stand at least as large as competitor X?
How much room do you need for demos, equipment, marketing materials, meeting areas, catering, banners, messaging, storage (think about coats and bags, not only giveaways!)?
Check all the details with the organisers, especially if you are looking for opportunities to sponsor an event or hold a side lecture etc.
Make sure you get ALL the info about specifications and deadlines – there should be an exhibitor manual with all of the contacts and deadlines for ordering such ancillary services as stand catering, cleaning, electricity. Especially German exhibition centres are (in)famous for having rigid deadlines & saying NEIN to any requests that come in after that.
9-12 months before
Develop your marketing plan
Plan your marketing mix carefully and decide which activities will be
- during the trade fair
- part of the follow up
I’d also add that you should consider what additional content (not directly linked to the expo participation) can be created during the event. This could include interviews, photos or videos of various kinds that you can use in your content marketing in the year ahead if they are recorded in adequate quality.
Define the Team
Decide who will actually participate in the international trade fair on the stand. Whoever will be travelling overseas needs enough time to get a passport, if they don’t already have one (remember that many people let their passports lapse during the pandemic). The UK & the US seem to currently be quoting a lead time of 10 weeks, although they often deliver faster, but you can’t depend on that.
Passports will need to have at least 6 months remaining validity (also since Brexit for UK passport holders visiting the EU) in order to be able to enter most countries. For UK passport holders you also need to check that you are within 10 years of the issue date for trips to the EU. In the past, if you renewed your passport before expiry for any reason, the UK would tack on up to 9 additional months at the end, however I’ve heard of several people being caught out in that way and unable to travel recently as the additional 9 months are no longer recognised by the EU.
Visa applications can also take several months depending on the destination and , believe me, it’s really stressful a couple of days before your trip if several team members still don’t have a visa.
Remember you may have additional travel restrictions or documentation due to Covid 19 measures.
Book your Flights!
And hotels & restaurants if you didn’t already! The further ahead you can book the more likely you are to have a reasonable choice of flights at an affordable price, without having to fly with Absurd Airlines who may or may not still be in business at the time of the trade fair.
6-9 months before
Invite your Partners
If one of your goals is to meet with your existing partners then you should send them a save the date in good time so that they can also make appropriate travel arrangements.
Craft your sales messaging and decide how you will need to train your staff on this in advance of the event.
Design the Stand
This may need you to consider such aspects as a touchless layout with a one-way system through your stand, & the location of sanitiser dispensers.
Who will build your stand?
How will the stand be used?
Where is the stand located within the fair?
What kind of lighting do you need to show your product to the best effect?
Don’t underestimate the time needed for this, especially if you are working with a service provider overseas. Time zone differences have implications for your work flow and can mean you need to plan in a lot more time in order to get the necessary design approvals as mails go to and fro.
If you intend to ship an existing stand, make sure you allow enough time for the import/export process and preparation of any necessary ATA carnet. It’s really worth working with an experienced forwarder here, who’s specialised in exhibiting at international trade fairs.
Giveaways and Marketing Materials
Select and order all of your marketing materials and literature, allowing enough time for any required design changes and translations. Calculate enough time for the production and shipping to the venue. Right now for example glossy magazine paper is in short supply in Europe & you don’t want to get caught out.
Try to ensure that your giveaways have enough intrinsic value that your stand visitors will keep them for longer than it takes them to get back to their hotel room. USB sticks with product info can be useful as well as anything that people might keep.
3-6 months before
Stand and Exhibit Materials
Continue working with your vendors to prepare everything for the fair. It’s important at this stage to confirm that all the deadlines can be met and that you have finalised how all of your materials will be shipped to the exhibition venue.
Launch your pre-fair marketing activities
1-3 months before
Train your team
The team that is heading to the show needs to have a good understanding of both your primary and secondary objectives, as well as knowing the messaging that you have developed for the event. Everyone should have knowledge of how to respond to any potentially sensitive questions where you might not want to divulge the details openly to external visitors.
Design your visitor questionnaires to capture the most relevant information in a simple, clear way and decide HOW this will be captured and evaluated.
Check the last minute details with the organisers of the event (do you have enough visitor passes and exhibitor passes available?)
Finalise the production and shipping deadlines – remember that even an airfreight between Europe and Asia can take up to 14 days, without even taking customs into account. You don’t want your stand to be stuck in customs still when the fair starts!
Set up meetings with your targeted potential clients and/or with your existing partners. International Trade Fair weeks can get really busy really quickly, so it’s good to get in quickly as then your partners will still have a more flexible calendar and they’re more likely to be able to fit in with your proposed schedule.
Confirm the numbers for all of your dinners or other events etc.
Finalise this according to the last information available from the event’s organisers.
1 week before
- check all the final travel arrangements for your team
- confirm the arrival of the stand and marketing materials if these have been shipped ahead
- check the details of the stand build – you don’t want any nasty surprises
- go through all your checklists to ensure that all the tasks have been completed and everything that you need is available to take with you
- ensure the team and all invited guests are informed about any local Covid regulations and what to expect
During the International Trade Fair
You can find a detailed post on this topic here.
Focus on your objectives and being present with your partners!
Consider booking a hotel and restaurant contingent for the following year. Make sure you enquire how long you can hold those bookings without confirming numbers or whether you need to pay a deposit.
1 day to 1 week after
This is a critical stage of the process and I wrote an extra post on how to follow up.
Debrief the team
A detailed discussion of what worked well and what needs to be improved next time should be used as a basis for updating your checklists and timelines. You don’t to reinvent the wheel each time you’re exhibiting at international trade fairs.
Analyse Visitor Data
This should always be done in detail to see what can be learnt from the numbers and feedback. Prepare a trade fair attendance report both for internal use and also one suitable for your website or partner newsletter.
Make sure that you follow up with visitors both by phone and email, including any additional information which was promised such as catalogues or detailed product specifications. You could also consider including your giveaways in the follow up pack rather than handing them out during the show itself. That saves people having to carry a gift home.
Analyse whether or not the KPIs which you defined for the show have been met. Your objectives may not be all quantifiable in terms of return on investment, but should be measurable as to whether you were successful or not. Remember that it may take several months before you can evaluate the value of connections made during a trade fair as you need several touch points before a business relationship comes to fruition.
Review the Budget
How did the actual costs compare to your plan? What do you need to adjust for the next time that you participate in a trade fair?
Budget Considerations when Exhibiting at International Trade Fairs
For domestic trade fairs I’ve often seen the split below for estimating costs:
- Exhibiting Space – 30%
- Fair Services – 20%
- Exhibit Design – 10%
- Shipping – 10%
- Promotional Material – 5%
- Stand Team & Travel – 20%
- Miscellaneous Costs – 5%
In this model, you take the space that you will rent and roughly calculate x3 to arrive at a total price. Realistically for exhibiting internationally I would calculate at least stand space x4 as the shipping and team costs are likely to be significantly higher. You also have additional costs such as localisation of materials.
Exhibition space is expensive. eg a corner stand at SIAL Shanghai 2022 costs $5605 for 9㎡ (100sqft).
Expect the Unexpected
There are bound to be some unforeseen costs when you exhibit, especially if it’s your first time there with a stand. Eg You might not have realised that you have to pay for aircon separately and you need it to run your computers, or in Asia your stand probably needs to have a raised floor.
When you’re looking for service providers, it therefore is worth looking for inclusive all-in quotations as this can help to avoid any last minute shocks. (it also helps to avoid currency risk as you just have one cost position to think about).
Things you might not have thought about
Depending of course WHERE you are planning to exhibit, it can be worth planning a 5% puffer into your budget for currency swings. You can prepay some costs to be sure of the rate but you still have the risk that the exchange rate could move in your favour, and you’ll have overpaid.
Is VAT a topic? (In Europe, yes!)
Transportation between your hotel and the exhibition venue can cost a lot of money (& time) that you need to budget for.
These items should definitely be in your budget plan:
- Exhibition space rental
- Stand design and graphics
- Display purchase
- Show services (eg. cleaning, furniture, fittings, power and lighting to your stand)
- Travel costs and expenses
- Hotel costs
- Entertainment costs
- Cost of team (per diems & wages)
- Transportation of products and equipment
- Promotional material
- Marketing & Publicity
- Currency fluctuation & VAT
Potential for Savings
Planning ahead to take full advantage of early bird offers and cheaper flights is the main option for saving money on trade fair attendance. This also allows you more choice of hotels and restaurants.
Renting space in a national pavilion can also be a good option if you’re just starting out in a market.
Think about building your stand locally or reusing a stand that you already have. (Consider the storage & shipping costs though too, as it may turn out cheaper & less headache to leave the stand for your local partner to use). Make sure that you use light materials which are cheaper to ship.
As you can see from this mini-series, exhibiting at international trade fairs can be a rewarding part of your marketing mix if planned well. The more time you invest, the better your chances of having a profitable return on the venture, which is why I dedicated so much time here on the blog into the details of what you should think about. Even so, it’s not an exhaustive list but should certainly help you with the main “moving parts”. If you didn’t already, check out the other parts of this mini-series:
These go into more depth than this post on the individual aspects of exhibiting at international trade fairs.
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