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Five of the Biggest Mistakes Exhibitors Make

July 15, 2019

Are there more than five mistakes that trade show exhibitors make?  Of course!  But the list below was compiled scientifically by barging into the offices of our staff members who, collectively, have about 72,000 years of trade show experience – exaggerate? Who me? I asked for their knee-jerk reaction to the question:  What are the things exhibitors do that hurts themselves?

The answers from our team clearly pointed out some trends in the problem-causing practices. Here are the top five things you need to avoid as a trade show exhibitor:

Not properly planning – clearly the most costly, but also the most common issue. “Planning” sometimes is code for “…why the heck have they waited so long to focus on this event!” Time is rarely your friend in the world of tradeshows. Whatever method you use for calendars and task lists, factor in blocks of time for preparing your trade show efforts. Relying on your partner-providers can also set-up a support structure of cordial reminders.


Unrealistic budgets - The cliché “time is money” applies in event marketing.  And the corollary rule is, the less time you allow for planning, the more things cost. So realistic budgeting requires planning (see #1) and understanding that wanting the $100,000 booth for $15,000 won’t make it happen. Realistic budgeting involves a high degree of communication – if your total budget is $25,000, make sure your exhibit house knows that’s your all-in investment, not just what you’ve set aside for the booth. Your total show allocation may have to cover all the extras like travel, floor space, show services and more - all from the same wallet.

Not submitting forms on time – Neglecting show forms is a sin of both time and money. Missing the advance order dates means the cost of rigging, labor, electrical, material handling, furniture orders, A/V, catering may all needlessly double or triple. The show forms also contain critical information that you need to review well before submitting the orders for services. Timely attention to the show forms is a low-cost effort that can return big results (or at least prevent major problems).

Not using professional I&D labor on booths that warrant it – This can hurt exhibitors in several ways. When a company uses their staff to do the work, they run the risk of violating local union rules. This can be a costly mistake in both time and expense. Nothing creates more stress in set up than being shut down on the show floor.

Problems also arise when people unfamiliar with your exhibit assemble the booth incorrectly – remember that gravity is real and unforgiving.  But the biggest “hurts” are when the frustration of building the exhibit have a negative impact on your booth staff. Their attitude about the show can be thrown off by issues and the simple exertion of assembling the booth – a rough start for the staff easily translates into problems before the show even opens.

Simple math might make it look like you’re saving money but when you calculate the cost of extra nights, meals and the value of your staff’s time, you spend significantly more to “save the I&D costs” than if you had simply allowed your exhibit house to do what they do best.



Skipping the pre-build - not prebuilding your exhibit prior to each show is an age-old recipe for disaster. The story goes something like this…

Upon finding the cases holding your exhibit, you (or the business owner) exclaims, “Oh, excellent – here they are!” Never mind that the cases haven’t been opened since the last show. You simply slap the shipping label on and off they go to the next show. Fast-forward to the set-up where you discover, despite “everything being okay last time,” there are some issues:

      • You forgot to update the graphics to the new logo or the new product line;
      • Whoever packed the booth last time was in fact enjoying a beer because the half-full bottle was left in the booth, and;
      • Not all, but most, of the light bulbs are broken – which may be good because someone wrapped up the wiring with a note saying, “repair prior to next show.”

All joking aside, mistakes are costly in terms of budgets, time and motivation. And we haven’t even explored the impact these issues have on the image you present at the show. Your brand is the most important asset you have and part of protecting it is learning from the mistakes that others have suffered. Even in a social media world, event marketing is one of the most effective presentations of your company, your product and your culture. Learning from the past can help ensure a bright trade show future.

prebuild, I&D, budgeting, mistakes, trade show mistakes, trade show planning
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