Trade show spending

How much should you spend on a trade show? That’s almost like asking how much you should spend on a new car. The answer varies greatly depending on a number of factors, including budget and needs. Spend less and get an economy car, or stretch your budget and get a dream sports car. It’s pretty much the same with trade shows, but if you aren’t careful, you could end up blowing a sports car budget only to find you deliver the economy car experience.

On average, 40 percent of a business-to-business marketing budget is spent on trade show exhibitions. According to The Center for Exhibition Industry Research (CEIR), business-to-business spending for trade shows is third to advertising and promotion. That’s because trade shows offer the opportunity to build relationships with face-to-face contact, and that’s almost priceless in a world dominated by websites, emails and voicemails. Plus, 35 percent of the tools and techniques used in trade shows didn’t exist 20 years ago. That means there are a lot of new resources at your disposal, making it even more important to be strategic with your trade show dollars.

There’s no formula that tells you how much to spend. Depending on your industry and business, experts say you’ll spend anywhere from $150-190 per square foot of rental space. If you rent an average 500 square foot booth, it adds up quickly. Also, this estimate does not include employee expenses for time, travel, food and lodging.

How do you budget trade show expenses? Should you splurge on flooring or lighting? Here are some tips to help you develop a trade show budget. Hopefully, you can give customers a sports car experience on an economy budget.

Trade show dollars explained

  • Upfront costs. Some trade show costs are non-negotiable. Registration fees and booth rental are two expenses you’ll incur before you arrive. At large trade shows, even a small, empty booth can cost almost $5,000. Registration fees range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on trade show size and duration. Don’t forget that you have to staff the booth, too. Budget travel expenses for employees. Research shows it can cost as much as $10,000 to simply get to a trade show with the staff you need.
  • The booth. The booth is only one part of a trade show expense. Figure out how much you can afford and stick to it, because there’s no limit to how much you can spend accessorizing. Flooring, lighting and graphics add up. With flooring, for example, you can choose from plush carpeting to basic vinyl. You can rent or purchase flooring, depending on how frequently you go to trade shows, so cost can range by the thousands. Some suggest flooring is splurge worthy, because uncomfortable floors decrease the customer experience. But, customers won’t notice floors if they aren’t enticed into your booth by cool graphics and displays. Floor display graphics or tension fabric floor displays can make your booth inviting and impressive. But little things like unique lighting and innovative display units can go a long way in making your booth special. The point is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to stand out; you just have to use those dollars effectively.
  • Costs to get stuff there. If you’re mailing materials, it can cost up to $500 to ship bulky items. Items for the booth, like displays and flooring, get expensive, so think about it in advance, especially if you are attending a trade show out of the country.
  • Costs for promotions, marketing and advertising. A large portion of your budget should be spent making sure customers and prospects know about the trade show you are attending. Unless you get people to your booth, your efforts are wasted. Advertise and use social media to update Facebook and Twitter accounts leading up to the event. You might attract customers by announcing a contest or raffle. The idea is to spread the word so that your booth will be well attended.
  • Giveaways. Find something unique and memorable that promotes the brand. Also, although this may seem obvious, you need to make sure any giveaway has your corporate logo and/or brand on it. Logo pens and tote bags are easy and affordable ideas. Some companies opt for toys and games that can be reused and passed along to coworkers or family members when customers return home. Playing cards and puzzles are fun takeaways that customers keep. Keep in mind, prospects are looking for solutions, so if your takeaway can link to the product, that’s even better.
  • Budget and plan for a post-show follow up strategy. What happens after a trade show is almost as important as the actual show. Your efforts are significantly diminished if you don’t follow up on leads promptly. Budget for a system that tracks leads and establishes a defined process for follow up. Some companies vet prospects within 24 hours, so that when he or she returns to the office a promotional package is waiting. Efforts like this speak volumes to your credibility, follow through, and customer service.

Whatever route you take, don’t take shortcuts. Invest in a strategy that is suitable for a long journey, not a quick trip. After all, like a car, you want something reliable and tested, so that it will get your company where it needs to be for years to come.

“How to Make a Trade Show Profitable.” Inc.com. N.p., 23 Nov. 2011. Web. 22 May 2013.

“Comparing Total Spending at Trade Shows.” MC2 EConnections. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2013.

“Event Measurement and Return on Investment: What Do Others Spend on Tradeshows?” Event Measurement and Return on Investment: What Do Others Spend on Tradeshows? N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2013.

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