How to Stretch Your Trade Show Marketing Budget

We all live in an age of doing more with less. We’re seeing stiff competition, shrinking budgets and less manpower, yet results are still expected. Here are seven ideas that will allow you to achieve results and stay within budget.

1. Consider Cost of Ownership

When planning your annual trade show program, consider its full cost. Far too often, clients don’t take into consideration the costs of freight, show services and material handling of their exhibits prior to purchase. The information is available from previous show manuals, and the calculations are quick and easy. By performing this exercise, you avoid year-end budget surprises.

2. Rent a Display

Sometimes exhibits that make an impact are too costly to purchase. Renting a custom or custom portable exhibit allows you to avoid the costs of building an exhibit, storing it and refurbishing it. When you rent an exhibit, you can let your provider know the impact you are looking to achieve and how much you have available for the rental cost. The exhibit provider may also offer you a turnkey package whereby you show up on the day of the show, and once the show is over, you walk away from the exhibit. Savings can really add up if you don’t have to fly staff members in early for setup and if they can leave immediately after the show.

3. Consider Leasing

If your needs are unique or you attend a significant number of shows in a year, renting may not be cost-effective. To avoid the upfront costs of building a new exhibit, consider leasing as an option. Leasing companies are very flexible with their term and payment options. Many clients opt for three-year payment plans with lump-sum payments made at the beginning of each year from a fresh budget. If you are launching a new product or breaking into a new market and need a $30,000 exhibit, it is much easier to ask your chief financial officer for $10,000 a year. Another advantage is that the lease payments become an expense as opposed to a capital purchase, resulting in accelerated tax savings.

4. Buy Space Early or Late

By taking advantage of early booking discounts for booth space and show services, you can realize savings of up to 20% on your trade show program. Also, if the show does not typically sell out in advance, keep in touch with its organizer to take advantage of last-minute deals on excess space. This is possible if you have a very flexible trade show schedule and can mobilize your team quickly.

5. Consider Related Industry Shows

By taking advantage of related industries, you may accomplish two things: finding a less-expensive show and finding new clients with very little competition. The main industry show may be fully booked every year, and if you’re a small startup, you might not get noticed. By finding regional related industry shows where your target audience will also be, you can gain access to those clients without any competition, and such shows are usually less expensive than national ones. For example, if you provide office-cleaning services, instead of attending major national shows, consider attending regional dental or medical shows and cater your message to health professionals.

6. Collateral Material

Unless it’s absolutely necessary, never take collateral material to a trade show. Most collateral material ends up in the recycling bin before attendees get back to their offices. By providing them with a digital brochure that you push to their PDAs at the show, or by asking for their contact information and sending it to them electronically after the show, you avoid the expense of shipping and printing paper brochures. If you have a nice paper brochure, you may want to take a few copies with you to show prospects. If they require paper copies, mail them after the show.

7. Rent Smaller Space Plus Hospitality Room

If you normally have meeting space within your booth, consider getting a smaller space and instead renting a hospitality room close by. Your clients will appreciate the opportunity to meet one-on-one with you in the comfort of a relaxed private environment. The cost of renting a hospitality room is a fraction of that of using up valuable booth space for meetings.

Originally published in BIV’s How~2 magazine – expert advice on essential business products and services.  This article from Business in Vancouver January 25-31, 2011; issue 1109