Trade Show Disaster Strike

trade show display disaster

The following is a story, albeit a fictional one, about a trade show event planner’s experience with disaster. Chances are very high that you’ve experienced  something similar when planning or executing a trade show. Read on for the nitty gritty nail-biting action, and then what you can do to avoid ending up like our disaster-stricken trade show event planner.

On Top of the World

I had arrived at the venue ready to go, my outfit was sharp as a tack, the primary video came out spectacularly and under budget, which meant more promo swag for the trade show booth staff to pass out, and the trade show display design was innovative and truly immersive; it was hard for me to look away and I knew the specs and capabilities and all of the great applications at this point. On top of all of that, the product was really great. You would own one yourself… if disaster hadn’t struck shortly after that.

I was confident, this being my second show and my first having been a solid success all around, that the bases were soundly covered. So when I walked into the convention center and couldn’t find my trade show exhibit I was just plain flummoxed. I couldn’t find my staff either. Sure they were local hires but they were from a staffing agency with a good reputation. Now, granted I was a little early but no exhibit OR staff had me more than a little concerned.

I found my exhibit first, so far from the entrance, it might as well not have been at the show at all. This particular show catered to the customer, my target audience, as well as industry pro’s who were logically at the rear of the venue, where my bosses could find them, and now me too it seemed. To make matters worse my innovative trade show display was only one-third erected and already out of space and at least half of the components were missing entirely.

I found my staffers down a hall and in a room outside of the public access area of the convention center waiting patiently by boxes of my exciting swag, not yet unboxed or sorted into the individual bags my staff would be passing around to interested parties.

Soon after, in a panic, I found my point of contact for the event and began making demands until they patiently covered, point by point, why everything had happened and how it was my fault, and point by point to my horror, she was absolutely right.

Avoid My Mistakes

  • Securing the Exhibit: My exhibit arrived in pieces because I hadn’t been clear with my setup process. I failed to coordinate my innovative but also complicated and intricate trade show display. This is a rookie mistake, and that is being generous. Planning itineraries and coordinating with shippers, builders, and locations should all be obvious to an exhibitor wanting to make a splash. Stay in contact with your people, and when shippers ask if you want to insure your packages and guarantee delivery don’t say you trust them, that is apparent if you are giving them your business, say yes you want that guarantee, and always buy insurance!
  • Making Things Work: My awesome display was in a poor location at the rear because the components that had arrived been too tall and the spot I thought I had ordered belonged to a long-term attendee, which I would have known had I read the rules and guidelines the event promoters had made available to everyone interested in showing at the event. Again, this was just poor planning and poor execution. Always make sure you know your place. If you want the spotlight, it’s on you to make sure that’s where your exhibit lands. Talk to event staff and make certain that is where you are. Then talk to event staff again while you are on the phone with your display builders and make sure you will fit, have access to power, protection from weather if applicable and so forth. If you demonstrate the professionalism it takes to make this work, event hosts won’t just help you, they will recognize you as the kind of company that makes events great. They’ll go out of their way for you, and when it’s all over they will ask you back, maybe even offer incentives to make that happen.
  • Team Effort: My professional staff were in the back because nothing else was on point. The overarching theme here is that making an exhibit into a profitable venture requires planning, coordination, and teamwork. Communication with my team and staff should have been the first thing on my list that morning, not the last. We should have met well before the doors were opening to the public with training and setup in case something needed troubleshooting. They should have had time to familiarize themselves with the product and ask me questions so they could answer customers who might ask them the same. And on and on it goes. The biggest lesson, one I somehow forgot or maybe never really learned despite my training, is that marketing is about communication.

Don’t follow my lead. It was all a matter of communication and planning and I failed at every step. Today I know to plan for every contingency. Planning for a trade show is like giving marching orders to an army. Shipping insurance and contingencies for weather are just as critical as time and planning to train staff and check equipment and trade show display setup well before the doors open to the clients and public. Contact us to help lead you through the logistics of your next event with professional attention to detail.


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