We don’t know of any organization that has ever taken the time to measure the true cost of attending a trade show. Some do figure in the cost of travel. Large organizations have an events staff and budget, and since their presence at major shows is often similar from year to year, the amount budgeted, not including sponsorships or special events, is similar from year to year.
However, no organization that we know of has also factored in all of the time that goes into planning and executing the trade show, including the time of management, marketing, and sales and business development executives and staff.
Looking at actual costs in North America and Europe, we calculate that the actual cost for an early-stage or growth-stage new venture to attend a large trade show ranges from 4x to 8x the cost of the exhibit space. And that figure does not include additional sponsorships, advertising, or special events.
You can save money on hotels and air travel, and on your booth and other materials, by planning many months in advance. Another way to save: When you’re approached about advertising and promotional opportunities, if it doesn’t make sense to pay the list price, let the trade show people know this and encourage them to come back to you closer to the date if they still have a particular sponsorship that they haven’t been able to sell.
For a client attending the large RSA security show for the first time, we were able to secure signage over the entry and exit doors. These were made available to us at the last minute, and because we were able to make a decision and turn around the graphic design quickly, we were able to pick them up. Larger, established companies weren’t able to move as fast. The signage made quite an impact, especially for a smaller, relatively new company that most attendees hadn’t heard of.
Another success that was all luck: The color of the carpet and signs throughout the exhibit area where we were launching a new company was a near perfect match with the color of the logo that we’d just helped with. Despite this new company just coming on the scene and exhibiting at this show for the first time, the perception was that we had sponsored the entire pavilion. This was reinforced because the color was not a traditional color that you see at trade shows.
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