Even though you’ve sailed through the ranks, achieved well deserved respect from peers and colleagues and have successfully proven yourself when managing 7 figure marketing budgets no-one has prepared you for the often daunting prospect of managing your first exhibition stand.

common mistakes

It’s  a drizzly Monday morning and you gather up your project files ready for you regular work in progress meeting. Updates on budget figures, campaign results from the latest advertising drive and discussions on how to improve SEO – no great shocks there.  Then the moment arrives.  Your manager announces that you’ll be attending ‘The Biggest Exhibition In Living History” at Frankfurt Messe, Germany.  Your stomach somersaults, your mouth goes dry and you realise that as the senior member of the team everybody will be looking to you for guidance.

Budget figures get banded about, it’s going to be big, not only is it going to be big but it’s going to be the largest single expenditure on your marketing budget that year.

With pen in hand you begin scribbling frantically as your manager speaks; budgets, timings, staffing, objectives, freebies, hospitality, suppliers, power requirements, supporting marketing literature. Your career flashes before your eyes, panic takes hold as you realise that despite years of marketing experience you have never been responsible for managing an exhibition stand before.

Searching the internet you stop and breath a sign of relief….you’ve found it! 5 common mistakes even experienced Exhibition Managers make – and more importantly how to avoid them:-

1. Slap Dash Exhibition Budgeting

Budgeting your first exhibition stand can be tricky and as the process develops you’ll quickly realise that budgeting for an exhibition stand can make even a city banker’s job look like child’s’ play!   However there are a few things you are able to do to make your job a lot easier:-

  • Break your budget into chunks, starting with the largest costs.  Floorspace or shell scheme costs, stand construction costs, site services (power, water, rigging, lifting and handling etc), staff hotels, flights, expenses, marketing collateral to support the show, show givaways, artwork design costs, sponsorship opportunities in the show guide or halls.  Once you’ve pulled the main costs together make sure you build in a contingency of around 15%.  This will cover you for any uncertain costs during your first exhibition.

2. Late Hotel and Flight Bookings

Exhibition planning is enough to make even the most dynamic Project Manager sweat!  Booking hotels you think, ahhh that’s the easy part I can put it back for a while.  Stop!  Unless you want to stay in ‘Wonky walls, Honky Rooms’ Hostel you need to put booking staff accommodation to the front of your planning list.  Time after time we’ve seen many successful Marketing Directors and CEO’s rising from their slumbers and stepping out of their hotels to be greeted by red light district ‘delights’ and their colourful clientele.

Hotels near exhibition venues are notoriously busy and depending on the show some are often booked up even 1 year in advance.  The seasoned exhibition manager books their accommodation immediately after (or even before) the previous year’s show.

3. Choosing An Unproven Exhibition Contractor

It’s likely that you’ll already have a Marketing Agency in place, or even a PR Agency.  You think “Yes, Jude does a great job of my marketing literature, I’m sure she will do a great job of looking after my exhibition stand”.  Not always strictly true. Although having the perceived safety net of a supplier you already trust, more often than not it isn’t a great idea to give your print or digital media agency your exhibition stand project (unless they have the relevant experience).

Always choose an experienced supplier who has a proven record of managing exhibitions.  This may be your existing agency but it may also be a specialist exhibition supplier.  When choosing your supplier always:

  • send your brief to 3 exhibition suppliers. Any less than 3 and you don’t get a good idea of quality/price & any more than 3 and you don’t have time to deal with all the questions that arise during the design process
  • run credit checks to ensure they’re reputable
  • make sure you’re comparing like for like quotes.  Custom built stands are high quality whereas system stands often look like the poorer relative
  • ask to see client testimonials
  • ask to see images of their projects
  • meet your supplier face to face before awarding the contract.

4. Booking the Cheapest Space in the Hall

The gel’d haired-pin stripped suit wearing-salesman corners you, he’s from the show organisers and he wants you to buy the smallest space for the highest price.  His hair gel is a force of nature, it’s so sculptured it’s almost disarming.  Turn-away, stay strong – this man is built for persuasion.

The first offer will come. “You can have a 12 x 3, it’s along the perimeter of the hall, at the back near the Borneo pavillion and has a ‘feature’ pillar in it”.  Male or female don’t fall for his charms.

Always ask for time to study the hall plan before you book any space. Try to avoid spaces with pillars in (if possible).  Try to avoid spaces with low footfall and when talking with the salesman stay strong.  Many shows work on a points system so as a first time exhibitor you may be disadvantaged however ask the sales person for a hall plan and for a list of your options.

As a first time exhibitor a good idea would be to ask an Exhibition Contractor who has prior knowledge of the venue – pick their brains and find out the best space on offer to you.

5. Sending Under-qualified and Inexperienced Staff to the Show

Exhibitions are probably one of the only opportunities you will get to meet all of your key buyers under one roof and it’s imperative you make the right impression. Sending the relevent staff with the right training and attitude is key to ensuring you maximise returns.

Developing an all encompassing exhibition training programme is key in achieving exhibition success, all staff should be fully briefed and trained in the following areas:

  • Exhibition Objectives
  • Product Knowledge
  • Competitor Knowledge
  • Face to Face Sales Ability
  • Qualify Visitors in Order to Spend Time with Quality Leads


If you require any assistance with your exhibition planning feel free to speak to one of our professional Account Managers 0844 504 9533