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How far ahead should I start planning for a big trade show? 1

We are often asked: ‘How far ahead should I start planning for a  big trade show?’. For most businesses, exhibiting is a big investment. There are a few points to consider, and to help you, here are our thoughts on how far ahead you should be planning.

planning for a big trade show

table of contents:


    1. Marketing plans
    2. Time
    3. budget
    4. A last-minute exhibition on your mind?

Marketing plans

When setting your marketing objectives for the year, a trade show can be identified as a way to meet prospective customers on a large scale.

You should work out the business case and budget you are willing to allocate for a trade show.

How to write the perfect exhibition stand brief | Motive Exhibitions
Understanding your timescales


Research, planning, detail and execution underpin every good exhibition. Time will give you the opportunity to get it right.

Time also gives you choice. Choice of stand location, speaking slots, type of stand, design etc.

We recommend working 6-12 months ahead of an exhibition you plan to exhibit at. Read our reasons why:


You need to pick the right show. This sounds obvious right? But it’s not always that easy.

What’s the point of going to a show where none of your customers are?

This first point is key, if you go where your customers aren’t, you are pretty much wasting your valuable time. The first question we’d ask you is, do you know who your customer actually is and the exhibitions they go to?

If you aren’t sure, and a lot of people aren’t, make a list of your top 10, 20, or 30 clients and find out what you know about them. If you’re not sure ….. ask them, phone them, email them, find them out on Social Media?

Once you know who they are, you at least have an idea of where your customers might go, where they hang out and a rough idea of what it is that “turns them on”. It’s a good bet that if your top customers go to Expo A, more of your potential leads will also go.


When you decide to exhibit, you will need to make some key decisions before you start the process of designing your exhibition stand. We’ve worked with growing SMEs, specialist brands and household names who were all in the position you are now. A good brief can make the difference between a good exhibition and a truly spectacular one.

Read our advice and tips on how to write the perfect brief


With floor space somewhere between £250m2 and an eye-watering £1250 m2, you need to make sure your budget will cover everything you will need to maximise your brand and stand out. It may seem counterintuitive to give a budget in your exhibition stand brief. You may be reluctant because you feel the designer will use all the budget whether they need to or not.

Allocating a budget from the outset can save a lot of heartache and frustration down the line. There’s nothing worse than receiving the perfect stand design, only to discover it exceeds the budget tenfold.

Add a contingency. No matter how organised and well planned, there are always last-minute additions to the stand, for example, the CEO requests a coffee machine like the competition. If you have contingency – you’ve got it covered. You don’t need to share that information with your designer, but we would recommend you make provision for it.

Your exhibition stand is only one part of the cost. Ensure you cost and plan for everything relating to your stand including:

Pre-exhibition communications

Plan and create your pre-exhibition communications well ahead of the event. Make sure every prospect knows you’ll be there and that your sales teams have arranged meetings with customers.


If you are a small team, taking 3-4 members of staff away from the office may not be an option. You may choose to mix and match with hired staff who are experienced in working on exhibition stands. They may not have your knowledge, but they will know how to make your visitors feel valued and welcome. Don’t forget accommodation costs too!

Post-event communications

You’ve met some great prospects, exchanged details and feel relieved it went so well. Now what? When planning your event, your post-event communications should be completed and ready to go before the exhibition starts. Communications should be aligned to the objectives you set and what you wanted to achieve. Every hour counts after an exhibition, so strike whilst the iron is hot!

Exhibition Stand Hire | Neon Sign | Motive Exhibitions
Modular Exhibition Stands

Would you like your exhibition planning to be easier?

Do you want a checklist you can use to help plan your exhibition at every step?

Read our guide on how to make an exhibition checklist.

A last-minute exhibition on your mind?

Do you need a stand within the next 3-6 months? That’s great, we can help. We’d still urge you to work out what you want from the show.

“Not sure really, just think we should go”. We have heard this so many times, and every time the answer is the same. Why would you spend thousands of pounds just to go? Are you mad?

Surely one of the first questions has to be: “What would be a successful exhibition?”.

Is it 50 great new leads? Or selling £20,000 pounds worth of widgets? Or meeting 10 people who place orders? Whatever it is, you must have a number, a way of measuring: a target! You might not hit it at the first show, but unless you know what you are aiming for, you will never really know whether it was a success.

Work out what your target is, record it and then report it.

Understanding your timescales
David Hennessy

David Hennessy

David Hennessy is our Managing Director and co-founder of Motive Graphics, a sign, vehicle graphics and exhibition services business based in St Neots and supplying Cambridge, Peterborough and across the UK.

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How far ahead should I start planning for a big trade show? 2
How far ahead should I start planning for a big trade show? 3