Trade show event planning is not something that should be left for the last minute but requires extensive advance organization. Follow this annual planning calendar to ensure that you’re well prepared and you can even condense it or otherwise customize it for events which occur more frequently than on an annual basis:
T Minus 12 Months
Perform a full post-mortem on everything that went right and wrong, and strive to make it better the next time around. Book hotels and flights as they can get filled up in a hurry. Send thank you notes to everyone you can think of. Anticipate what the state of your industry will be a year from now and plan your event presence accordingly. Although no one has a properly functioning crystal ball, you can strategize with the heads of all your departments to forecast current trends and how they will be manifesting themselves next year at this time.
T Minus 10 Months
Finalize your event objectives and make a firm determination as to what your pre-show promotional campaign will be all about. Now is the time to have a greenlit budget so that you can achieve your show goals, and have a clear vision of what the theme of your presence will be. If the event organizers have opened registration jump right in and try to get the best booth positions.
T Minus 8 Months
Start working on the graphics and other audio visual elements which will set your booth apart from your competition. Making a considerable impact at an event is not only about how many dollars you can allocate to making a big splash, but on how creative you can be in communicating your brand message with clarity and flair.
T Minus 6 Months
Now is the time to make the final determinations on your entire pre-show campaign, buy media, go into overdrive on your social media marketing, schedule your placements, and order your signage and booth dressing. It’s also not too early to order your printed promotional materials unless you know that there will be a major product introduction between now and the event date and you’re not privy to that critical information yet. This should also be the time that you organize shipping, order all your supplies and equipment, and have all your show services such as electrical, plumbing, communications, janitorial, and security set.
T Minus 4 Months
Get your press releases out, start drawing attention to your upcoming show presence by soliciting press interviews, doing guest blogging, and integrating invitations to the show on all your company’s packaging, notices, and even invoicing. Set up a staff rotation and begin the training to ensure that your booth personnel is able to project an image of confident, knowledgeable, authoritative professionalism.
T Minus 2 Months
Hold a full rehearsal of all expected activities at the event, including assembling and dismantling your display in-house to iron out any bugs. Your social media presences and marketing campaign should now be at fever pitch focusing on the upcoming show almost to the exclusion of everything else.
T Minus 1 Month
Approve everything your staff will be wearing right down to socks and cufflinks, and ensure that they have plenty of alternate changes of clothes as coffee will spill and sleeves will be caught in displays and rip. Confirm that everything is set in your exhibition emergency kit, and have a central contact point and chain of command established to liaise with event management and services.
T Minus 1 Week
Check the long term weather forecasts to see if any severe storms could derail your plans. Go through every single one of your checklists and when you’re done, do it again. Even the best-compiled checklists on the planet can incorporate a critical oversight which can spell disaster if something falls through the cracks.
T Minus 1 Day
Even if you’re not religious, it might be a good time to pray! All the planning imaginable can still be set awry by unforeseeable events.
Like a Presidential campaign, electioneering starts while the chads are still hanging, so get an early start and keep to a tight schedule!