New to event marketing? A 5 step guide for a successful exhibit

Crowd of people at an event

The world of event marketing can offer fantastic opportunities for businesses to increase sales. The ability to get a product in front of customers, build some hype and get some excellent brand exposure can prove extremely valuable. However, exhibiting at an event can often be expensive and time-consuming.

And so, the bottom line question for small businesses is: “is it worth it?”

It’s hard to answer this question without understanding what you, as a business, want from event marketing. To help you answer this, we’re going to analyse 5 steps you should consider when looking to exhibit at an event.

The truth is – there’s a lot of angles to look at, each of which will influence your decision to attend. Here are just a few of them…

  • How many staff do you have available that could attend or help plan the event?
  • What is your budget?
  • How many orders do you have to get to make the event financially viable?
  • How much time do you have to commit to planning and logistics?
  • How relevant is the event to your business?
  • What sort of footfall does the event receive and how many of those delegates are likely to be interested in your product or service? Are they decision-makers?

Sounds like a lot to consider!

All these questions can make the whole idea of attending an event off-putting – especially for smaller businesses who may not have the necessary resources or events experience to plan effectively.

If you’re in this position, don’t worry! We’re going to break down and explain these factors and help you reach a logical decision about whether you want to exhibit at an event.

Step 1: Consider your end goal – sales or awareness?

So you’re thinking about exhibiting at an event? Great!

Consider what your ideal outcome would be. This will help give you focus and decide what kind of event you want to attend.

Possible goals could be:

  1. Sales
    This is often the most common goal – recoup the cost of attending, gain additional & future sales through making sales at, or as a result of the event.
  2. Brand Awareness
    Exhibiting at an event can get word of mouth to spread quicker than a cold at a primary school – it can also generate buzz amongst delegates and potentially free PR.
  3. Networking Potential
    Industry events allow you to chat with relevant industry experts, potential suppliers, and even competitors. This presents you with opportunities to better your business further down the line.

Of course, your goal could be a combination of any or all of these.

Step 2: Knowledge of the event

You should do some research around the event, as there are several questions that will need to be answered for you to make an informed decision about attending.

  1. What is the attendance like?

Sometimes event organisers are able to tell you this, if not, then look at the capacity of the event or venue.

  1. How many hours of the day will delegates actually walk around the booths, and are there any other activities such as talks or breakout sessions that might clear out the floor for a while?

For example, in the quieter periods staff will be able to take lunch breaks, while busy periods will need all hands on deck.

  1. How many demos or products can you actually show to customers?

Factors that will affect this are how many staff you have available; what equipment you have to display or demo, for example, if you are demoing software can you use one big screen to demo to multiple people at a time? If your goal is sales, this will be an important factor of how many sales you can achieve through direct demonstrations or consultations.

  1. How targeted is the event? Think of this as how it relates to your product.

An example of this is: say you sell chocolate and attended The Chocolate Show London. This event would be highly targeted towards your customers as everyone there is going for chocolate. However, if you attended a generic food show instead you would have less interest as not everyone going there would be interested in chocolate.

Event research like this is a vital first step to help you plan better and achieve greater sales/leads. You need to know what you’re walking into!

Step 3: How much will it cost?

Time is money! So don’t just think about the amount of cash you have. The time you spend planning and the number of staff you can commit to the event also form part of the budget.

Larger events will have more people attending. However, these may not be your target audience and can often be extremely expensive, making them less financially viable for smaller businesses or those with lower-priced products or services.

The opportunity cost of your staff members’ time

Do your staff has enough time to plan for an event AND go to an event?
Without a doubt, planning events is a big job, requiring time, and in some cases, training. Larger businesses will often have a dedicated events coordinator specifically to project manage these events.
What is it that makes planning events such a large job? In short, it’s the intersection of many different skills and tasks, which in the usual course of business are all taken care of. Attending an event is like setting up shop in an entirely new location for a few days – taking the business on the road. Naturally, there are a lot of factors to consider, each of which are time-consuming for your team:

  • Liaising with various different parties at any one time – this could be the venue, stand designers, service suppliers, etc.
  • Booking of all the different elements – travel, accommodation, booth space, wifi, office cover, etc.
  • Coordinating several teams of people at once – need to ensure marketing is working on the right materials, sales are aware and finance know of all expenses.
  • Need to ensure that the business doesn’t grind to a halt while the event is on! Small businesses may involve most, if not all of the key members of the team in some events. At the very least, there should be someone left to answer the phone!
  • Creating a budget – need to have a working knowledge of the various costings and ensure the event will be profitable or meet its other goals.

You’ll need someone to take control of planning the event, who will straighten out any loose ends. Hiring an outside events planning specialist can be a hefty expense but can save time and ensures you’ll have all your bases covered.

Alternatively, training an existing member of your team to become your event planner can be a slow and costly process initially, but it does mean that your business will have those skills and experience available in the future.

The demands of events planning can seem overwhelming – but events are still something smaller companies can work into their marketing. For example, smaller-scale events may work out better for businesses who lack an event coordinator. These will require significantly less planning – saving time and money.

What are the costs of exhibiting at an event?

The first thing I think of when attending an event is what the stand looks like, and how much it’s going to cost me! But this isn’t the only thing that needs to be factored into the costs of an event:

  • Sponsorship
  • Stand size
  • Stand positioning
  • Stand design
  • Any equipment or furnishings
  • The transport of your equipment and staff


Events will give you the option of sponsoring certain parts of the event – such as a breakout session, advertising on the website, lanyards, show brochure, etc. these can be expensive but can raise lots of awareness.

Stand size

Larger stands means more attention, right? Whilst this is true, exhibition space is expensive.

The good news is that events will often have set booth spaces ranging from small to large so there are options available to suit all budgets. Smaller booths can still have an impact, especially if they are well placed in the exhibition space.

Prices will largely depend on the scale of the event itself and the size of the space you require. There’s an element of flexibility here.

So, how do you decide what booth size you need?

This will be influenced by:

  • How many staff you want to bring
    Do you intend to have somewhere your staff can chat with customers? If your stand is small but you are only bringing one or two staff then this will be fine. If you are bringing more you need space to accommodate them.
  • Whether you need extra space to demo a product
    For example – I attended an event with a materials testing company. We needed a larger stand to fit our actual product inside it!

Stand positioning

The position of your stand is an important factor in your planning. Why? It’s not enough to just turn up and expect your customers to find you. You need to make yourself visible and ensure the most people possible can see and visit your stand.

Attendees probably won’t have time to scour the entire show floor. If you’re tucked away in a corner you’ll be missing out on a lot of foot traffic.

So, how can you predict where most people will go?

Look at the show floor plan – these can usually be found on the event website or by contacting the organiser.

  • Where are your competitors? These can draw in relevant traffic.
  • Where are the main walkways? Most people will walk down these.
  • Where are the entrances? The closer your stand is the higher your visibility.
  • Where are the main cafes? Most delegates will visit here once a day and linger.
  • Where are the largest stands? These are often draws for people so positioning near them can feed you traffic.
  • Where are the breakout sessions happening? Larger exhibitions have rooms dedicated to certain topics – choose a space near one that is relevant to your business type.

Be aware though – good positioning comes at a price. Spend the time to understand where people are likely to be. Use this information to find the sweet spot between price and position.
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Stand design

How are you going to pull people in?

The show floor of an exhibition is a noisy place – both in the audio and visual sense. This can make it difficult to stand out from the crowd and attract potential customers to your stand.

What can you do to make people come to you? Stand design will play a big part in this.

Stand design can be either done in house or outsourced to an external company. The choice will be largely based on your resources.

  • If you have the staff time and expertise then going in house can save a lot of money.
  • If you are time-poor but money rich then outsourcing will save a lot of time and get the job done professionally.

Stand design can also be done on a budget – stands can be simple and still have a big impact if you can judge the right way to approach your audience.

Cost-cutting is key here. Assess everything. When going to buy a new car you wouldn’t add the most expensive wheels if you couldn’t afford them – a Porsche is still impactful whether or not it has the biggest alloys!

The same goes for stand design, avoid going for extravagant extras such as hanging features or special floorings. If this is your first event, keep it simple to keep costs down.

Remember though, it still needs to look good. If you are struggling, look at other ways you can cut costs across the event.

Look at your accommodation, travel, booth size and entry fees (signing up early to exhibit can save you a lot of money), cutting a little from all of these can add up – a 4* hotel might be nice for your staff but it’s not necessarily going to make you sales!

It pays to think of the future when designing a stand. Once created a stand can always be re-used for other events, saving a lot of time and money! Ensure it isn’t covered with event or year specific marketing messages, but instead reflects the core values of your business – not just right now, but for years to come.

Transport, logistical, accommodation & travel costs

The transport & housing of your team and equipment are paramount. Without either of these, you won’t be able to make sales or create awareness!

Unless you are lucky enough to have an event on your doorstep (or are running your own event), it’s likely you will have to travel to reach your event.

How will you get your staff there?

  • Hiring cars, subsidising fuel costs, or other means of travel are all costs that can be incurred.
  • Staff will need hotels or other suitable accommodation for a night or two. Set clear boundaries with your team as to what is paid for by the business and what is not.

How will you get your equipment there?

  • Do you need to hire a van or ship it?
  • Check to see if you can hire some equipment from the event, such as TVs, tables & chairs, etc. as this will save you purchasing them and could save you needing to hire a van.

Create a checklist of all these little costs and plan carefully, you might be surprised as to how much they can add up to!

Marketing materials

Marketing materials will aid your sales team in making sales – they’re as simple and as necessary as that.

Do you need to create some new materials to take with you? If so, be sure what kind of promotional offer, if any you want to include, and be aware that print runs can take time to organise and deliver.

Some examples of marketing materials are:

  • Promotional videos
  • Leaflets
  • Brochures
  • Discount codes for people who buy after the event

If you are providing freebies or discount codes ensure you account for these in your costing of the event.

If you’re investing in a lot of heavy traditional marketing materials like brochures and leaflets, ensure you have the capacity to transport them!

One way to save money on printing is to send interested delegates a PDF version of some of your literature (provided you get their email address with consent!). Then only display a few copies of each of your printed materials. Not only will this save you money but will also aid the environment.

The event may offer lead capturing tools, like badge-scanners, that the delegates will automatically be signed up to. For example, an event I visited had touchpoints at every stand so if you didn’t have time to stop and chat, you could touch in and you would receive information for the company post-event. This makes for a great opportunity to catch leads that may otherwise slip through the cracks. It is also, of course, another expense to add to the event’s costings!

Step 4: How do I calculate sales from an event?

So far we’ve covered a lot of costs. Useful information certainly, but how can you work out whether an event is worth attending?

Look back at your initial goal – what do you want to gain from attending or exhibiting? Whatever the goal, you will need to do some digging to discover how likely it is you will achieve this goal at the event you are thinking of attending.

Some of these goals can seem quite nebulous – how can I measure ‘brand awareness’ gained specifically from marketing at this event? Even using a specific slogan or hashtag in event-related media can only give a rough estimate of the true reach of the event. In these cases, knowing the kind of delegate likely to attend the event, and the kind of speaking slots of special event slots you can take part in are likely to be key factors in choosing whether to attend or not.

If your goal is to achieve a certain number of sales, then a key measure of whether you should consider attending an event is going to be the number of sales you think you can get from activities you perform at the event.

How can you get an idea of this?

Firstly, it may be worthwhile working out what your potential best and worst-case sales scenarios for the event are.

This can be done through some simple calculations (they are simple, really!). You’ll need some information about your own business and some information about the event itself.

Conversion rate & average order value

To gauge how many sales you could get from an event it’s useful to work out a conversion rate, and what the average order value of your customers is. Both of these terms need a bit of unpacking!

A conversion rate is the number of customers who make a purchase divided by the total number of interested customers. So, if you attract 100 potential customers, and 4 of them buy from you, your conversion rate is 4%.

Average order value is the average amount of money spent by a customer when they make a purchase. For example, an average order from a customer might be £500.

Put both of these together, and we can see that for every 100 potential customers we could expect 4 to buy from us, bring in £2,000 for the business.

The most easily accessible source of conversion rates and average order values are figures from our business’ normal sales operations. Remember though, these can only give you an estimate of how well your team will be able to convert leads into customers at an event. Unless the normal environment you sell is very similar to the event you are attending, your conversion rates and average order values may be very different in a face-to-face situation.

The good news is you may find that your conversion rate will be higher at an event, provided the attendees are relevant to your business.

At an event, you can interact directly with potential customers and build a rapport from the word go. You also have the opportunity to reassure potential customers and any of their questions immediately, hopefully increasing their engagement with what you are offering.

Contrast selling in person at an event with a customer arriving on your website (if you have one!). Which setting makes a better sales experience? Probably the face-to-face conversation.

But – tellingly, what a face-to-face conversation lacks is a ‘Buy Now’ button. People generally do not like to be pressured or rushed, and events are generally full of competing claims on delegates’ attention. Depending on the event, you may not expect to walk away with a bunch of new sales. Instead, what you may come away with are warm leads, people who you’ve built the beginnings of a relationship with, who you can then take through your normal sales process once the event is over.

What I’m getting at here is the financial side of things – your return on investment from event marketing. The return, it seems, may not be immediate…

Forecasting event marketing return on investment

From the questions, we looked at earlier in this article you should have a good idea of roughly how many people you can demo or showcase a product to each day.

Put this together with your average order value and conversion rate and you should be able to create an accurate sales forecast – the equation should go a little like this.

How many people can you talk to or demo to (100) * your conversion rate (4%) * your average order value (£500).

100 * 0.04 * 500 = 2,000

So far, so good. But when do you expect these sales to come in? For most events, it’s unlikely you’ll do a deal on the day. The follow-up sales process could take weeks or months. Be prepared for this lag time in getting sales from your event – do not rely on the event’s costs being covered immediately by the sales it generates.

Finally, you should now be able to create your own best and worst-case scenarios for the event. The key here is to be realistic. Your conversion rate may be higher than you imagined, but without more staff at the event, you won’t be able to speak with more people. There are limits to how successful your best case scenario can be!

Refer back to your goals you set out initially. If they’re sales orientated, will your worst-case scenario still cover your costs? If not it may be worth reconsidering the capacity in which you attend the event, or reconsider your goals. Are there secondary goals that could make the event worthwhile, even if it isn’t profitable?

I mentioned earlier that non-sales related metrics can be hard to track – but there are ways. Success can also be measured by the networking and exposure potential that some of these events offer. Brand awareness is another way you could measure success by tracking your website metrics, such as google searches and how many new organic visitors your website has achieved in the aftermath of an event.

Keep an eye on your social channels too; you may see an increase in likes or follows as well as see increased engagement on some platforms.

Step 5: Is it worth it?

Phew, we’ve covered a lot here!

Hopefully, these factors will help you make an educated decision about whether to attend an event and how you will achieve success there.

If you find that even with the advice given here your budget is still stretched, then consider these options:

  1. Have just one person attending as a delegate rather than exhibiting, as many of these events are free to attend and the knowledge and networking potential can still be important to your business’ future.
  2. Attend a cheaper smaller event, these may be more focussed and may provide more targeted clients.
  3. Run your own event! This allows you to have control over all aspects and there’s potential to receive sponsorship from other businesses to aid funding, however, this is a much larger topic to be discussed.

Given the large impact that events can have on a business, it is worth considering all avenues to get events into your marketing strategy!

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