It's winter, the time many companies begin to ramp up for the biggest industry events of the year in January, February, and March. In Q1 alone, for example, retail businesses have NRF's "Big Show," tech companies have CES, and the digital music, marketing, and entertainment crowds converge on Austin for SXSW.

Whether you're a budget-challenged startup or a corporate marketer headed to a tradeshow for the first time, to prepare your company's branding for an appearance at one of the major events can be daunting.

Those challenges include determining...

  • What you really need in terms of booth signage/banners, props, tchotchkes, handouts
  • How early you start to get materials produced and delivered by the time of the event—and how much you'll need to budget for these materials
  • How can you establish and reinforce your brand's presence in a crowded field—among business prospects and media—without breaking the bank

As a veteran of too many industry tradeshows, and someone whose company helps thousands of marketers prepare for those industry events, I can share the following "Do's" and "Don'ts" to successfully maximize your ROI and achieve the best results at events from a branding perspective.

Do start early and shop around, particularly with regard to producing signage and banners for a booth or table.

Vendors can produce materials in a pinch (after you've nailed down the necessary specs and restrictions from the show on your booth and table space), but at least 4-6 weeks ahead of the show you'll need to send proofs of anything you need to print or produce, unless you're happy to pay outrageous rush fees... so plan ahead.

And there's more to produce than just banners and table toppers. For example, if you plan to showcase sample products at your table, you'll need smaller signage to identify and direct attention to items. Or if you want to offer attendees a promo code, you might create a four-color postcard for media and others to take from your booth so you don't lose that lead.

Don't forget to check any props, signage, and other printed items before you get to the event. Longtime PR pro and CES veteran Lindsay Stevens recalls a time she had to have several banners rush-printed to get them to a tradeshow on time, only to open them on the show floor to find one of the stands was broken and there was a glaringly awkward typo on another. Now she opts to travel with the banners, noting that the hassle is worth it to avoid the risk of typos or other snafus at a point too late to rectify.

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image of Pamela Webber

Pamela Webber is chief operating officer of 99designs, a global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love.

LinkedIn: Pam Webber

Twitter: @pamwebber_sf