Washington State Trade Show Preplanning Guide

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Washington State Department of Commerce


on your decision to join a Washington trade show delegation. Trade shows have historically proven to be one of the best strategies for small businesses to grow export sales. As you know, even in this connected world, trade shows can be a very cost effective and productive way to court new business, meet new prospects and secure new customers. Commerce selects targeted industry trade shows in key markets that represent the best opportunities for Washington small businesses to develop new international business. Whether you are new to working these events or an old pro, we think you’ll find this primer both informative and useful, not only for maximizing your time at the event, but effectively preparing for your travels as well as following up on your leads after you return stateside.


A trade show can be a total blur and a lost opportunity if you don’t properly prepare. Pre-planning is an essential part of your strategy if you are going to maximize the return on your investment and time. And, as they say, you can never start too early.


Before you invest in travel arrangements, marketing materials or reach out to your first prospect, you want to think about the goals you are trying to achieve through your participation. Ideally, these should be measurable goals. Here are just a few of the goals attendees typically have: • Check out the competition • Spot industry trends • Generate leads for future sales • Build a quality mailing list

The tips and techniques presented here are based on best practices as well as lessons learned by the team at Washington State’s Department of Commerce. Each show is different, of course, but this information should help you get the most out of your participation.

• Find better or cheaper suppliers

The Department of Commerce participates in many international trade shows annually. These range from major shows such as the Paris Air Show or Mobile World Congress to smaller shows that are tightly aligned with specific industries or audiences. In some cases, a trade show includes a trade mission component, one where the Governor or other state elected officials are in attendance. Trade missions may include pre- and post-show itineraries focused on increasing trade, forging new agreements of cooperation or exploring new opportunities for Washington businesses in countries that value, and sometimes require, government-level introductions. International trade missions can also occur separately from trade shows; they are not one in the same.

• Increase your company’s visibility in the industry

• Write sales orders • Find new partners • Introduce a new product or service

• Build rapport with your existing customers • Get some media coverage • Develop your business model to meet the new/changing needs of the customer–potential, new and current Set your goals and integrate them early into your planning.


Trade shows can be misunderstood at the senior level. Executive support is critical to ensure proper allocation of company resources and for the overall success of your company’s participation. Review your plans with senior management well in advance, and get their input and gain their support for the proposed costs, marketing strategy, key messages and show goals.


Use the trade show’s website to learn everything you can about the event, including the historical and expected attendance, speakers, exhibitors, the layout of the exhibit space and your location. If there are seminars or breakout sessions, figure out which ones you will want to attend and register for them, if that option is available. You may want to skip a keynote to work the floor, since it will be less crowded and you’ll have more time with exhibitors and prospects.


Some trade shows sell out extremely fast as we can only offer a limited number of co-exhibitor spaces in the Washington State Pavilion. Many shows offer you the chance to have a physical space in the Washington State pavilion as a co-exhibitor while others let you use the space as a launching pad for working the show floor and meeting with customers and prospects as a delegate. Your Washington State Commerce trade show expert can show you exhibit plans and discuss options with you if you haven’t already booked.


It’s tough to go it alone. One of the biggest advantages of coexhibiting with Washington State is that our Commerce team will help you manage your exhibit space while you are on the floor or in a meeting. That said, you may want to think about having an additional member of your team on hand, since they know your company, product or service better than anyone else. Before you decide, however, speak with one of the Department of Commerce organizers since exhibit space can be tight and an overcrowded booth can be just as detrimental to meeting show goals as an empty one.


It can be tempting to throw everything but the kitchen sink into your marketing, but this dilutes your message and can result in a lost sales opportunity because attendees are already overwhelmed and over-stimulated at major shows. Choose just two or three key messages or competitive advantages for your company, product or service and stay focused on them in your collateral, presentations and graphics. This includes the messages you have in the Washington State show directory that Commerce produces, which lists your business, complete with your logo, contact information and brief sales pitch.


Once you’ve decided to attend a show with Commerce and have signed aboard, plan out your budget. Set realistic expectations for show-related costs, including air travel, accommodations, ground transportation, meals and incidentals. If you need advice, your Commerce team can give you a good idea of historic costs for specific shows.


You may also want to ask about getting an Export Voucher from the Department of Commerce, which can be used to offset trade show or trade mission fees and registration costs, airfare (on U.S. carriers only), interpreter fees, translation services (for websites, collateral, etc.), export training programs, services of the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service and international certifications.


Your best laid plans can be for naught if you don’t let others know you’re at a show. Three-quarters of attendees plan out the companies they want to see before they go to the show. Letting your customers, prospects and suppliers know you’re going to be at a particular show will increase your chances of being on their “must see” list. You may want to send out an email blast or postcards to your mailing lists to let them know where you’ll be. Be sure to include the hall and booth number. A map may be helpful as well; one where your space is clearly marked. Work with Commerce to utilize its in-market representatives to help identify and set up individual business introductions and meetings. At many shows, Commerce arranges group meetings with key buyers and co-exhibitors will have the opportunity to give a oneon-one “speed dating” pitch. Work closely in advance with your Commerce show manager to be aware of these opportunities and to plan accordingly. At some shows, Commerce and its co-exhibitors host afternoon business networking “happy hours” in the booth. Find out if these will be happening and extend an invite to your prospects, vendors or customers. Again, be sure to include your booth number so you’re easy to find. If you have a special web page dedicated to the show, include this as well.


There’s a lot to do before a major trade show. Make sure you don’t miss a critical connection, such as a flight or hotel reservation or key show meetings. The following is a general guideline to use for planning.


Look into hotels and flights. The Commerce team is usually based out of a single hotel so you may want to book your room there to make it easier to travel to and from the show and connect with other exhibitors. Your trade show representatives at the Department of Commerce can point you in the right direction if the host hotel isn’t already listed in your packet.

• If you have show-specific collateral and promotional giveaways you want to bring, make sure your design team is engaged early so you have plenty of time to review the materials, approve them, get them printed and shipped overseas. Depending on the location of the show, consider having them translated in their entirety or create a dual language version. Be sure you hire a professional translator versed in that particular language and even dialect. A mistranslated piece can sabotage your best sales efforts. • Consider bringing only a few printed copies and instead prepare a well-designed digital version to send as a follow up to prospects. Also consider using postcards for your marketing that direct customers to your website. They are less expensive and more likely to be kept by your customers.

For major shows, rooms and flights can fill up fast. If you leave it to the last minute you will find that flights and rooms are prohibitively expensive, geographically inconvenient or simply unavailable.

• Work with Commerce to plan how your collateral materials will be displayed in the stand.

When traveling overseas, you may want to book your flight and hotel so you arrive a day or two before the show starts. This will help you with jetlag, allow you to acclimate a bit and add a bit of cushion to your schedule in case of unexpected travel delays, and be on hand to attend any pre-show events for the Washington delegation.

• Contact Commerce’s show staff and provide them with:


• Make sure you have submitted all the requested materials required for Commerce’s delegation directory. This usually includes a printable version of your logo in .eps or .ai formats (no .jpg, .tif, .png or .pub files), contact information and your brief sales pitch. Commerce will contact you directly to let you know exactly what is needed, including the estimated word count for the message. • For most shows, Commerce plans a pre-show “boot camp” in Seattle, several weeks prior to the show. Up-to-date information on planning and logistics details will be shared with co-exhibitors at the boot camp and it is extremely important for you to attend this session.


A clear, concise message of what you are selling


Who you want to meet


What makes your product, service or company special


Any press releases or marketing materials


The address to your website or special event page you’ve created


This information will help the Commerce staff match your company to prospects at the show. Tip: The more thought and work you put into this, the more closely matched your business meetings will be.

• If you are planning to take samples of products or equipment to a show overseas, you want to get an ATA Carnet (i.e., a Merchandise Passport) so you don’t get charged import duty as you enter and leave a foreign country. The ATA Carnet allows you to bring goods in temporarily duty- and tax-free, whether it is being shipped or hand carried. You can learn more about ATA Carnets at http://export.gov/logistics/ eg_main_018129.asp • If you are co-exhibiting in the Washington State Pavilion, remember that space may be limited. If you have larger items to display, contact the Commerce team in advance of the show to be sure there is room to display them properly. • Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months after the show dates. If it is set to expire, renew it.


• Even though the Commerce team will help arrange business meetings for you, you will still want to conduct your own outreach well before the show. • One strategy is to categorize your prospects and leads according to A’s, B’s and C’s. The A’s are the hot prospects, the must-meets. The B’s are the want-to-meets and the C’s are the nice-to-meets, if there is time. This will also help you manage your time at the show. While it’s nice to meet a C, you want to manage your time so you can focus on meeting A’s and B’s. • As you set up meetings, remember that it can take 15-30 minutes or more to walk from one end of a show to the other. Leave plenty of time for you and the person you are meeting to navigate the show grounds. And, plan for weather factors if you will need to walk outside to get between halls.

• Record meeting times correctly, especially when you are sending or accepting electronic meeting invites. Be sure they are set to the show’s local time, not your company’s local time. • Call your prospects personally to arrange a time and location for the meeting. Meeting space at some shows can be extremely limited so you want to confirm the exact meeting place and reserve a room, if necessary. Commerce will have information on meeting room options that will be available at the show. • Make sure you have sufficient business cards in stock. If not, order an additional supply. Better to bring too many than not enough. The general rule is to bring three times the cards you think you’ll need. • Check into the cost of shipping any collateral you may have to the event venue or your hotel. Allow plenty of time for transport overseas and have a backup plan, just in case the materials don’t arrive on time. Whenever possible or practical, consider using electronic materials. It’s far easier to send a brochure, white paper or sales sheet electronically. • If you’re shipping collateral, products or equipment, read through the show’s exhibitor manual or contact your Commerce team member to get instructions. Shows have different requirements and you don’t want to have a shipment rejected or returned because it was sent to the wrong place. • Consider sending out an incentive offer to prospects or suppliers to get them to visit you. Repeat the mailing or emailing about four weeks out. • Make sure that you have all your required immunizations and travel visas (if needed). • Confirm your travel arrangements with the hotel, airline and ground transportation.


• Check to see that all necessary equipment has been ordered. If you are bringing a laptop, make sure you have the proper cabling to any projectors or monitors you’ll be using. If you’re using a monitor, find out how your presentation needs to be formatted. Don’t assume there will be a computer or media player attached to a monitor. Ask what the connection is so you know what you need to buy or bring. • Check on the progress of any collateral you’re having prepared. If you are having it printed in Europe or Asia, the printer may require a different size format than U.S. printers. Sometimes it is cheaper and easier to get materials printed overseas, but the difference in formats can increase design costs if you already have pieces on hand that were designed to U.S. specs. Discuss issues related to export control laws with Commerce. If these laws pertain to your products or services Commerce can help to ensure you are in compliance during your participation at the trade show.



• Follow up by phone with your hottest prospects to confirm your meeting time and place. • Check with Commerce to make sure you have all of your exhibitor passes, badges or any other show-specific paperwork you’ll need. • Let your Commerce team know your travel plans, including your expected arrival date, flight numbers and hotel. • Provide the Commerce team with your email and phone number so they can contact you at the show with any last minute schedule or venue changes. • Track your shipments to see if there are any delays or problems. • Check with your Commerce team for any changes in the schedule, especially any pre-show events, welcome activities prior to the show or transportation to and from the trade show grounds.

• Check with your cell carrier to make sure you have the right plan to cover international phone calls, texts and data.

• Brush up on your closing skills. Learn how to turn a lead into a prospect and a prospect into a customer.

• Prepare your shipment of products, equipment and literature. This, of course, depends on your freight company’s deadlines but don’t be tempted to cut your deadline too close.

• Perfect your presentation. Remember, you have a lot to say in a short space of time. Make your pitch count. If you’re doing a PowerPoint, keep the pace fast. Hit only the high points. Don’t bore them with graphs and charts; it will just go in one ear and out the other.

• Make sure all your paperwork is in order with your shipper and immigration (if necessary). • Brush up on the cultural differences between the U.S. and the country the trade show is being held in. For instance, it is a custom in China to offer a gift at a business meeting, but your counterpart may refuse it up to three times before accepting it, so you have to be persistent. In France, a lighter handshake is preferred over a firm one and chewing gum in public is considered vulgar.


• Finalize your show plan. Time can really fly by at major shows so you want to have a plan of attack that allows you plenty of time to be in your exhibit space, work the show floor and attend key meetings and sessions. Pace yourself and plan each day strategically to get the most out of the show. Past exhibitors will tell you that setting up meetings with highly targeted prospects in advance and planning your time at the show are the keys to being both successful and productive. This includes planning your route. Try not to double back a lot on the show floor. Study the master map and try to hit prospects in the same general area all at once.


• Pack judiciously. You want to pack light. Be sure that you pack mix-and-match attire to not only cover the exhibit days, but also the on-site and off-site events and activities. A comfortable pair of shoes is essential as you’ll be on your feet much of the day. • A light backpack or bag can also be helpful so you can carry any exhibitor collateral or a light jacket with you to and from the show. • Be sure to bring the correct electrical outlet adapters for the country where the show is held. • If needed, purchase your transportation passes in advance. In many cases you can purchase passes before you leave the states. If not, you’ll need to get them on the day of your arrival to avoid the show crowds.


• Rehearse your booth presentation. Go over the key messages and make sure your technology is all working. • Get plenty of sleep. You have a long day ahead of you. • Charge all of your electronics. Make sure you do this every night before you go to bed. While there are outlets on-site, you don’t want to have to try to find one when the low-battery light suddenly comes on and you’re in the middle of an important meeting.


After you get back to Washington after the show, please be sure to share any feedback, thoughts, suggestions, etc. with Commerce. This information is critical for Commerce staff to plan for future shows and add as much value as possible to maximize the return for small businesses that co-exhibit with us. Commerce will follow up soon after the show with an electronic survey in order to start capturing any successes and new sales that your company generated as a result of being at a trade show. Every six months for the next few years, you will receive a followup to capture downstream sales results you achieve from the show. Your individual company data will always be kept strictly confidential. Aggregated data is reported to state officials to help demonstrate the value of Commerce’s small business export assistance programs, which helps ensure Commerce will continue to receive state funding to continue its programs in future years.


• If you have your exhibitor pass you will be able to access the show on set up days. Commerce will usually arrange a meeting at the booth ahead of the show and this is a good chance to check where the booth is, set up your space and orientate yourself with the show, targeted companies, etc. • Depending on the show, Commerce may organize an informal group get together and this is a great opportunity for coexhibitors to meet each other before the show gets underway. It is worth mentioning that at every show we’ve had two or three Washington companies meet and end up doing business together!


If you have any questions, please contact your Commerce show manager. www.choosewashington.com/about-us/meet-our-team/

2001 6th Avenue Suite 2600 Seattle, WA 98121 206.256.6100

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