Good Budget. Bad Budget. Cutting Tradeshow Costs Strategically.

by | Jan 24, 2017

You want to cut your tradeshow program’s costs. Who doesn’t? Reducing tradeshow costs is smart business (plus it’s always good to show upper management you’ve got their back). But in our experience, sometimes the wrong things get cut from the budget. A couple of examples? An exhibitor built a big, new booth, then halved booth staffing to reduce costs, resulting in a packed booth without enough people to handle the crowd. Another broke the bank on a big digital presentation area – then, to save money, looped a tired-looking, impact-free PowerPoint on it throughout the show.

So how do you make the right call on what to cut? Here are two approaches to reducing tradeshow costs – one simple and short-term, the other longer-term and more strategic.

Short-Term Approach: Recently suggested by Exhibitor is this idea. Collect all the budget line items for your next show from all suppliers involved. Don’t forget your own internal costs. Then separate them into two lists. Those that positively impact the visitor experience. And those that are largely invisible to your audience. Then see if you can cut the latter. For instance:

  • Staffer T&E: Can you cut this without making them miserable or angry?
  • Shipping: Can you cut post-show shipping costs by sending and storing your exhibit closer to where it’s needed next, instead of shipping it back across the country?
  • Graphics: Can you move to lower cost graphic materials without sacrificing impact?
  • Renting: Is there anything you need at the show that is cheaper to rent than to build or ship – provided renting doesn’t spoil your on-floor presence?
  • What You Bring: Is there anything you typically take to a show – perhaps out of habit – that doesn’t get used or add-value? This can include anything from structure, furniture and tech/equipment to literature and people.

Longer-Term: Each year, look at your overall program’s costs and identify three cost cutting strategies that you want to test in a given year. Implement them and then measure the results. And, of course, don’t forget to tell management you’re testing cost-cutting strategies. For instance:

  • Set a goal to make the majority of the tradeshow graphics you print reusable across the year, rather than show-specific (e.g., leave off show name and booth number). Or propose a plan to move to largely digital messaging instead of printing.
  • Try reducing rigging costs for lighting your exhibit by building lighting into the structure
  • Experiment with planning shows further in advance – including sticking to the decision and approval timeline you get from your exhibit house. Hard as this is for some companies, there are many ways this can save money (e.g., getting show services discounts, avoiding rush shipping). It can also help increase the chances that you get just what you want without making compromises.
  • TCO or “total cost of ownership”: When building any new structure, challenge your designers to find ways to make it cheaper to own and operate over time (e.g., storage,drayage, shipping, refurbing and more) while at the same time increasing its effective life-span – say from 3 years to 5. See what they come up with.

And if you need help with any ideas on how to reduce your tradeshow costs strategically, or how to implement them, Art Guild is always happy to help.