By Megan Hebert, Trade Show Coordinator for Foster Marketing Communications

Throughout our careers, we all glean tips and tricks of the trade. After several years coordinating trade shows and traveling from Calgary to Kuala Lumpur, I have learned that Velcro is a must, Pledge wipes work best for Plexiglas and that when a protester runs through an exhibit hall spray painting your video screen the day before a show you must ask for a miracle.

The moral of this story is that with trade shows, you have to be prepared for everything because anything can happen.

I have always considered myself a “planner.” My datebook is organized and filled with as many details as I can cram. So, in a way, it makes sense that I have found myself coordinating trade shows, a profession that has taken my planner habits up a few notches. With trade shows, my rule is plan early and often.

In many cases, booking a booth space for a trade show is done a year in advance – two years ahead for biennial events – and often exhibitors sign up for next year’s show before the current show has closed. The nature of this business is to plan ahead, which requires staying abreast of contract deadlines and being prepared to commit early. This, in many cases, is the only way to ensure better booth placement. And for an exhibitor, staking your claim on the high-traffic spots can mean a successful return on your trade show investment.

So, it’s no surprise that many of our clients are already knee-deep in 2011 show planning. For instance, the fortunate holders of a priority number for the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) must submit contracts for 2011 space assignment by Aug. 6. Again, I stress, plan early and often.

In addition to planning early and often, here are a few tidbits to live by from independent exhibit-management consultant Candy Adams.

• Start with the strategy, not the tactics. Plan for trade shows strategically rather than tactically – don’t simply go through the motions. Set measurable objectives, qualify attendees, choose the proper products to display and put together a plan for pre-show, at-show and post-show activities.

• Always have a Plan B. Trade shows do not run perfectly – there are too many variables involved. Your only defense is to plan for contingencies.

Arrive at the show early. Problems arise when trying to do too much in too little time. Arrive during setup to ensure all is going according to plan and to orient yourself.

• Cultivate good relationships. As with any vendor relationship, treat them well and they’ll return the favor. Get to know the people you work with on the show floor.

• Always ask for discounts. Knowing how to get discounts is one of the keys to maximum cost savings.

• Pad your budget. Add 10 percent to your budget for contingencies that often arise.

• Build extra time into your schedule. Pad your schedule and push up your internal deadlines. With the many deadlines you’ll need to juggle, giving yourself a buffer is a very good idea.

With each show attended and every new exhibit developed, a trade show coordinator gains valuable knowledge.

To help you prepare for your next show, Foster Marketing Communications is excited to introduce its latest downloadable guide for the oil and gas industry: Trade Show & Event Marketing: Information to maximize your event potential.

Covering the processes of trade show and events planning for the oil and gas industry as well as other industries, this free guide serves as a roadmap for navigating the process – from conceptualization to post-show follow-up. Anyone who has coordinated a trade show will tell you that identifying every detail in the process is not possible because each trade show often has its own set of rules. With that in mind, this guide is designed to provide a useful overview to assist in formulating a trade show or event game plan.

As always, Foster Marketing can help you navigate these details and craft a comprehensive plan for your company for both domestic and international events. Happy planning!