tradeshowPlanEvent management has become a big part of what I do. One thing I stress is that every event needs a documented plan: it starts with strategy and then dives into the tactics. Not only does this give everyone a single “plan of record” to refer to as they work on the show, it helps you with planning for subsequent years.

So what should your event plan include? Needless to say, start with the name, location, and dates of the event. Beyond that, I divide this into two broad sections: overall strategy and tactics, which don’t change (or change very little) in the months leading to your event. Then in addition to your event plan, there are additional detailed plans for each applicable tactic, which will be fine-tuned as you go along.

The idea behind this event plan is that it is a high-level overview suitable for your manager or the board of directors to be able to see at a glance what will be happening at the event. If you do this right, your plan will provide everything they need to know without them needing to get mired in the details. Then your detailed plans for the tactics will have everything you and the event team will need to make the show happen.


Overall Strategy

Your event plan starts with strategy before diving into the tactics. Every show plan (and other marketing plans) should start with this. This section includes an overview of the audience, goal, strategy, positioning, and budget — all described in more detail below.


thumbAudienceIdentify the audience beyond what the show prospectus says. Describe the part of the audience that you hope to attract to your booth, presentation, etc. What are the specific interests and qualities of this audience which make them the right audience for you? This step of identifying the audience is far too often skipped, and thus presentations are not slanted for the best impact.

If you have more than one audience, prioritize them into your primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences. But don’t spread yourself too thin — limit it to at most three. Your main focus will of course be on your primary audience, but be prepared to address all of your identified audiences. For example:

Primary audience: Engineering managers

Secondary audience: Software engineers

Tertiary audience: Press



Most planners start with the goal, but I think you need to understand your audience before you can identify the goal.

To identify your goal, answer the question: Why is your organization spending the budget to be at this event and what do you need to accomplish it to make it worth that spend? Is it to sell stuff? To educate? To launch a product? To get new members?

Articulate the reason you are there and write it down. The more measurable the better, and if the way to measure it is not obvious, add that here. For many organizations, the goal is the same at most or all of their events with only a few tweaks. If you have more than one goal, identify which is the primary goal and make that your main focus. For example:

Primary goal: Get at least two new corporate members for the organization.

Secondary goal: Educate SW engineers on how to get started with the XYZ Product. (Success measured by achieving an increase of at least 15% in downloads of the StartUp Guide.)



thumbStrategyIf there is a larger marketing plan for the organization, how does this show fit into the marketing strategy? For this particular event, what is the big picture of how you will achieve your stated goal? For example:

Strategy for primary goal: Focus on membership benefits and providing information that engineering managers can use to sell membership internally to their management.

Strategy for secondary goal: Promote the XYZ Product to inspire SW engineers to use it, emphasizing its ease of use and contrasting it against main competing product.



Identify exactly how you will position your product or service for each of your audiences so as to reach your stated goals. For example:

Position for organization: We are the org that is most focussed on promoting open source as a viable way for companies to increase their bottom line while improving the ecosystem.

Position for XYZ Product: Not only does this product stay true to its roots in open source, it is easier to use than the competition while providing true portability to our users’ code.



thumbBudgetDifferent organizations handle this in different ways, but assuming you will be in charge of it, this is a good place to put the budget, using the budgeting style and template that your organization prefers. At a minimum, list the amount of budget allocated to this event.



Only when you have written up the completed overall strategy should you work on the tactics. This is because every tactical decision needs to be made in support of that overall strategy.


Keeping everything in the overall strategy in mind, write out messaging blurbs of varying lengths for each positioning statement. This is the text that will be used in show promotions, newsletters, social media: everywhere. Also revisit your company overview, rewriting it to align with your overall strategy for the event.

Every blurb should include your booth# (if applicable), and a link to your website for more information about the event. Be sure to use a friendly URL, and for the Tweet, use or another link-shortening service. What do I mean by a friendly URL? Instead of, set up a redirect to something more like

Be sure to distribute this messaging to every person on your team working on collateral and promotions, and to your sales team, and any partners who may be promoting your event in social media. Examples of the messaging lengths:

200-500 words: Show guides and online listings (adjust to meet specific word-count requirements)

100-150 words: This is a good length for Facebook and other similar site posts.

30-50 words: This is a good length for guest posts or comments on other posts.

120 characters: The ubiquitous Tweet. Be sure to include the count of characters in your shortened URL.

Some say this is too detailed for the overall plan and belongs instead in a detailed promotions plan, but I like to include it, as I want everybody to be using this content as they promote the event. If the messaging is buried too deeply in a promotions or marketing plan, it might not get used.



thumbBoothIf your event is a tradeshow, then chances are you will have a booth on the exhibition floor. If so, then the specific planning that goes into the booth is an entire separate plan on its own. If you are having a booth, include here just an overview of what you plan to do and put the millions of details into a separate booth plan. For example:

We will have a 10×20 booth at space #150. We plan to serve beer in the afternoons on the first and second days, and have presentations twice each day on all three days. We will invite people to leave a business card to be added to our newsletter list, but are not planning to swipe badges. See the Booth Plan for more information.



Many tradeshows offer exhibitors and others the opportunity to hold workshops, presentations, panels, demos, BOFs (birds of a feather), or other types of sessions at the show. In your plan, you should list what sessions you will be participating in. If you are participating with other companies in their sessions, note that here as well. For example:

Panel (date): 5-person panel to discuss open source issues. MC will be Bob Smith. Panelists TBD.

Workshop (date): 2-hour workshop on how to install and get started with XYZ Product.

Workshop (date): Half-day session on open source compilers hosted by We will have a one-hour time-slot to focus on XYZ Product.

Booth presentations: Six in-booth presentations over three days. See Booth Details for more information.

Then each of the sessions listed here will need to have a detailed plan of its own.



Collateral is a tradeshow staple that has a much smaller footprint than it used to. Partly to reduce paper waste and partly because people don’t want to have to haul pounds of brochures home in their suitcases, many companies have cut back on the amount and sizes of collateral that they give away. Some companies have done away with collateral altogether, opting instead for signage with QRCs (quick reference codes), or PDFs and other files on a USB drive.

In your plan, list the collateral you plan to make available at the event along with a description of what it is and what will be done with it. For example:

Membership Benefits trifold: We will have a small supply in the booth and at all sessions for prospective members. Will be used by sales team in 1:1 conversations, not put in a literature rack. Will also be distributed to all sales and executive teams to have on hand for all contacts during show.

XYZ Product overview 2-pager: We will have this letter-size flyer in a literature rack in the booth and will also hand it out in the workshops. This will also be a PDF on the USB drive given away in the 2-hour workshop on (date).

XYZ Product URL Card: Business card with XYZ Product logo and overview, QRC and URL for the XYZ Product page, and email address for sales and support contacts. Will be in the booth and all our sessions. Will also be distributed to all sales and executive teams  to have on hand for all contacts during show.



thumbGiveawaysAre you planning to hand out gifts to the people who attend your sessions or visit your booth? While this is typical at many shows, it is not as ubiquitous as it used to be. If you do, be sure that the giveaway aligns with your strategy and is appropriate for your audience. I have a lot to say on this topic: more about tradeshow giveaways here. This applies not only to small gifts you hand out at the booth, but also to prizes for contests or drawings. Whatever you decide, put an overview in your plan. For example:

No giveaways will be in the booth, however attendees of the 2-hour workshop on (date) will receive a USB drive containing collateral and XYZ Product sample files. Details about the USB drive are in the workshop plan.



A significant portion of the cost of most events is for the staff needed to make it happen. In your plan, list the people who will be needed, when they will be needed, and a brief overview of what they will do.



How will you (or your marketing department) promote the event? The first part of this is creating a page on your company website about the event or about what you are doing at the event. This page should give visitors links and everything they need to know to get to the show and to find you there. Also include in this plan what blurbs or promotions you will put on your company website, press releases, social media, print or other advertising, banner ads, newsletters, emails, and more.



While the Overall Strategy and Tactics sections make up the full event plan, you also need to have a separate detailed plan for each of the applicable tactics. For some events this is just a single additional document with all the details, but if the tactics are divided between multiple event managers it might be spread out among multiple plans. These plans go into great detail and are your final roadmap and record for what you do at the event.



Every event needs a detailed budget that plans and documents how the funds allocated to this event will be spent. After the show when you measure your results against your stated goals, you can determine what the cost was to meet those goals. If you can put a value on those goals, then you can determine a return on investment (ROI) for the event.


Booth plan:

This plan needs to be extremely detailed. It should include the dates and deadlines for show guides, booth and other shipping shipping details, booth furnishings including electricity and carpet, catering (if applicable), booth staffing schedule, details about booth presentations, giveaway details, and much more. The details that go into a booth plan is a whole ‘nother blog topic for another day!


Session plans:

For each session that you listed in the event plan, you need a detailed plan that lists: names and titles of speakers, the AV you need to rent, collateral needed, additional support staffing needs, videography services, catering, giveaway details, etc.


Collateral plan:

For each piece of collateral listed in your plan, go into detail on the printers, quantities, costs, and shipping addresses.


Staffing plan:

Elaborate on the Staffing information from the event plan to record the flight information, arrival and departure times, mobile phone numbers, and hotel details. Also include here a detailed schedule of who is doing what and where and when they are doing it. Use this staffing plan as everyone’s roadmap of where they need to be and what they should be doing.


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One Response to The Event Plan: a Tradeshow Primer

  1. […] Get started on your marketing plan: What collateral will you need? Are you going to have a blog? See my post on The Minimalist Marketing Plan to get started. If trade shows will play a part in your marketing, then also see Event Plan: a Tradeshow Primer. […]

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