In-Person Booth Planning is Haute!

by Liz Lathan, CMP

I had the pleasure of joining the Women in Exhibitions virtual gathering last week and now my brain in swirling with excitement ... and trepidation. Trade shows are coming back - WITH LEGS! The bottom half of us will soon be walking around exhibit halls, getting product demos, getting badges scanned, picking up branded giveaways to bring home to the kids... or will we?

During our insights session, I learned so many things about the state of the exhibit industry and some of the concerns that come with it, so I thought I'd share, along with my ponderings on how we might address them.

Trade Show Participation

Challenge: I learned that many companies are planning their booth presence, but none of those companies are approving employee travel to attend events. So while the booths will be fully staffed, who will be in the aisles?

My Ponderings: Will we begin to see companies increasing their number of booth staff so that they can get approval to travel? If you are the show producer, do you begin to permit booth staff to have access to sessions traditionally only available to participants so that you have someone in your audience?

Booth Flow

Challenge: Assuming that booths will need to operate differently for a little while to prevent mass gatherings in a stagnant location, how are companies redesigning the in-booth experience? Should we add plexiglass to conversation areas? Should we offer demos in the booth or somewhere else? What do we do with a 10x10 space if no one is comfortable coming in it?

My Ponderings: The smart design move is to develop a one-way flow through larger booths to keep traffic moving through with distinct stopping points for demos or conversations and avoid multi-entry pile-ups. For smaller booths, is there an opportunity to use them as brand touchpoints and invite participants to off-floor spaces or lounges for demos and conversations?

Intellectual Property

Challenge: There were multiple reports from exhibit companies during our conversation of clients RFPing or requesting design ideas, only to take those ideas and then RFP them for a low-cost booth build (without having paid for the initial design ideas from the originator). While this has always been a challenge for the industry, it's even more difficult right now as many exhibit houses reduced their staff during the pandemic, so they are investing in design support without the promise of any work or income as a result. There's also so much volatility still in whether companies will commit to participating, that exhibit houses are doing all the work to plan for a presence, only to have the project cancelled by the client. Obviously, this is not a sustainable business model and as clients, we need to understand the stress it puts on our exhibitor friends.

My Ponderings: Talk with an exhibit house about how to ethically RFP for a design. Pay for the winning work. Don't ask for design ideas unless you have intent to actually go to the show. If you are asking your exhibit house to plan for the show, break up the SOW to pay for the planning process in the event that the actual execution part gets cancelled. For our exhibitor friends, ask more qualifying question to assess the viability of the work before eagerly supporting the client.


Challenge: In 2019, when most of us last participated in a trade show, we had a budget. We still have those spreadsheets and are excited to share with our exhibit house what our budget is now that it's been reinstated for 2021 or 2022! Oh, except that same budget also needs to cover the assets and content for the virtual portion, and does not account for increased costs for freight, labor, PPE protocols, etc.

My Ponderings: Sorry, but either your budget has to increase or your presence has to decrease. Now's the perfect time to rethink the strategy, goals, objectives, presence, and outcomes and partner with your exhibit house to create a budget that will meet your needs. Give your exhibit house some guardrails and goals and work with them on how to make it happen. Asking them for a quote *without* telling them that you only budgeted $50k for everything is not fair to either of you because you'll end up with a $200k estimate, you'll be angry and go to another exhibit house, and you'll probably give them more information than you gave the first one, and now you've just lost 3 weeks and wasted everyone's time. All of your agency partners are creative and will give you incredible ideas that will fit your budget. You just have to tell them what that budget is.

Safety Protocols

Challenge: I learned that the only protocols many expos are putting in place are mask mandates and wider aisles, but the rest of the programming and show floor layouts and meeting spaces have not really changed. And now with the new CDC guidelines, are the mask mandates necessary? How will you police the non-vaccinated participants' mask status? Can you require proof of vaccination before entering? Should you still consider onsite rapid testing? Is it necessary to do temperature checks now? Do we still need plexiglass? Should social distancing be a thing?

My Ponderings: 😓 😭 😵 😲 😷😱 😨

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Liz Lathan, CMP is co-founder of Haute Dokimazo, sparking profitable relationships anchored in genuine connection through rousing shared experiences and conversations. Explore the #HugLife community for event professionals and Convo, a program for marketing and sales executives.

Haute Dokimazo is part of Haute Companies, a family of companies that believe in human connection, from events to media (podcasts, videos, and more) to direct mail to swag to entertainment talent management to strategy session facilitation.

Contact Liz at to inquire about Secret Family Refresh or how Haute can help you create programs that foster deep and trusting relationships with your customers and workforce.