By Won Chae Matthews

Anyone who has ever planned an exhibit for a trade show knows that it can be a monumental task.  It is not hard.  You don’t need a PHD, it’s just the sheer volume of deadlines and tasks that can bury you in a mountain of to-do items with no apparent end in sight.  But whether you are a first time exhibitor or a seasoned trade show road warrior, exhibiting at a trade show can be as easy as 1-2-3 as long as you plan accordingly.

For every trade show project I manage, the first thing I do is create my work breakdown structure or WBS. A WBS is a project management tool that breaks down complex projects into bite-sized, manageable components. I would like to share with you a broad overview of our approach to our WBS for trade show exhibit management. The broad elements that are included are 1–Planning, 2–Execution and 3–Closeout.

  1. Planning – During the initial planning phase our team custom tailors a comprehensive plan for each trade show project.  Included in this plan is a Quality Assurance (QA) system to ensure that quality requirements are not only fulfilled but also repeatable. This includes the development of standards and a methodology to measure, monitor, compare and document the products, procedures and/or services rendered to the pre-defined quality standards.  We are well aware that the goal of any quality assurance program is to produce quality deliverables the first time, on time, every time.  Unfortunately, this is not always the case.  Therefore, we also integrate a continuous improvement program that documents clear procedures that re-emphasize repeatable processes, achieving best practice solutions which are then looped back into this QA system.  Elements under the planning phase include:
    • Trade Show Evaluation
    • Client Consultations
    • Statement of Work/Project Plan
    • Exhibit Theme & Design
    • Price Proposal
  1. Execution – Expo Outfitter’s project team will execute the approved project plan.  All actions items and deliverables are continuously collected and analyzed to ensure that processes and protocols are being followed, timelines & milestones are met, costs are within budget, defects are minimized and performance standards are within contract requirements.  By continuously monitoring and measuring progress and ensuring quality is maintained each step of the way, problems can be identified and corrective actions implemented in real time, thus maintaining the project schedule and reducing costs.  Elements under the execution phase include:
    • Project Kickoff Meeting
    • Show Services Order Coordination
    • Graphic Design and Strategic Communications
    • Exhibit
    • Freight Logistics
    • Risk Management
    • On-site Exhibit Supervision
  1. Closeout: Upon the completion of every trade show project, Expo Outfitters conducts a postmortem of the project with our client.  We collect quality and customer satisfaction surveys.  We document any deficiencies, any corrective actions taken and lessons learned from the project and report back to all stakeholders.  The value of learning from our successes and our mistakes are now part of our collective knowledge that leads to a process of continual improvements and best practice solutions ensuring that moving forward our team works smarter and more efficiently resulting in higher quality and lower trade show exhibiting costs.  Elements under the closeout procedures include:
    • Receiving and Warehousing
    • Procurement Audit
    • Lessons Learned
    • Updated Project Files
    • Closeout Reporting
    • Exhibit Images
    • Archive for Future Use

In addition to following the approach outlined above, exhibitors need to have a clear understanding of what a successful trade show means to key stakeholders within their company. Without this, it doesn’t matter how organized and on point you are. True success comes from achieving sales & marketing objectives. So, if you combine our WBS approach with an intense focus on results, you will look and feel like an exhibiting rock star!