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Going Back to Basics: Tradeshow Must-Haves

By Katie Creaser | On March 13, 2013

tradeshowTradeshow season (my favorite season of all!) is upon us. It’s the time of year when snow melts, flowers bloom – and you struggle to calculate the wattage required to provide electricity to a dozen laptops and multiple LCD screens for your 10×20 booth space (side note: why do the power strips always need to be ordered separately – what is the sense in that?). It’s so easy to get caught up in furniture, floral, labor and Internet – you may overlook the things that won’t physically be sitting in the space when you arrive on-site.

A few worst case scenarios (taken directly from my own nightmares):

  • You are at Kinkos running copies of your press kit at midnight the day before the show opens. In this situation the copier always jams, the kits look unprofessional and everything ends up costing way more than what you were planning to spend. You show up at the booth the following morning looking haggard and empty-behind-the-eyes.
  • You make a shameful visit to a competitor booth during show set-up to borrow sharpies and electrical tape. Pro tip: Should this happen, remember to take off your badge.
  • The furniture vendor has no recollection of your order – and therefore no furniture has been delivered to your booth. You’d love to track down the invoice in your inbox, but alas, the exhibit hall has no wireless access.

I think we’ve all been there.

Even if you aren’t physically setting up the booth – maybe you’re handling press or part of the sales team – it’s important to make a list of must-haves before you leave for the show. You should assume that tracking down last-minute items will be complicated and time consuming. It’s critical to expect the unexpected. Remember, the purpose of the show is to build your brand, sell your product, garner media attention and network – you can’t do that effectively without preparation and the right tools.

Here’s a simple list of tradeshow must-haves – personally speaking, this list has maximized my time in the booth while saving me from running all over a new city in a frustrating scavenger hunt. Note: this list will be much more extensive if you are charged with managing all booth logistics and staff.

Public Relations:

  • Media list: highlight the contacts that you pitched pre-show for easy reference
  • Briefing books: send briefing books electronically to spokespeople before you leave. Bring two physical copies per spokesperson and one master book for yourself
  • Map of exhibit hall: highlight the press room and press booths. Bring an extra copy because someone will inevitably borrow (and misplace) yours
  • Press releases: bring several physical copies of every release to be issued during the show and organize them for yourself in order of release date. Email yourself electronic versions
  • Press kits: ship these to the show at least a week prior. Email yourself a copy (just in case) and additionally bring at least 10 physical copies with you
  • Business cards: bring a ton. If you are with an agency, write your client’s name on the cards in advance so the reporter makes the association afterwards
  • Reporter ‘wish list’: make a list of reporters that you’d love to meet at the show – use the list as a quick reference for when you are pitching from the show floor

Sales Tools: 

  • Booth demo: bring a copy on a USB and email a copy to yourself
  • Collateral: ship physical copies of your sales collateral to the booth in advance of the show, and bring a few physical copies with you. Email yourself copies of all
  • Partner/customer appointments: Consolidate all bookings into one master document and bring a physical print out to the show with the locations and times for all appointments
  • Booth schedule: Create a master list of who will be staffing the booth each day during the show. Slot in breaks for meals and 15 minute “rest” periods
  • Giveaways: make sure to ship prior to the show. Personally, I always ship these to myself at the hotel – as a smaller box is more likely to get lost in the shuffle

Vendor Information:

  • Vendor invoices: bring a physical copy of every single invoice associated with the show. Additionally, put all of the invoices in a folder in your email inbox for easy access
  • Shipping invoices: bring your Fed-Ex and USPS tracking numbers along with the dates and places where items are scheduled to arrive
  • Vendor contant information: bring the phone numbers and email addresses of all of the third-party vendors that you worked with for the show (including designers, agencies and logistics suppliers)

Electrical supplies:

  • Dongle to connect your computer to the HDMI cable on your LCD: this is particularly important if you have a Mac
  • Power strip with multiple plug-ins: bring at least one, more if you think you’ll need it
  • Laptop: bring yours and make sure whoever is responsible for the demo has theirs

Office supplies:

  • Box of pens
  • Box of sharpies
  • Blank fed ex shipping forms
  • Tape: bring scotch tape + masking/electrical tape
  • Stapler and extra staples
  • Notebooks
  • Post-its
  • Scissors
  • Shipping information for booth breakdown: you’ll need the address and contact information for anything that will be sent back to your organization


  • Business cards: if it’s a large show, consider emailing yourself an electronic version of your card just in case you need to run off additional copies
  • Bottled water
  • Cough drops
  • Gum/mints/hard candy
  • Purell hand sanitizer
  • Pain reliever (e.g. Tylenol or Advil)
  • Coverage on the homefront: make sure someone in the office has your back while you are on-site for last minute shipping or if you need help tracking items down
  • Directions to the nearest Kinkos, Staples and Starbucks (trust me on that last one)

Did I forget anything? What’s on your list of tradeshow must-haves?

Katie Creaser

Katie is a senior vice president at Affect, where she provides counsel to clients that are looking to bring PR and social media into their communications program as part of a thoughtful, holistic strategy. Katie works closely with Affect’s technology and healthcare clients to ensure that their value resonates with customers by creating compelling content for every medium. Prior to joining Affect, Katie served as assistant program manager for the Capital Roundtable, an event production company for the private equity, investment banking, venture capital, legal, hedge fund and professional advisory communities in New York City.