For decades, trade shows have been a marketing bastion for businesses of all sizes and industries. Budgeting for booth design, shipping, and trade show staffing was routine for many businesses, with few surprises and years of experience to rely upon.

After the pandemic forced the industry to a grinding halt in 2020, we’re seeing events spring back to life in 2021. However, with major changes to regulations, audience sizes, spaces, and more, previous methods of budgeting are no longer effective.

Build a better trade show budget for 2021 with these five tips:


1.) Factor in safety upgrades

Planning on continuing to use your pre-pandemic booth? You may need to make some modifications. Along with adhering to event space requirements for safety precautions, you’ll also want to do everything in your power to keep your staff protected:

  • Plastic dividers and shields
  • Rearranging elements to increase space between staff and booth visitors
  • Removing or spacing out any seating areas
  • Floor stickers
  • Signage
  • Hand sanitizer dispensers
  • Audio equipment to enable communication through safety barriers

If you’re not sure which safety upgrades need to be made, or how to implement them, an exhibit house with manufacturing capabilities will be able to assist with COVID-conscious design and booth modifications.


2.) Prepare for smaller but more qualified crowds

In 2021 and possibly beyond, we’ll see smaller, more hyper-focused events. This is due to limits on occupancy within event spaces and the fact that travel is riskier and more expensive, leading companies to be more choosy about which trade shows to attend.

This change in crowd size and quality affects your budget in a few ways:

  • You may be able to have the same trade show impact with a less costly booth setup. For example, if your booth previously dedicated a large amount of square footage to a lounge area for visitors, you could trim shipping, setup, and teardown costs by removing it for future shows.
  • You’ll be able to reduce the amount of your budget that you normally allocate to swag/giveaways. Alternatively, you could maintain the same budget but provide higher-quality handouts.
  • A lower number of attendees means you may be able to market efficiently with fewer booth staff members, reducing your trade show personnel expenses. It may take a couple shows to find the right balance between too few and too many booth staffers.


3.) Shipping, storage, setup, and teardown rates will be roughly the same

You can still use the same methods to budget for shipping, drayage, labor, etc. However, if you’re using a smaller booth this year, you’ll likely be able to allocate less of your budget toward these items than you typically have in previous years.


4.) Consider renting a booth

As you crunch the numbers and try to forecast your ROI, it may be worthwhile to consider renting a trade show exhibit rather than using an existing booth or creating a new one.

With so many uncertainties ahead, a rented booth gives you the opportunity to use the exhibit size and functionality that works best for your brand right now. Then, in the future, you can reassess based on new regulations and circumstances.


5.) Reallocate boldly

If event marketing accounted for a significant portion of your marketing budget before 2020, it should still account for a significant portion of your marketing budget in 2021 and beyond. Rather than shrinking your trade show budget, find and supplement new ROI-boosting opportunities.

  • Fewer shows are an opportunity to go BIG at the shows you can participate in.
  • Smaller crowds are an opportunity to bring out the high-value gift items.
  • Reduced booth sizes are an opportunity to allocate savings on shipping/labor toward impactful premarketing efforts.

The best business success stories are the ones that turn adversity into opportunity. A little creativity and flexibility in your budget can help you take advantage of the new trade show environment.

Best of luck, and please reach out to the experts at Exhibit Options if you have any questions. We’re happy to help with safety and/or size modifications, booth design, exhibit rentals, marketing strategies, and more.