Everyone has to deal with deadlines. When you were in college, you had homework assignments and long-term projects. Office co-workers might have to prepare presentations, file documents, gather information for the boss, or complete work for a client. The consequences of missing a deadline might range from a unhappy manager to an angry client and the loss of a contract — or maybe even the loss of your job.

Deadlines that are weeks or months away are the hardest to manage. How can you organize a large amount of work across such a span of time to ensure the project is done on time?

These tips associated with your trade show booth will help you stay on track with your deadlines. If nothing else, they'll reduce the stress of last-minute work-a-thons and may keep more hair on your head.

Annual marketing planning

  • Determine marketing objectives for the next calendar year.
  • Evaluate trade show schedule in light of target markets and product launches.
  • Research new shows in new markets.
  • Assess existing exhibit materials for wear and tear on booth components and graphics, as well as changing brand guidelines.
  • Set annual marketing budget.
  • Allocate budget dollars for all trade-show-related activities and expenses.

10 to 12 months before each show

  • Determine the size of your exhibit for each show based on the show's importance.
  • Reserve booth space as soon as possible.
  • Reserve hotel rooms early for popular shows. (Overbook to be sure you have enough rooms available.)
  • Set measurable goals for the show.
  • Begin planning the theme and determine the booth components needed.

8 to 10 months before each show

  • Study the exhibitor manual and its show rules and regulations in their entirety so you know what can and cannot be done at each show.
  • Review the show deadlines page and establish a system of reminders so that you do not miss any crucial deadlines and so that you can take advantage of any early-bird discounts.
  • Plan and book hospitality events and extra meeting rooms as needed.

6 to 8 months before each show

  • Evaluate current exhibit properties and determine whether replacement components or a new booth design are needed.
  • Begin working with an exhibit firm on new booth designs and layouts, including new graphics.
  • Work with your exhibit firm on additional services, such as shipping and installation/dismantle, or contract for those services directly.
  • Plan and schedule publicity and preshow promotions, such as mailers and client invitations.
  • Select and register booth staff and book airline tickets and rental cars/transportation.
  • Create and order space for show advertising, such as exhibitor guide, trade magazines and outdoor advertising.

4 to 6 months before each show

  • Determine products to be displayed or other booth handouts, such as brochures or promotional items.
  • Select and order promotional items.
  • Schedule shipping.
  • Compile and/or purchase targeted mailing lists.
  • Design lead cards, preshow mailers and booth literature to work together to reinforce your brand and your show theme.
  • Contract with additional resources, such as sales trainer or live presenter for show.

2 to 4 months before each show

  • Order show services well in advance of the deadline, which is usually 45 days before the show: electrical, carpet and padding, booth cleaning, security and more.
  • Order equipment needed such as A/V, computers and furniture.
  • Set up your exhibit as a trial run in advance of shipping, so that you know how it works, even if you will have labor assemble it. Take photos for future reference.
  • Print mailers and handouts.
  • Write and distribute news releases according to publication deadlines.
  • Create and print press kits and schedule any media conferences at the show.
  • Develop lead tracking and follow-up plans.
  • Train booth personnel and practice presentations.
  • Schedule booth to ship to advance warehouse.
  • Keep management informed of plans.
  • Create an emergency kit and put it in with the booth so you do not have to worry about shipping it. To include at a minimum: duct tape, double-sided tape, stapler, hand sanitizer, Band-Aids, paper, pens, Velcro, screwdriver, hammer, screws, nails, Kleenex, cleaning supplies, Windex, paper towels, etc.

1 month before each show

  • Send preshow mailers.
  • Confirm all travel plans and reservations.
  • Double-check show services and equipment orders.
  • Ship exhibit and related materials according to show schedule.
  • Determine a daily booth/hospitality schedule and provide a briefing kit to each booth staffer.

1 week before each show

  • Organize what you will take to the show.
  • Meet with booth staff to go over the daily schedule, lead tracking and show objectives.
  • Confirm shipments, reservations and orders.
  • Know your set-up day schedule.

At the show

  • Supervise the booth installation.
  • Set up and try out any A/V equipment well in advance.
  • Hold daily briefings with booth staff.
  • Clean booth space and restock each day.
  • Participate in networking opportunities.
  • Walk the show floor and take photos of competitors' booths.
  • Order booth space from the show manager for the next year if you plan to return.

After each show

  • Supervise the booth dismantling and move-out.
  • Take items to be shipped separately from the booth to the service counter.
  • Carry the lead forms back to your office to avoid losing them in transit.
  • Distribute leads to sales representatives for follow up.
  • Analyze the results of the show with the team.
  • Write thank you notes to booth staff and management.
  • Make recommendations for changes.
  • Start planning for next year's show.