Booth Camp 101

How to create simple and cost-effective trade-show exhibits

Organizing a trade-show exhibit space for the first time can be a daunting task. Among the chief considerations is determining what kind of booth will best meet your goals.

The two types most frequently used by beginning exhibitors or the budget-deprived are pop-up booths and panel booths. Other, more exotic kinds, like steel-truss systems and custom hard-wall booths, work better for huge exhibit spaces and are not what a novice exhibitor would consider.

Pop-ups or panels can be rented or purchased from independent exhibit companies. The most basic exhibits rent from around $8 per square foot (e.g., a 10-by-10-foot booth can rent for $800) up to double or triple that for a very large or elaborate exhibit with many accessories (counters, shelves, etc.). An exhibit for purchase can range from about $20 per square foot for something basic to $100 per square foot, based on finishes chosen (e.g., wood, metallic), as well as accessories.

To get the best return on investment, be sure the booth matches your objectives. Are you introducing a new product? Looking to increase your brand recognition? Or are you planning to meet new prospects to set up future interaction? Following are tips for choosing and creating the right display to meet your goals.

Pop-Up booths If your goal is to gain name recognition and offer a wel­coming, open environment, then a pop-up is the best bet. This booth has an expandable frame typically covered with Velcro-compatible fabric or magnetized photo-wall panels that provide a large, unbroken surface area for graphics.

Pop-ups are lightweight (usually 75 to 100 pounds), take up a minimal amount of floor space and, because their packing cases can double as stand podiums (they typically come with a top and a skirt that wraps around the case), they help keep booth clutter to a minimum. They can be packed into small shipping cases and are the quickest to set up: A 10-foot unit can be up in a half hour or less without using tools, which can save shipping, drayage and labor costs.

On the other hand, pop-ups are not the right choice if you're looking for secure storage space, lots of shelving or flexibility of design.

Panel booths When introducing and/or demonstrating a product, a panel booth is a good option. In this design, panels (usually covered in fabric or made of laminate) are linked together to create the display. Unlike pop-ups, they do not have a framework to hold them up. Instead, panel systems interlock via "footprints" or angles. Counters for product demonstrations can be added; the panels also can support flat-screen monitors for video demonstrations.

The nature of panel booths allows them to be  easily reconfigured to create many different designs -- such as freestanding towers, kiosks or tabletop displays -- that can really highlight a product.

Graphics Regardless of type of booth, the graphics (photos, posters, logos) you develop for it should follow a few basic rules. First, as you have at most a few seconds to attract an attendee's attention, consider one or two well-chosen and large graphics vs. multiple smaller ones.

Displayed text should be kept to a minimum and emphasize what makes your product or service stand out; lengthy product descriptions or explanations are best done via a handout or by booth staff. By not loading the booth with 100 percent of relevant information, a prospect is compelled to stop and ask questions, giving the staff an opportunity to assess attendees' needs and gather other vital information.