This past year, we saw the trade show business flourish. But despite booming attendance, many event managers find that the budget allocated for their trade show experience falls short. According to EXHIBITOR magazine's 2024 Economic Outlook Survey, 54% of respondents say their exhibit-marketing budgets will remain the same from 2023 to 2024.

So how can event marketing professionals change the conversation about trade show budgeting to ensure they receive the funds needed to create a competitive program?

How to advocate for a higher budget.

Event managers are finding it seemingly impossible to present an impressive trade show booth on a budget using last year’s figures. So how should event managers approach the tough conversations to advocate for a higher budget?

1. Have open communication about what success looks like.

If the aim is to obtain a higher budget for your next trade show, it’s important to establish clear goals of what the company would like to accomplish at the event. Ask your company stakeholders what they expect the attendees to take away from the experience, and what factors would deem the show a success. Only once all parties have a clear understanding of the goals, are you then able to come to terms with an appropriate budget.  

Depending on your strategy, you may want to experiment with employing ROO (Return on Objective) success metrics.  Whereas an ROI objectives might look like, “We want 500 people to go through our demo on the show floor”, an ROO objective look like, “Have the booth appear full of people 80% of the time”.  Though ROO objectives are subjective, their impact is often an important factor that can help justify your budget ask.

2. Lean on suppliers to create an argument of what things cost.

Now that the goals of the event have been established, it’s essential to work with your trade show partners to determine the materials needed and the costs of supplies and labor. Materials used in the past may have significantly increased in price. This is the time to lean on your experts to determine which methods and materials will be most beneficial to your trade show strategy. If less expensive alternatives are not possible, have a list of material costs ready to present to your management, as well as explanations of why these elements are the best option for success.

Your supplier should also be able to tell you how union regulations vary between cities and how that will impact cost.  For example, in some cities, your exhibit provider will be able to install your monitors, but in other cities, electrical union workers are required and come with hourly minimums.  

3. Establish a more collaborative relationship with event partners.

Sean Combs, President and CEO at Steelhead Productions, explains how important it is to establish a strong line of communication and a collaborative relationship between all parties.  

“The goal is to get to a point where all partners involved in developing the trade show program are engaging in ongoing conversations every step of the process. We’re all collectively responsible for the show's success, so it’s extremely important for us all to be involved in the conversations along the way.”  

Sean continues, “We need to have real, open, and honest conversations about what things cost.”  

Often, those involved in budget creation don’t have a sensible grasp on the realities of trade show-related costs and non-negotiable factors of the experiential WOW. It’s crucial to work together to establish the current cost of the labor and supplies, and to explain to the team why these costs must be incorporated into the budget plan.  


A limited budget can be a discouraging obstacle when presenting a competitive trade show program. But ultimately the event planner, the trade show supplier, and the brand stakeholders controlling the budget all want the same thing — the success of the brand experience at the trade show. With clear objectives, open communication, and a strong understanding of necessary spending, even the firmest of budgets can become more flexible.

The right exhibit partner can help you reach your trade show budgeting goals. Contact us today to get started.

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