Around the world, the exciting ambiance of in-person trade shows is back. After a two-year, pandemic-driven hiatus, retail trade shows are starting to boom again worldwide – and that’s spectacular news for brands looking abroad to fuel growth.

As pandemic guidelines relax, consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands feel a growing urge to get out and network face-to-face with global retailers. Trade shows are ideal venues to boost brand awareness and product discovery, build industry relationships and trust, and make deals to drive revenue growth.

If you plan to attend, exhibit, or speak at an international trade show, consider the following best practices. But first, let’s acknowledge how the pandemic has shaped today’s trade shows.

How COVID-19 changed trade shows

In 2021, U.S. trade show attendance rates declined by 48% in Q2 compared to Q2 in 2019 and the number of exhibitors fell by 31%.1 Hegel, Theresa. Despite COVID Hurdles, Trade Shows Go On. ASI Central. September 27, 2021. In 2022, the retail industry shows higher demand for in-person trade shows; yet, supply chain disruption and labor shortages have made the ordering process longer than before COVID-19. For instance, producing custom booth setups used to take a few days and now takes at least 14 days.2 Hegel, Theresa. Despite COVID Hurdles, Trade Shows Go On. ASI Central. September 27, 2021.

Looking ahead, the Center for Exhibition Industry Research doesn’t expect a return to growth for the industry until 2023 due in part to pandemic health concerns, and the cost and time savings of moving trade shows online.3 Durban, Dee-Ann. Business conventions begin making a comeback after COVID layoff. USA Today. September 9, 2021. More trade shows may move to a hybrid model for both in-person and online options, especially as inflation makes global events more cost prohibitive.

Brands and other attendees need to stay on top of evolving COVID-19 rules and guidelines that affect international trade shows, as COVID-19 rules vary widely by country. For instance: 

  • UK: The U.K. government has removed remaining domestic COVID-19 restrictions in England. 
  • France: U.S. citizens can travel to France with full proof of vaccination for airlines and border patrol.4 Wheeler, Rose. Here Are The New Travel Restrictions For Americans Traveling To Europe. Forbes. June 13, 2022.  
  • Germany: Vaccinated Americans can enter Germany with proof of vaccination and a negative test result within the prior 48 hours.5 Wheeler, Rose. Here Are The New Travel Restrictions For Americans Traveling To Europe. Forbes. June 13, 2022.
  • Australia: Health screening procedures remain at airports and flights require masks. All inbound travelers must declare their vaccination status to enter and unvaccinated travelers may need to quarantine on arrival at their own expense.
  • Japan: Very few U.S. citizens have been permitted to enter Japan. While eligible U.S. travelers no longer require COVID-19 testing and quarantine upon arrival, pre-travel testing within 72 hours of departure is still required. 

Now let’s look at some planning and marketing best practices to boost your brand visibility at global trade shows.

Before the show

Have a strategy: It’s essential to begin planning months ahead of the event by developing an international trade show strategy per country and set measurable goals for the event. Manage it as a formal project, including resources, deadlines, and a budget.

Create a detailed itinerary: See if the trade show organizers have reserved hotel rooms at a discount or book a hotel close to the trade show.6 Waters, Shari. Trade Show Attendance Tips. The Balance Small Business. July 23, 2019. Make all reservations early, including your transportation to and from the airport, the hotel, and your show venue, such as a shuttle service. Consider leaving a day earlier so you arrive at the show feeling well-rested. As tourism rebounds, expect longer lines for security checks at the airports. Build in extra time for relaxing, meetings, and traffic.7 Top tips on how to plan a business trip. CWT. 2022.

Know your audience:
Brands need to know when each individual retailer is taking meetings, as well as their slotting fees.8 Schweizer. Errol. How To Attend Grocery Trade Shows In The Covid-19 Era. Forbes. March 7, 2022. Also, research international differences in behavior like when to offer your business cards. For non-English countries, learn basic phrases in the native language like greetings and “thank you.”9 Kulchawik, Larry. 10 Tips for a Successful International Trade Show. Globalocity. 2022.

Local partners:
Hire an experienced exhibit partner based in the region, ideally one who is familiar with the venue and event. Ask them to prepare a design drawing that meets the event’s rules and regulations, help with freight and labor requirements for booth setup, and order show site services, including pre-payment and taxes.10 Kulchawik, Larry. 10 Tips for a Successful International Trade Show. Globalocity. 2022.

Marketing:
Research how marketing tactics differ across countries.11 Kulchawik, Larry. 10 Tips for a Successful International Trade Show. Globalocity. 2022. Where applicable, translate all trade show content in the official language like business cards, exhibit signage, marketing collateral, digital ads, and dedicated landing pages. Hire a bilingual expert to proofread all translations for technical accuracy and sensitivity to the local culture.12 Kulchawik, Larry. 10 Tips for a Successful International Trade Show. Globalocity. 2022. Set deadlines at least a few weeks in advance of the trade show to accommodate design and translation. To boost e-commerce traffic, share the link to your online shop.13 Wright, Ian James. Before, During and After a Trade Show: 12 Best Practices for Brand-Building. PR News. October 23, 2017.

Pre-show promotion: Drive traffic to your booth by promoting it with targeted social media or Google ads, video, social media posts, email outreach, and a banner on your website. Include event-specific hashtags and your booth number.14 Wright, Ian James. Before, During and After a Trade Show: 12 Best Practices for Brand-Building. PR News. October 23, 2017. Share your adventures as you take your brand around the world.

Sales: Consider offering show specials, discounts, and sales as incentives for retail buyers.15 Waters, Shari. Trade Show Attendance Tips. The Balance Small Business. July 23, 2019. Set appointments with buyers you’d like to meet with during the show. Also, inquire about suitable attire. For instance, in Europe or Asia, trade show attendees often wear more formal attire than the business casual look common in the U.S.16 Kulchawik, Larry. 10 Tips for a Successful International Trade Show. Globalocity. 2022.

Prepare your travel essentials:
Research which travel documents you need, including a valid passport, travel tickets, or a visa, as new documents can take several weeks to process due to high volumes right now.17 Kulchawik, Larry. 10 Tips for a Successful International Trade Show. Globalocity. 2022. Bring cash in the local currency for tips and small purchases. Also, find the contact information for the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in case you need any help while abroad.18 Top 10 Tips for Business Travel. Kelly Services. 2022. Being prepared in 2022 also means packing extra masks and hand sanitizer for your entire journey.

During the show

Showcase your products: Grab the attention of retail buyers, private label teams, and investors. Share product samples and marketing collateral, communicate your unique sales proposition, and perform live product demos.19 Wright, Ian James. Before, During and After a Trade Show: 12 Best Practices for Brand-Building. PR News. October 23, 2017. Seize the moment to connect, build trust, and sell beyond borders.

Promote the event: On social media, share photos of yourself chatting with attendees at your booth, adding the event’s dedicated hashtag and your booth number. Live-tweet valuable highlights from the keynote or workshops and tag the speakers.20 Wright, Ian James. Before, During and After a Trade Show: 12 Best Practices for Brand-Building. PR News. October 23, 2017. Share fascinating glimpses into the foreign culture to encourage your network to follow along online.

Network: Bring plenty of bilingual business cards – and your local market expert who can help as a translator. Attend seminars and workshops to learn about industry trends and how to capitalize on what buyers are looking for. Mingle at other exhibitors’ booths to expand your global retail network.

After the show

Follow up promptly to build rapport and strengthen business relationships. Run a remarketing campaign to target qualified leads using email or social media ads.21 Wright, Ian James. Before, During and After a Trade Show: 12 Best Practices for Brand-Building. PR News. October 23, 2017. Share relevant content with them to keep your brand visible long after the event.

Review results. Review your pre-show objectives and compare them to your results. Quantify whether the cost of attending the trade show was worth the positive long-term effect on your brand. Document your event goals, international marketing efforts, and performance metrics to refine your process for future trade shows.22 Wright, Ian James. Before, During and After a Trade Show: 12 Best Practices for Brand-Building. PR News. October 23, 2017.

The global return of vibrant in-person trade shows can help you boost brand reach, connect with retail buyers from around the world, and improve your top line. Proactively applying these tips can help you feel prepared, confident, and excited to get your terrific products discovered beyond the domestic market.

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