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4 Tips to Make Your Next International Trade Show a Success

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Pharmaceutical trade shows are one of the best ways to get your products and services in the hands of the key players in the industry. Where else will you have the opportunity to network with potential clients from around the world in one room?

As a global manufacturer of pharmaceutical printers, R.W. Hartnett attends several international trade shows each year. This year, we have already showcased in New York (USA), Frankfurt (Germany), Philadelphia (USA), and Shanghai (China). While it’s true that adding international travel into the mix makes things a bit trickier than, say, driving from Philly to New York for a show, there’s no reason you still can’t execute a flawless exhibit with the proper planning and forethought.

In today’s post, I’m going to share with you some tips that we have learned through trial and error (lots of trial, lots of error) that will make your next international trade show exhibit a hit.

1.) Be Mindful of the Budget

Unless you have an unlimited cash stream flowing in, chances are budget is one of the biggest factors you need to take into consideration when preparing for your upcoming trade show. There are obvious expenses of course –the booth space itself; your backdrop; print collateral; travel and hotels– but there are additional costs that you might not think of ahead of time that add up.

International shipping often ends up being one of our biggest expenses. Large items (including backdrops and machinery) that can’t be transported by your sales team will need to be shipped. Also, be sure to find out what furniture is included in your package when booking; many shows charge extra for carpet/padding, furniture rental and lead retrieval systems. Most also offer “early bird” discounts on furniture rentals, so be aware of any key dates that could save you money.

Pro Tip: Instead of paying to ship your magazine stand or display rack, look for a local IKEA store where you can buy cheap furniture that you can use one time and then ditch. In most cases, the cost to buy is cheaper than the international shipping fees.

2.) Design a Travel-Friendly Booth

Exhibit booths can vary greatly, from elaborate architectural structures to simple backdrops. Aside from the biggest names at the show (who are paying the biggest bucks), most booths fall somewhere towards the latter end of the spectrum. If you have a portable backdrop that you can pack in a crate and ship, that’s a good option. You’ll definitely want to check with the show organizers first – some shows provide standard walls or have height or safety restrictions and do not allow you to build your own structure without prior approval and permission.

If you have something more robust in mind, or if you want one-time use graphics specific to the show, you might want to consider working with a vendor in the country you will be exhibiting in. Be sure to do your research first by checking the company’s online portfolio and reviews to make sure you are dealing with a reputable company. The show organizer’s may have a list of recommended vendors they can provide to you. This will help ensure the booth is designed to adhere to the show’s specifications since their recommended vendors will have had prior experience with the particular show.

For our recent expo in Shanghai, we worked with the show’s recommended graphics vendor to create wall decals that contained both Mandarin and English words. It ended up being cheaper than if we had shipped our go-to backdrop, and we were able to market directly to the largely Chinese-speaking audience.

Dealing with foreign companies can be tricky due to time zone differences and language barriers. Communicate your vision clearly by providing visual examples. Follow up any phone calls with a recap email.

3.) Keep Your Audience’s Language in Mind

When deciding what print collateral and informational materials to bring with you, be mindful of the language the majority of your audience will be speaking. You don’t need to break the budget by translating and reprinting all of your brochures; but offering something in the native language goes a long way.

For the same Chinese trade show I mentioned above, I designed a simple two-sided postcard for R.W. Hartnett featuring one side in English and one side in Mandarin. We spent about $25 on a small run for the show, and it was a great giveaway item that helped bridge the language gap.

You could also consider hiring the services of a translator to man your booth. Even if you have a staff member who understands the language, there are many benefits to having a local translator from the area you are travelling to. They will be able to let you know any local lingo, or cultural faux pas to avoid. As a bonus, they can recommend the best local spots to eat and hang out after the show.

4.) Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead, Plan Ahead

I can’t stress this point enough.

If you’re a small company like us, with each team member wearing multiple hats, you probably tend to put off trade show bookings until the last minute. Then as the show approaches, you jump into high gear, put in long hours, use your superpowers to pull everything together and whip it into a successful exhibit, and your audience is none the wiser.

For international trade shows, especially your first, you can’t get away with that.

One of your very first steps after booking should be putting together a timeline. Contact the show’s organizer for a list of key deadlines and important dates and set yourself reminders. Deadlines tend to be earlier for international trade shows compared with local shows, so you’ll want to keep these on your radar.

It can be surprising to learn that international shipping can take anywhere from a couple weeks to over a month, depending on the shipping method and the country you are showing in. Ocean freight is the cheaper option, but takes longer. If you are really in a time crunch, you can use air freight, but you’re going to pay a lot more for it.

You also need to factor in the time to clear the freight through customs, and make sure you apply for the proper documentation in advance. The last thing you want is for your backdrop or machinery to get stuck in customs and not make it to the show. (Trust me, that one hurts. A lot. Especially when you get the bill for shipping the items you weren’t able to utilize.)

Additionally, everyone who will be travelling to the show needs to make sure they have the proper documentation. These include a valid passport, a visa, and often, a letter of invitation which can typically be obtained from the show organizers. You should start with your passport if you don’t have one, or have one that is expiring soon. Passports can take weeks to obtain unless you want to pay rush fees. You usually can’t apply for a visa until you have your passport number, and the process is equally as time consuming as applying for a passport, if not more.

Communication with overseas vendors also tends to take longer mainly due to the time zone difference. For example, China is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. If you email a question to the event organizer or vendor, don’t expect to get a response until the next day, at which point they will already be sleeping when you send your subsequent response. You can see how a simple back and forth dialog that would typically take less than a day can be stretched out to a week.


With all of that being said, there’s no reason to be intimidated by the thought of showcasing at international trade shows. They are great opportunities to get your services in front of an eager market. All it takes is some extra planning, a little insider insight, and you are on track to have a successful and profitable show!

Do you have any other tips? Please leave them in the comments!