Trade show schedule planning post COVID is a unique challenge. Here’s what to think about.

Derse | July 29, 2021

Now that businesses, trade shows, and exhibitors are returning to live, in-person events, many are wondering what has changed, or should change in the post-COVID era. Prior to the pandemic, it was not unusual for businesses to attend the same shows year after year without taking the time to review the success of the show in meeting company objectives. While the “rinse and repeat” approach certainly made budgeting and planning easier, it is not the most strategic approach. Now, trade show and event planners have an opportunity to better define strategic goals and ways to measure success. If your budget is tight, you’re looking to achieve better results, or you simply want to take advantage of the opportunity to shake things up, portfolio planning may be the answer.


Trade show portfolio planning is a research-based process that identifies the shows, tactics, and presence likely to achieve the best possible ROI. Portfolio planning can be used to evaluate a single show, determine how to best launch in new markets, gain insight on the health of your current portfolio, or uncover new opportunities to move your business forward. At Derse, the process traditionally uses primary research, stakeholder interviews, and our extensive historical industry knowledge. While we believe this is an excellent time to assess the entirety of you show schedule, we also think the following are considerations to keep in mind for the near future:

Ensure your definition of success is achievable

It’s likely the attendance at live trade shows will be reduced due to capacity limitations, corporate travel restrictions, and personal decisions related to travel. Keep in mind that higher attendance does not necessarily equal more or better leads. We believe that individuals who make the effort to attend in-person events are likely to be more serious in their intent. The opportunity to engage face to face with motivated attendees, along with the time to have meaningful and serious conversations can result in better connections and greater sales.

Rethink & realign your budget

COVID and other world events have caused prices to increase on everything from raw materials to transportation, putting pressure on trade show budgets. Portfolio planning can help you decide which sponsorships are worthwhile, if a new show is likely to be worth the effort and investment, as well as help set proper staffing levels.

Consider show timing

Our research indicates that several convention centers are working with show organizers to possibly plan for longer move-in periods to comply with added safety measures. In addition, the overall increased volume of shipments has created shipping delays to the point where transportation providers have suspended service guarantees. As you evaluate potential trade shows, consider the amount of time between shows. We recommend shipping to the advance warehouse when possible and minimizing separate package shipments to the show floor. 


A detailed portfolio plan can help avoid the trap of “that’s how it’s always been done,” allowing data and research to be the foundation of trade show and event decisions. You’ll have the confidence of knowing your hard work is focusing on the efforts that are likely to bring the best results and you’ll know how to measure success. Plus, the data-based process and visual representation of results help you speak the c-level’s language, so you know your decisions will be understood and appreciated.

It is our hope that considering these factors can assist you in evaluating your show schedule and overall program investment. Have questions on how to get started with portfolio planning? We are here to help.


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