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University of London Venues

How to plan an exhibition


Exhibitions are your chance to show off. Whether you’re showcasing a product, a skill or a service, these events are designed to provide you with the perfect platform to present your business at it's best. These events are unique in that they offer a place to capture qualified clients or leads face-to-face. Attendees will attend an exhibit because the content/offering will supply them with something they are actively seeking. For example, a wedding exhibition attendee is likely to seek suppliers/information for their forthcoming wedding – and a marketing exhibition attendee is likely to work in marketing. Exhibitions create qualified exposure and sales that you might have to work harder to get via other channels.

Exhibition at Senate House Library

Planning an exhibition

So how should you go about planning an exhibition event so it matches your aims as best as possible?

Well, the first thing you need to do is clearly identify those aims. Depending on the kind of exhibit you are trying to organise, this will vary. We’ve listed some examples of different exhibitions below:

How to plan an art exhibition

Showcasing art whether as a curator or exhibitor can be daunting. A successful art exhibition is the result of good planning, a strong visual concept and of course great marketing. If you are planning an art exhibition make sure you: 

  • Generate a following and enhance your profile
  • Decide on the exhibition theme and select works that reflect this
  • Find a location
  • Market your event 
  • Generate sales of your work
  • Promote new pieces of work
  • Deliver a message via your work
  • Build a brand

How to plan a trade show exhibition

Trade show exhibitions are pivotal for companies as they’re an opportunity to gain new customers and differentiate themselves neck and neck from competitors. The key to planning a successful trade show exhibition is having a strong brand, a unique USP encouraging engagement. When planning a trade show exhibition be sure to:   

  • Create measurable goal outcomes from the event
  • Find out what competitors will be present
  • Create a visual concept for your exhibition stand
  • Make sure your branding is unique
  • Decide which products you want to exhibit
  • Make sure exhibit staff are familiar with every product
  • Offer signup incentives to guests

If it’s a fashion exhibition, you might want to:

  • Generate a fashion following
  • Promote a new line
  • Generate sales
  • Create a buzz
  • Increase branding
Fashion show

Once you have identified your aims, refer to these at each stage of the planning process. This will allow you to cross check each decision against your overall aims, helping you to streamline the planning process and ensure your plans don’t journey off-course.

Calculating A Budget & Profit Benchmark

As with every major event, exhibition planning is limited to a budget, and the success of your event is dependent on how you utilise the funds you have available.

The main budget-eaters are things like:


Choose where to host your exhibition carefully. This space not only determines how many guests can attend, but also how many other exhibitors can provide content for your event. You might also want to consider what impression the venue reinforces – is it worth hosting in a grand venue to create a more glamorous feel? Or would a less opulent venue be appropriate?


You need to allocate a good proportion of your budget to getting the word out about the exhibition. It’s important to bear in mind the difference in approach when marketing to the attendees and the exhibitors. The attendees need to be convinced that the exhibition will have something for them, and the exhibitors will need to be convinced that the attendees will want to buy from them. Getting these two messages to connect is vital to the success of the entire event.

Décor & Technology and Furniture

The internal décor will have a big impact on how your guests perceive the event. Furniture, branded images, banners and screens are a good way to create an impressive visual experience. The Technology you use throughout the event is also very important. 

Special Guests

Depending on the type of exhibition, you might want to include an industry leader to present a talk or seminar. Case studies and industry leaders insights make great talking points, and this will not only provide a more rounded experience for the attendees, but will give you more of an edge when marketing the event.

Food & Drink

You may want to include refreshments during the event, which will incur extra upfront costs, even if later incorporated into ticket prices.


Big events require logistics management. This includes managing the exhibition space, knowing who’s turning up and when, organising the timings and the general flow of the day (or series of days). It’s important to have a team dedicated to the smooth running of the event.

Staff & Hospitality

Allow some budget for general hospitality and logistics staff to be available throughout the event.  

Logistics (in more detail)

As with any event, logistics are a key element to plan. Simple things like ensuring the exhibition location has near-by parking, accommodation and travel links are vital to success. With an exhibition, you’ll also need to consider:

  • The setting up and dismantling of stalls
  • Arrival and departure times of exhibitors
  • Where you need equipment and when
  • Organising lanyards and hand-outs
  • Organising networking events
  • Overall time management
  • Pre and post-production (setting up and dismantling of displays)

Co-ordinate a team to focus and manage each of the processes in detail - managing all of these aspects acutely will ensure a seamless operation.

Generating a Profit From Exhibitions

Exhibitions can be a great way to turn a profit, especially if the content offered to the attendees is of a high quality. Likewise, quality content gravitates to good quality attendees – the two aspects need to meet in the middle to create a successful exhibition. People will pay for the privilege of attending an event that surrounds topic relevant to them. Likewise, people will pay to showcase their product to a number of qualified leads. Both parties need a reason turn up!

Event cycle

Selling tickets

Depending on your exhibition, ticket sales are a sure-fire way to generate a profit from your event. Pricing tickets individually means you can work out how many tickets you need to sell to make your target revenue. Many high-end exhibitions charge a significant amount for tickets – but of course, it’s vital you provide a significant amount if you charge a premium amount.

Many exhibitions offer a variety of tickets based on a tier level. Guests pay more or less depending on what access level they want for the event. You may choose to allow some tickets particular perks, such as private seminars, refreshments or accommodation throughout the event.

Obtaining sponsors

Another approach people chose is to allow attendees access for free and monetise on the sponsors for the event. Potential sponsors tend to be relevant companies or authorities that in return for sponsorship receive a rich pool of qualified leads to whom they can heavily advertise to. Their brand will be repeatedly reinforced to the masses. 

Selling exhibition space

Selling your exhibition space works in a similar way to securing sponsorship. Instead of overall exposure, you’re allowing a company a plot of space to advertise their offerings to the exhibition attendees. 

Queue of people

The advantage of exhibitions is that you’re usually marketing to a selected pool of people, meaning your demographics are already very defined. This makes marketing easier from the offset.

Clever marketing is the key to getting high attendance, which is why you’ll need to allocate it a good amount of budget. To get the best results, it’s worth allocating budget to the following various areas:

  • Print
  • Online
  • B2B
  • Email
  • Native advertising
  • Advertorials
  • Social Media

Create a combined marketing strategy to target your audience from various angles to create as much awareness of your event as possible. It’s also vital that you speak to both audiences separately to ensure they receive relevant messaging.

Get Guests to Attend your Exhibition

Because you know the demographics of the target audience, concentrate your marketing efforts in the places they habitually spend time. Refer to the list of marketing outlets above and research how best to target your audience. This will ensure your budget will capture qualified traffic.

For example, if your exhibition focuses on work and industry, advertise on relevant and well-known websites within the industry. If it’s an art or fashion exhibition, target local art groups or institutions.

Get Sponsors and Exhibitors to Attend

Sponsors and Exhibitors need to be convinced that those attending the exhibition will be qualified leads before they part with their money. Work on a pitch to persuade these companies that it’s worth their money and time to exhibit their goods at your exhibition. Visuals such as the different sized stall plots are a great way to appeal to prospective customers

Exhibitions at Senate House

Senate House is a central exhibition venue located in the heart of London. Our superior event space can cater for large or small events throughout the year, and we provide a range of in-house services such as audio-visual and furniture hire. Find out more about hosting your exhibition at Senate House today.