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Expo Season Survival: 7 Key Tips for CPG Brands to Prevent Burnout

David Pelyhes
March 5, 2024
min read

If you're at all involved with innovation in food and beverage then you're probably headed to the industry’s biggest show of the year – Expo West. While the flagship, Expo is just one of several major shows that offer you valuable opportunities to connect with buyers, distributors, suppliers, and other key players in just a few (often very busy) days.

Our team has experienced first-hand the hustle-and-bustle of Expo West and the challenges of balancing high-priority trade shows with everyday work activities. One thing we’ve learned is that it pays to prepare. According to a survey conducted by Statista, internal management was the biggest challenge to trade show exhibitors and attendees. Improperly balancing trade show deliverables with your ongoing operations can quickly lead to overwhelmed teams, poor execution on the ‘day to day’ and even missed business opportunities.  

So how does one effectively manage the pull of everyday responsibilities while still ‘winning’ during trade show season? We consulted our team of fractional talent experts and asked for their recommendations and best practices. From pre-show prep to post-show follow up, this guide will help you make the most out of the tradeshow season and avoid overextending your team.  

Before the Show

Set and Communicate Your Schedule Early

In the bustle of tradeshow season, managing your schedule to avoid burnout is essential. Marketing and business strategist Ellen Watlington recommends managing this by marking out intentional space on your calendar. For major national shows, “consider the three weeks surrounding the Expo – the week before, during, and after – and strategize around them. Though it's not always possible to dedicate this time entirely, try your best to complete any critical tasks beforehand and postpone initiating any new ones until after the event.”  

Inevitably, urgent matters will arise despite your meticulous planning. When they do, establish specific hours when your team can expect you to address these issues. Communicating your scheduled availability beforehand allows everyone to plan accordingly and manages expectations. Remember, it's about creating a balance that enables you to ‘make it all work’, versus simply piling on the extra effort and potentially overextending.  

Clear communication ensures all stakeholders, including those who might not be directly involved with the show, like supply chain and operations, are aligned and aware of the event. Be upfront about capacity constraints and align expectations. Empower teams to independently handle everyday items and bring in cross-functional support where needed.

Map Out a Plan

Maximizing tradeshow benefits without overwhelming your team involves strategic planning. Prioritization is key. Pinpoint essential contacts you wish to engage with and contact them before the event. Following the advice of JPG Talent expert Naomi Wiesen, “plan which booths, speakers, and areas are most crucial to visit each day and logistically scout out the venue for potential meeting places that can be conductive for meaningful conversations, often off the bustling show floor.”

Familiarity with the venue can also enhance your networking efficiency. Sales and eCommerce expert, Andy Rowles, stresses the significance of understanding the venue layout beforehand to beat the crowd. “I usually arrive 30 minutes before the doors open, and then walk to the back of the room and work my way forward [since most attendees tend to start at the front of the venue].” Proactive planning and strategic implementation can enhance your networking experience and help preserve energy.

Be sure to capture vital information beforehand in case of unstable internet connectivity. Downloading any important show apps, files, schedules, or materials before going will ensure you have access to all your pre-show planning.  

During the Show

Balance Your Priorities

The success of Expo (and other major shows) is often gauged by your ability to make meaningful connections with key decision makers. Ellen Watlington reminds us to “recognize that the vast majority of the people who attend a major national trade show are not your key contacts.” Keep your discussions targeted on priority contacts and focused on the mutual benefits of what you’re trying to achieve.  

Remain dedicated to your main objectives but be flexible on impromptu meeting invites – especially ones that align with your company goals – as long as you're not skipping a prior commitment. Your mindset should be set on achieving balance between structure/schedule and serendipitous encounters, without overextending your team or deviating from your goals in the process.

Staff Your Booth Strategically

Booth staffing requires a strategic approach. As much as is practical, assign less experienced staff with managing conversations with general attendees, allowing top sales force to focus on high-value prospects. Designate "floaters" in your team - junior sales personnel who can maintain conversations while senior salespeople shift focus.  

Prep your floaters ahead of time to ensure a smooth handover when key buyers arrive, while being sure to arm all team members with a concise brand introduction and a detailed elevator pitch. Success hinges on informing everyone about your top targets, while still staying focused on delivering a consistently positive (and on brand) experience for any attendee who visits the booth.  

Utilize Technology

In embracing technology, you can effectively manage and track leads and conversations that happen during the trade show. Expert Naomi Wiesen suggests setting up a personal WhatsApp chat as a memory aid, to store notes, photos, and contact details you'll want to recall later.  

You can also photograph company booths and jot down details about key individuals you’ve met. Leveraging digital tools is easier than taking pen and paper notes and eliminates the need for relying solely on memory amidst the hustle. Additionally, Andy Rowles recommends the use of a voice recorder, to gather useful insights which are helpful in creating personalized follow-up emails for high-priority prospects.

After the Show

Schedule Undistracted Catch-Up Time

Now is the time to capitalize on your pre-show planning and in-show execution. The reserved time after Expo helps prevent an overwhelming feeling upon return. Making space to properly catch up on emails, follow-up with leads, and refamiliarize yourself with key projects within the ‘day to day’ business helps avoid any disruption.  It’s likely you’ve asked your internal team not attending the show to pick up slack in your absence, so it’s important to pay that back by giving this team an appropriate share of mind upon your return.


Take a full day or two before reconnecting with new contacts. "Grant yourself and others the grace period to catch up on emails prior to reaching out or scheduling any follow-ups," advises Naomi Wiesen. Utilize this period to review your notes while the event is still fresh. Remember, your contacts also need time, and they’re likely inundated with follow-ups of their own from the show. Statistics show that 40% of exhibitors follow up 3-5 days post-event. So be considerate, but also timely, and trade shows can offer great returns.

Prioritize and Personalize Your Post Show Follow-Ups

To increase your trade show success, it's crucial to categorize your contacts into three priority levels. "Designate your contacts into three priority levels: A (top), B (middle), and C (low), based on their strategic importance and urgency", says Andy Rowles.

Andy goes on to explain that “A's can get custom, personalized emails referencing details captured at the show, while B's and C's may get a more standardized outreach, but one that – particularly through the use of good CRM or other tools – can still feel far more personalized than generic.” Personalization shows you listened and makes follow-up more effective with your targets.

Make scheduling effortless by suggesting a few convenient time slots for the next interaction, or including links to your calendar so that your targets can proactively schedule themselves. Avoid bombarding your list all at once, instead spacing out your emails, allowing individuals to respond at their convenience.  

Making It All Work

While ‘show season’ is an energizing and valuable time of year for the industry, full of opportunities for new connections, exposure and learning, it is precisely this momentum that can pose risks to you and your business if appropriate focus isn’t kept on the ‘day to day' work.  Ultimately, through proper preparation, strategic prioritization, and systematic follow-through (both externally and internally) you can maximize the return of your trade show opportunities like Expo West without overextending yourself or your team or letting things slip ‘back home’.

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