3 tiered trade show and event system for enterprise exhibitors

Enterprise Exhibitors: Save Time Organizing Events Into Tiers

“Organization is the bridge between chaos and accomplishment, allowing man to traverse from confusion to clarity, from potential to achievement.” Peter Drucker

When your enterprise-sized company exhibits at dozens or even hundreds of trade shows and events, it helps to group your events into Tiers. Using Tiers means you are simply grouping your trade shows into small, medium, and large shows.

Organizing your trade shows into Tiers provides major benefits:

  • You save time communicating the level of involvement and investment required
  • You have the right people working on the show
  • You gain efficiencies that save money
  • You achieve better marketing results

When our enterprise exhibitor clients group their shows into Tiers, they often divide them with these common key elements, or with slight variations:

Tier 1 Trade Shows:

  • Major industry shows
  • Large island exhibits
  • Representing multiple divisions
  • Biggest opportunities

Tier 2 Trade Shows:

  • Industry or vertical market shows
  • Small islands and larger inline exhibits
  • Representing one or two divisions
  • Good opportunities

Tier 3 Trade Shows:

  • Regional or vendor shows
  • Small meetings and symposia
  • Portable inline displays
  • Representing one division

As a management and marketing team, your group can set expectations up front what amount of financial, marketing, and administrative support you will offer for each Tier show level. That level of effort can be set for every aspect of trade shows marketing (such as goals, exhibit design, booth staffing, and much more).

For the rest of this article, we’ll provide you with a framework and recommendations your company can use for all three Tiers, and for ten key trade show aspects, as a shortcut for starting your own Tiered program. We also include insights in many aspects we’ve gleaned over the years working with dozens of enterprise exhibitors.

Here are the 10 trade show components we will offer ideas on how to handle by show Tier:

  1. Branding + Strategy
  2. Goals + Objectives
  3. Show + Booth Selection
  4. Budgeting + Purchasing
  5. Exhibit Design
  6. Interactives + Promotions
  7. Booth Staffing
  8. Lead Management
  9. Measurement
  10. Planning + Logistics


Let’s start with Branding and Strategy, as we have found branding to be a key challenge for enterprise exhibitors who usually own many brands acquired through acquisitions.

Branding + Strategy

Tier 1 trade shows

  • Represent the parent brand and possibly multiple sub-brands
  • Branding in Tier 1 trade shows is greatly affected by how centralized the trade show program, and if there are multiple brands, the relative strength of each brand, and how recently the new brands were acquired

Tier 2 trade shows

  • May represent parent brand or one or more sub-brands, depending on brand hierarchy and show audience

Tier 3 trade shows

  • May represent parent brand or a sub-brand depending on brand hierarchy and show audience.


Next, here is how our clients tend to choose their Goals and Objectives, depending on the show Tier level. The kinds of goals can be very similar between the different Tier level shows. But the quantity of the goal (especially lead counts or revenue generated) can be much higher for Tier 1 and Tier 2 shows.

Goals + Objectives

Tier 1 trade shows

  • Build brand
  • Generate leads
  • Strengthen relationships with channel partners + key clients
  • Introduce new products
  • Engage media, investors, and influencers
  • When an established exhibitor that usually focuses on lead generation or meetings takes over a new company, branding becomes most important again

Tier 2 trade shows

  • Build brand
  • Generate leads
  • Strengthen relationships with channel partners + key clients
  • Introduce new products
  • Engage media, investors, and influencers
  • When an established exhibitor that usually focuses on lead generation or meetings takes over a new company, branding becomes most important again

Tier 3 trade shows

  • Generate leads
  • Maintain partner relationships
  • Introduce new products
  • When an established exhibitor that usually focuses on lead generation or meetings takes over a new company, branding becomes most important again


Show + Booth Selection is the next component, because that drives every other decision after it. Booth size is a reflection of your investment level once you decide to go to a show. Larger companies with well-known brands are expected to take some of the largest booths at a show. Show selection is very tied to budgeting, as the larger shows can be paid for by multiple divisions and thus budget buckets.

While most companies that organize their shows into Tiers divide them into 3 levels (“tier” in French actually means “a third”), some companies add a fourth level for tabletop shows, while others include tabletop shows in their third Tier.

Show + Booth Selection

Tier 1 trade shows

  • Major industry shows
  • Booth spaces of 1,000 sq. ft. and larger
  • Decision to exhibit at main industry shows at highest executive levels
  • Multiple divisions may combine into a single booth or have own separate booths
  • Major international shows, often in Germany
  • When an enterprise exhibitor drops a major show, it can actually make headlines!

Tier 2 trade shows

  • Small islands and large inlines at regional and secondary industry trade shows
  • Need a process to filter potential shows and annually evaluate existing shows.
  • Can be one or two company divisions deciding if they exhibit

Tier 3 trade shows

  • 10-foot booth spaces at smaller shows
  • Need a process to filter potential shows and annually evaluate existing shows
  • Smaller shows can get added without much evaluation


Budgeting + Purchasing: With an enterprise company, trade show budgets can come from a wide variety of sources, depending on how if you have centralized your trade show program. The more ways your trade show budget is divided across divisions and departments, the bigger the hassle will be tracking actual expenses against spending as your shows progress.

Budgeting + Purchasing

Tier 1 trade shows

  • Much more complex, more layers of approval
  • Single show can be well over $1 million+
  • Multiple budget buckets including trade shows, events, marcomm, corporate branding, product marketing, sales, business development, PR, and by division, by sister company, by region, by country
  • Can save money with 1 combined inventory of compatible exhibit components + graphics used by all divisions
  • Multi-year contracts with key vendors for lower mark ups on turnkey services

Tier 2 trade shows

  • Budget may come from a single division’s bucket that sells to that show’s industry
  • Costs for Tier 2 shows varies significantly if using custom rather than modular or portable exhibits

Tier 3 trade shows

  • A single show’s budget can be from one budget bucket, but all Tier 3 shows combined can be from many budgets’ buckets
  • Some companies loan branded portable displays to channel partners but do not pay for the show services
  • Companies may overlook just how large a part of their show budget dozens or even hundreds of Tier 3 shows can be


When considering Exhibit Design, enterprise exhibitors have so many shows, requiring exhibits with different sizes and fabrication levels. Thus, it’s good to think about how to design an inventory of exhibit assets that adapt to the variety of booth sizes, marketing messages, interactives + promotions, show locations, and show dates you need.

Exhibit Design

Tier 1 trade shows

  • Highest level exhibit design, with monumental impact
  • Exhibits 1,000 to 5,000 square feet, can exceed 10,000 square feet
  • Tier 1 exhibits can have substantial space for many functions: theater presentations, interactive experiences, product demonstrations, private meetings, and hospitality
  • Likely to require input and approval of top execs
  • The larger the booth size, the more likely it is to include rental components

Tier 2 trade shows

  • Can use parts of largest island exhibits for smaller islands spaces
  • If there are multiple brands, need flexible exhibit components that change booth sizes and marketing messages, or else buy lots more exhibit components

Tier 3 trade shows

  • Branded portable displays that promote the overall brand and marketing message
  • May change graphics for specific verticals, but not always

We’ve also found that when our enterprise exhibiting clients have many divisions or subsidiaries, often with their own brands, they are more likely to embrace the flexibility of modular exhibits.

trade show exhibit construction by number of company brands

Enterprise exhibitors often have multiple divisions selling to noticeably different vertical buyers, so they require a variety of Interactives, Promotions, activations, and giveaways that better match each audience’s demographics. The larger the booth space, the more at-show promotions and activations exhibitors tend to have.

Interactives + Promotions

Tier 1 trade shows

  • May require new campaigns / themes at every Tier 1 show
  • Likely have several different promotional or experiential elements at each show
  • More willing to invest in more expensive interactive technology
  • Multiple vendors partner on branding, technology, activations, staffing, and giveaways
  • More likely to invest in sponsorships, place keynote and session speakers, and host press conferences
  • More likely to integrate with other company departments and messages, such as digital marketing, social media, DEI, cause marketing, sustainability, ABM and content marketing

Tier 2 trade shows

  • Tier 2 shows may reuse the most successful and repeatable interactive from Tier 1 shows
  • Can have one to three promotional offers or activations

Tier 3 trade shows

  • Tier 3 shows can rely on a single promotional activity or batch of giveaways
  • Campaigns can be repeated across multiple events for cost savings, perhaps tailored to each show’s vertical market
  • Some enterprise exhibitors do not provide any promotional support for some or all of their Tier 3 shows


Booth Staffing: Between the huge booth spaces at Tier 1 shows and the potentially dozens and dozens of Tier 3 shows, enterprise exhibitors can require hundreds of booth staffers a year. You need quality as well as quantity, as these booth staffers are key representatives of your brand to clients and prospects.

Booth Staffing

Tier 1 trade shows

  • Need a smooth process for finding, vetting, approving, training, and measuring your army of booth staffers
  • May divide booth staffers by function: greeters, presenters, demonstrators, product experts, and hospitality
  • May integrate hired talent such as presenters, performers, crowd gatherers and brand ambassadors
  • Diplomatically schedule VIP top executives
  • International shows: do you send staffers overseas, use your local people or hire local; need multiple foreign languages

Tier 2 trade shows

  • Choose booth staffers who are experts in the vertical market or industry of the show, to better serve the show attendees

Tier 3 trade shows

  • Local sales reps often used
  • With so many Tier 3 shows, the challenge is to maintain quality while avoiding burnout
  • Consider sending marketing people to get leads captured and recorded


The biggest choice about Lead Management for enterprise exhibitors is whether to rely on each show’s provided lead retrieval app, or to sign up for a universal lead capture system.

Lead Management

Tier 1 trade shows

  • Lead management is dependent on brand organization: centralized sales and marketing database, or multiple databases in silos per division, sister company or region?
  • More likely to get a non-show-owner lead retrieval app that can use at all shows so your booth staffers have a consistent experience and can more easily enter or merge your trade show leads into your database
  • May have Account Based Marketing and Marketing Automation to integrate your trade show leads into

Tier 2 trade shows

  • Lead Management at Tier 2 shows very similar to Tier 1 shows: greatly affected by how centralized your trade show program is, and whether your company buys a custom lead retrieval app rather than use the show owner app
  • If your Tier 2 show is promoting only a single division, they may also use a separate instance of a universal lead capture system for that show

Tier 3 trade shows

  • Often no badge scanner, so sometime corporate headquarters gets no leads to track results and ROI
  • Exhibitors that buy/rent their own lead retrieval app more likely to record leads


Measurement of many trade show metrics (lead counts, sales revenue, ROI) is much easier once you have a web-based CRM system in place, that your trade show team has access to. And yet, the sheer number of trade shows for an enterprise exhibitor makes measurement problematic. Find the balance between getting bogged down trying to measure everything, and measuring so little that you lack data to make improvements and justify your program. The most important metric is the one your management team cares most about.


Tier 1 trade shows

  • For these largest shows, most likely to invest in measurement, including brand and perception surveys before and after the show, and exhibit/promotions performance surveys
  • Qualified lead counts, cost per qualified lead, client meetings held, sales revenue generated, ROI and/or ROO

Tier 2 trade shows

  • Qualified lead counts, cost per qualified lead, client meetings held, sales revenue generated, ROI and/or ROO

Tier 3 trade shows

  • Often no measurement of Tier 3 shows, except perhaps lead counts if lucky


While Planning + Logistics is the final item on our list of 10 trade show aspects, it’s actually where enterprise exhibitors’ trade show managers usually spend the most time, executing the plans made in the previous 9 aspects. You may assign the Planning + Logistics across a team of trade show managers, dividing by Tiers of shows, or by shows supporting major company divisions (and thus budget centers).

Planning + Logistics

Tier 1 trade shows

  • Plan 6+ months in advance with regular check-ins with main stakeholders
  • Complex install
  • Trade show manager usually attends the show
  • Exhibit House AE or PM often attends, especially with new exhibit

Tier 2 trade shows

  • Start planning 4 to 6 months in advance
  • Trade show manager may attend or appoint an on-site captain

Tier 3 trade shows

  • Requires little to no stakeholder participation once overall Tier 3 strategy is set
  • Set up process to handle shows for which the trade show manager doesn’t attend
  • Provide “Show in a box” for easier management
  • Booth staffer runs the show


A Tiered Enterprise Exhibitor Program Is A Better Organized Program

If you are an enterprise exhibitor, we hope you adapt this system of organizing your shows into Tiers 1, 2, and 3. It’s a great shortcut for understanding your scale of opportunity, investment, collaboration, and commitment. And for efficiently dividing up the management of your show schedule.

We also hope you found useful our insights about how to handle the 10 aspects of trade shows depending on the level show Tier. For ease of reading in this article format, we batched the content in 10 bites, discussing how to handle each of these 10 trade show aspects across the three Tiers. But it’s also revelatory to read how to handle the 10 aspects across a single Tier at one time. You can do so with our 3 Tier Trade Show System for Enterprise Exhibitors Chart. Just click here to request the download. It’s a useful cheat sheet to have with you when your team is planning shows.

And these are suggestions based on our experience, but not absolutes. If you’d like to use our chart as a starting point and make changes based on your own insights, you can also request to download the chart as an editable spreadsheet.

Download chart and spreadsheet - 3 Tiered Trade Show System for Enterprise Exhibitors


This is the third of three articles about the unique challenges of enterprise exhibitors. Read the other two here:

Enterprise Exhibitors: Integrating Brands After Mergers & Acquisitions

Enterprise Exhibitors: 14 Reasons to Centralize or Decentralize Your Trade Show Marketing


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