There are lots of different ways to exhibit your work, including group exhibitions, solo exhibitions, trade shows and fairs. Here you will find advice on researching, preparing and taking part in exhibitions and trade shows, along with checklists and practical guides.
Showcasing your work successfully at exhibitions requires planning and careful preparation. You need to choose the right exhibition for your work, calculate the costs involved and plan how to make the most of it.
Research exhibition opportunities
Research different exhibitions and choose one that is appropriate for your work and marketing aims.
Preparing for an exhibition
There are some decisions and considerations you'll need to make when preparing for an exhibition:
Why do you want to exhibit? And what aims do you have for the exhibition? Be specific so you can work towards achieving your aims.
Plan your display in detail before the exhibition and consider all the tools and materials you may need to display your work, including any signage.
How you will price your work (if you are selling to both the trade and the public you will need two levels of pricing – wholesale and retail)
Whether you are going to sell work there or take orders or commissions.
How long it will take you to make new items and the lead time for different quantities of your products.
How are people going to know about the exhibition? Will the gallery or event organisers be promoting it, or do you need to do this.
Promoting the exhibition
Once you have got your promotional materials from the organisers, send out invitations to your contact list.
Think about who you want at the Private View and send personalised invitations to those you really want to attend.
Promote new ranges of work and organise launches to attract press and buyers.
Promote the exhibition on social media to your existing networks.
Consider creating a press release, and distributing to journalists.
At the exhibition
Make sure the exhibition is open each day at the times advertised, and all equipment is turned on ready for visitors.
Act professionally with any visitors, talk about your work, but also ask them questions. Take contact details from anyone that you talk to, to build up your contact list.
Ensure your work is clearly labelled, and your contact details are visible. Ideally have business card, postcards or brochures for people to take away.
Don’t commit to anything that you can’t deliver, it is better to get back to someone than over promise.
Working with commercial galleries
If you are exhibiting at an established gallery, they will look after the marketing, promotion and any sales of your work and take a commission for this service. You provide the gallery with titles of the work and prices and they do the rest.
Do not undercut the gallery by selling work exhibited there directly to the buyer. This may harm your relationship with the gallery and undermine your prospects of working with them in the future.
In most cases the gallery would not want you to be present at the gallery during the exhibition apart from at the Private View.
Setting up your own exhibition
Setting up your own exhibition will give you valuable experience in networking, organisation, budgeting and collaboration.
Some considerations and costs when setting up your own exhibition:
You should find out the price of the space;
Consider the cost of lighting, shelves, display cabinets and display plinths;
Work out how you will attach pictures and other items that need to be hung, as often you are not allowed to drill into partitions, so find out the regulations in advance;
Printing of price lists which should include sketches or photographs, colourways, code numbers and any other relevant details;
Consider transport, travel costs, accommodation and meals for you and your helpers;
Get invitations printed to send to clients or organisations;
Make sure that you have insurance for damage, loss, theft and third party;
Budget for your time – not just your attendance at the exhibition itself but also the preparation and work afterwards too.
If you are considering organising your own exhibition Artquest has lots of useful resources on acquiring exhibition spaces and funding.
Trade shows are a good opportunity to launch a new company or product range and to publicise your brand in the industry, but they can be expensive. You need to be clear about why you want to take part in one.
Start by researching which trade shows are most appropriate for you and your work. Go along and visit the show. The benefits of attending in this way include:
Market research, looking at similar products or work and what they charge for it.
Networking with others.
Deciding whether not you want to exhibit at the same show.
Keeping up to date with trends in your industry.
You can often apply a year in advance, giving you time to plan and budget.
Some trade shows operate on an application basis and others accept a fee for a space.
Rates for exhibitors at trade shows are often calculated by how many square metres you will use, so work out how much space you need.
As a student or recent graduate, see if there is a dedicated area for up and coming exhibitors as these may offer discounts for students or people in their first five years of business.
Look around for funding to help out with your show. UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) works with the British European Design Group (BEDG) to offer support for exhibiting at design shows outside the UK, and Careers and Employability offer Industry Showcase Bursaries for visiting and exhibiting at exhibitions.
At most trade shows there are two display options:
'Shell schemes' are usually three-walled partitions
'Space only' is the more expensive option, where you are allocated a space and build your presence there yourself.
Here are some tips to help you prepare for exhibiting at trade shows.
Have your products or range ready to show in good time.
Establish your product pricing LINK.
Consider preparing a press pack and press release LINK.
Think about who you want to invite to the show and do some research into who else will be there.
Make sure your website is up-to-date and includes the dates and places where you will be exhibiting.
Gather all your promotional materials in good time before the show.
Find out what will be included in your space, whether you need to bring items like tables and chairs and how you will brand it.
Get yourself an order book with carbon paper (or NCR – no carbon required).
Decide whether you are going to give away any freebies or hold a drinks event to promote your products.
Consider how you are going to protect your intellectual property. Many trade shows have a policy of no photography. Some exhibitors display a sign from an organisation such as ACID (Anti Copying In Design).
On the day
Setting up usually takes place two to three days before the show.
Work out the logistics including transporting your work.
You are going to be talking to a lot of people, so brush up on your networking skills
Make sure you have all your information to hand – press releases, business cards and leaflets – and make sure you give them out.
Be professional when you are at your stand.
Take everyone’s business cards and staple them into a book with any notes you make about the person who gave it to you. It’s a great way of expanding your network.
After the show
Follow up on all the contacts you have made, sending individual emails if possible.
Fulfil your orders swiftly, or at least to the dates you agreed at the show. This will help maintain your professional image.
Relax and congratulate yourself on a job well done.