For exhibit and event professionals  

What does sharing cost?

April 3, 2013 By Editor

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed the dilemmas you feature often come from exhibit planners. Well, I have a question from an exhibit designer’s point of view. The requests for designs I receive rarely include budget numbers, making it tough to create a cost-effective exhibit. Exhibitors, why do you shy away from sharing these figures? What can I do to get your cooperation?

— James, freelance designer

Maybe just a little effort on your part

James, without a budget, chances are you’ll either incorporate materials and elements that are too expensive, or you’ll be too conservative and leave out elements that are important to your client.

That’s why our readers say you should:

  • Understand where your client’s coming from.
  • Explain why a budget is essential.
  • Play a little hardball.

Understand where your client’s coming from

Sometimes, a client and a designer can seem at cross-purposes: You want to design the best exhibit possible, and the client’s worried about the money.

An exhibits manager gives his insights into a client’s possible mindset and what you may be able to do about it.

“I think exhibitors are scared the cost may either limit the design (you won’t spend as much time with a $2,000 budget vs. a $200,000 budget), or you’ll try to use every single penny. In all honesty, it’s like applying a car-buying strategy to exhibit design. By telling the salesperson how much you have to spend, he’ll give you a car that meets or exceeds that price.

“There’s a level of trust an exhibitor must relinquish to the designer, and some people are scared to let go. Try to build that trust — if you can.”

Explain why a budget is essential

Considering the client’s possible mindset, an analogy or two may help him or her see why you need some numbers.

A designer provides an example.

“Would you expect a real estate agent to show you homes without telling that person your price range? Of course not, and I suspect your client wouldn’t either.

“Share this analogy with your client to clarify why it would be a waste of time for both of you for you to design an exhibit without some idea of what he or she has to spend. It’s as impossible for you to come up with the right kind of exhibit as it would be for a real estate agent to find someone’s dream home without a clue as to his or her budget.”

Play a little hardball

If you can’t use reason to get your client to see your point of view, you may need to be more firm and direct.

An anonymous reader believes you have to stand up for what you know is right.

“If you have a sense of the project’s scope, propose a budget range. If the client balks at it, walk away and spend your time more productively elsewhere. The easiest thing in the world is firing a client, especially if the client has so little faith in your integrity as a professional, he or she won’t share a budget.”


  • I expect trust. We’re taught to negotiate. However, I’ve worked with MC2 a few times, and always disclosed my budget. That’s simply because I trust the lead designer in Atlanta and the CMO so I know I’m in good hands. Other design house quote high, then come way down on pricing. That creates a bit of non-trust and the cards are held closer to the vest…. Love this newsletter.

  • If this is a new client, perhaps providing references would help. Or James could ask for a price range and do preliminary mock-ups based on the lowest and highest figures.

    James has a problem many designers face. As an exhibit/event professional, what would encourage you to share your budget figures with a designer?

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