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Marketing Matters

Even the most well-designed program can flop without the right marketing.

Planners often go to great lengths to design elaborate meetings, conferences and events by selecting the right speakers, caterers and venues. But to a great extent, an event’s marketing determines its registration, attendance and expectations for all stakeholders involved. In other words, it determines the success of an event and whether attendees will come back, which is why it’s so important to get the marketing right. 

An event’s marketing isn’t just something that takes place prior to an event — it’s an ongoing experience for attendees, from the moment planners get the word out to when they send follow-up surveys. Here are some things for planners to consider that will help them expertly market any event.

Consider Goals and Stakeholders

Every event will have different goals, depending on the type of event or conference and the objectives that drive the organization. This is something that planners and everyone else involved with the event need to be aware of, because it determines the audience to which they’ll be marketing. Is the event designed to attract as many newcomers as possible, or is it designed with a specific group of people in mind?

“If you’re promoting your conference to a general attendee, you’re going to have a certain marketing strategy behind that,” said Kristen Turner, an events director at the Allegheny Conference, a Pittsburgh-area nonprofit. Some companies may prioritize generating new members, she said, which calls for marketing that casts a wide net, like boosted posts on social media. 

Lesley Brandt, co-founder and senior event producer of Planit Inc., frequently plans events within an industry. Her company is a third-party meeting planning company, which means their marketing often targets a predetermined set of potential attendees rather than the general public. When events are geared toward a particular subset of industry professionals or even individuals from one company, the marketing may look like a company-wide email campaign or sending out postcards to those on a mailing list.

In addition to knowing an event’s goals, planners should learn as much about its target attendees as possible. Information like attendee demographics, likes and dislikes, if they’re well-traveled and other relevant factors helps planners know what to highlight in their marketing materials. For example, if a group of prospective attendees is in health care or a related field, advertising the event’s plans for promoting a healthy and safe environment may attract more attendees. 

“It could be education; it could be a safe environment; it could be location; it could be an efficient schedule; it could be priced right,” said Brandt. “When we consider those elements and what our attendees are after, it becomes easier.”

Planners should consider platforms their target attendees are most active on, and this will help them determine where to push their information. Factors like age and job industry will affect which social media platforms attendees use or if they’d be more reachable with print advertising rather than digital. 

Knowledge is power, and the more knowledge a planner has about an event and its stakeholders, the more effectively they will be able to market it. 

Share the Details

These days, leaving something to the imagination is more likely to turn a potential attendee off rather than pique their interest. In the age of uncertainty, effective marketing of an event sets expectations for attendees and gives them plenty to go on.

“We’re seeing a little more information included in save-the-dates,” said Brandt.

In a post-COVID world, this extra information includes event safety precautions, the logistics of travel and any other relevant information attendees need beyond just the date and whereabouts of the conference. 

“People don’t necessarily want to be surprised when they get somewhere,” said Turner.

In addition to helping attendees set expectations for their time, this extra information can entice them. Brandt said these “nuggets of information that encourage people to attend a conference” include an event’s main selling points, such as keynote speakers, incentives or the launch of new products or platforms.

While the return to in-person events has been unprecedented, many events still do include digital and virtual components, from online registration to live-streamed presentations. Making the details clear for these is also important. 

“Having a seamless registration and having everything right at your fingertips helps,” Turner said of the importance of having your event’s information consolidated on one platform, such as a website.

Planners may have difficulty rounding up all the relevant information about a meeting destination that attendees will need to know, which is where a contact at a destination’s convention and visitors bureau can help. 

“A lot of destinations have tools for meeting planners,” said Kendra Brayfield, president of the Kansas City chapter of Meeting Professionals International. Brayfield also previously worked as a sales director at Explore Lawrence, where she worked closely with meeting planners to develop their events.

The toolkits provided by CVBs can include materials such as photographs, videos and 360-degree touring software that can help attendees and partners better visualize the destination. These toolkits can also include tons of relevant information, such as vendor lists, menus for local caterers and activities for attendees to do in their downtime.

Sell the Destination Experience

When encouraging attendees to register for an event and to later attend that event, an important factor to consider is the event’s location. Planners often put great effort in choosing a destination and a venue, so it’s equally important to market that information to prospective attendees. Most event destinations have great local attractions, dining and shopping that attendees can take advantage of, and promoting this is a great way to draw them in.

“With higher education and association-based organizations, they’re trying to promote and encourage the attendee to take advantage of not only the education component of the conference but to also build in some of the experience of the destination,” said Brayfield.

One of the best ways to maximize a destination’s appeal to attendees is to partner with the local CVB. Making use of their promotional materials, visual aids and itineraries ensures prospective attendees see the benefits of traveling to the area where the event will be held. 

“We’re starting to find that you have to sell and promote the experience, what the attendee journey is going to be,” Turner said. 

Another way to attract attendees is to offer them a trip that kills two birds with one stone. Many planners and
organizations are beginning to market their events to attempt to “capture the attendee to come earlier, stay later, make it a family event or a leisure experience,” said Brayfield. 

Another aspect of an event’s experience that’s increasingly cropping up is appealing to the socially conscious attendee. If an event is eco-conscious, supports minority-owned businesses or funds a good cause, it’s beneficial to everyone involved. Many attendees are concerned with making a positive impact on the communities they’re visiting and contributing to causes they care about, making them more likely to choose events that allow them to give back. 

Whether it’s a raffle that supports a local charity or a team-building activity where attendees provide a service to the community, making attendees aware of an event’s charitable initiatives can boost an event’s attendance. A CVB can help organize activities like this or even offer a resource directory of local businesses attendees can feel good about supporting. 

“It’s a really big win for everyone,” Brayfield said of these charitable initiatives at events.