Chief Executive Officer of MCI Group's Institutional Division, Robin is a member of the INCON Executive Committee and Dean of the INCON University. Based in Singapore, Robin is responsible for the strategic and business development of MCI's services to association and government markets. He also advises associations on their strategic planning, board assessment and international development strategies. Robin has held leadership positions with various industry bodies including the MPI Foundation Board of Trustees and the ASAE and he is a regular guest speaker at international business events.
Planning and delivering a conference involves many thousands of person hours but even the most impeccably organised event can fail to achieve the anticipated numbers of fee paying delegates. Inevitably this reflects a weakness in the area of event promotion. How can this be addressed and what are the key elements in successful conference marketing? A well prepared marketing plan is fundamental and it should consider the following promotional elements;
To reach your target audience it is vital to firstly identify it. If you don't have this information, capture it by sending out a free email survey.
Avoid the "inside looking out syndrome" and capture valuable data by brainstorming with past and potential attendees to develop the value proposition of the conference.
Promote the conference as a 'must attend' event by identifying a catchy theme or positioning statement for it e.g. "All the latest advances in XYZ under the one roof".
Engage a competent designer to create a conference style sheet. Don't rely on the association's logo, customise a conference identity. Avoid non-standard fonts and colours - they will be lost in most web browsers.
Merchandise is back en vogue as a creative way of promoting a conference. Delegates attending this year's Site International Conference in Las Vegas received redeemable gambling chips. A promotional DVD can be inexpensively created by "topping and tailing" local convention bureau footage with a welcome message from the conference chairperson. Footage from a previous event is even more effective.
A low cost web presence, preferably one with an easily updateable Content Management System (CMS) is necessary. Spend funds on marketing the site rather than flash animation and gimmicky count down timers. Enable Analytics to gauge where delegates are coming from and use this data to help target relevant markets. Use tools such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Adwords to improve the site rankings.
Print is not dead but it is more costly than PDF so use it more sparingly.
Email communication is cheap but it is also the least effective promotional method. 95% of all email is spam and filters are increasingly aggressive. Always use the same email address to send conference related email; ideally from the conference's own domain and never use an obscure Gmail or Hotmail address.
Engage with delegates by setting up a display booth at a kindred association conference.
In its simplest form Social Media is about using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to blog, clog and flog people, ideas and products. Gen Y and Z may use it, but it is not widely used by mainstream Gen X or Baby Boomers, often the real source of delegate revenue. Reflect on your target audience before investing time and funds in social media tactics.
Place low costs advertisements and diary dates in relevant journals and publications.
Secure less than 20% new delegates at your event and you are regressing. Consider buying mail/email lists and designing a special campaign to generate interest.
Its effective but it can be costly and the process in building and cleaning appropriate lists can be time consuming. Ask the volunteer committee to contact 10 - 20 associates and ask them in turn to contact another 10 -20; inverted pyramid style. A message coming from a trusted referrer is highly effective.
If budget allows profile high profile speakers to the media during the conference and leverage any press coverage after the conference
Leverage sponsors and partners by encouraging them to contact their clients but do not depend too much on them.
The overall conference time path should include;
And finally, the old adage that you have to spend money to make money rings true. Research shows its rare for more than 2% of conference budget to be spent on marketing the event. A minimum expenditure of 5% will be more effective in attracting new and repeat delegates.