It’s been said in recent years that flat is the new up, meaning that just holding the line on convention attendance is an accomplishment in this economy. But that’s not the case with the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

At a time when many associations are seeing participation levels plummet, ADAA’s attendance jumped 43 percent to 933 at the association’s 2010 conference in Baltimore, March 4-7. Since 2007, when the meeting attracted 448 delegates, attendance rates have rocketed more than 100 percent.

How? It’s no accident, says Marta Martinez, director, membership and meetings at the Silver Spring, Md.–based association. “You can’t wait anymore for the business to come to you,” says Martinez. “You have to go out and find it.”

Seek Out New Markets
ADAA’s attendance-building efforts began in 2007 after the March annual conference when leaders recognized that uncertain economic times might lie ahead, making convention attendance hard to come by. They were right, but rather than wait to get hit, they reached out to new markets.

Association leaders realized that they had only begun to scratch the surface in reaching potential delegates. “We had not saturated our market,” she says. Traditionally, ADAA’s audience has been psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and behavioral consultants—basically, professionals who treat people with anxiety disorders.

But was there anyone else they should be considering? ADAA started looking through state directories and other lists of people involved in the subject matter. On these lists they found an area that they hadn’t yet tapped—researchers.

Through directories and other sources, ADAA staffers sought out people at universities who were involved in research surrounding anxiety disorders. They even circled names they read in articles and journals for potential membership. “We looked under every stone,” she says. Ultimately, they came up with an “A list” and a “B list,” says Martinez, with people on the “A list” being department heads or folks most directly involved in anxiety disorder research. The “B list” consisted of people within the department or others who somehow touched on anxiety disorder research.

Next, they sent out mailings informing the potential attendees about the association and the conference. But it was more than just a direct-mail piece, says Martinez: It included helpful information and data about anxiety disorders. The association also tapped its own resources by asking current members to tell people they work with about the conference.

The result? ADAA’s research database of potential members grew from 3,000 to 27,000 in a few short years.

While the new list of potential customers were invited to attend the conference without becoming members, ADAA let them know that membership had its privileges. For example, if they attended the conference, they could become a member for a discounted rate and also attend continuing medical education courses for free. Consequently, ADAA has seen a 15 percent spike in membership in the past year alone and a 27 percent jump since 2007.

Further, to entice their existing members to come to the conference, ADAA offered a 40 percent discount on the registration fee for those who signed up early to attend. It also stepped up its marketing efforts, sending out mailings as well as e-mail blasts at least once a month to remind people about the conference and the registration deadlines. “We have to stay very vigilant. People are very busy. They are focused on their careers, not the conference, so you have to remind them,” says Martinez.

The spectacular growth this year was a result of all those efforts—reaching new markets, reduced early-bird rates, aggressive marketing—but it also had to do with the location. Baltimore is not only the home of many top-notch medical schools, but it is easily accessible by car or a short flight from other healthcare hubs along the Eastern Seaboard.

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