Know your attendee acquisition costs. Average direct attendee promotional expenses for expositions are $105 per attendee for shows with fewer than 2,000 attendees and $57.50 for larger shows, according to a recent survey by Chicago Heights, Ill.-based Society of Independent Show Organizers. How much are you spending per attendee?
Track who signs up for various sessions, and use the information to create a personalized list of individual member interests. If you know someone signed up for a session on financial management, they may be interested in a course on money-management computer programs a few months down the road. Then find sponsors who are interested in that group to pay for the promotional mailing.
Select a site that is most convenient for your attendees, and develop programming that meets their specific needs. For example, if you want to attract more international members, pick a destination that's easy for international travelers to get to, and topics that will draw that market.
Collect as much data about your attendees as you can — track how many first-time attendees convert into members. Use your registration process to capture as much information about attendees as possible, including demographics, personal information, and purchasing profiles.
Use your Web site to pump up excitement about your conference's content, speakers, and location.
Include hot links to the conference Web site in e-mail promotions.
Follow up print promotions with e-mail reminders.
Consider online registration to save time and money.
Generate some buzz through your publications by including articles outlining some of the meeting highlights.
Make friends with the press. They're more likely to pay attention to your press releases if they know what you and your organization are about.
Follow through on sponsorship promises and put the signage up on the easel or your Web site. What you promise, you have to do.
Consider offering come-back incentives, such as giving a discount coupon first-time attendees can use for a future meeting.
Hold a raffle to raise money to subsidize scholarships to help people attend regional and national meetings.
Create attendance competitions among your association's regional chapters; the region that brings in the most attendees to the national conference wins a prize.
Pull some outsourcedfunctions back in house. Instead of hiring a designer to do the thumbnails for your print pieces, badges, and tickets, do them yourself with a PC publishing program. It's more work, but it can save thousands of dollars.
Consider cutting back from a four-color brochure to a nice postcard directing attendees to your Web site.
Get a sponsor for a feasibility survey of your members and include questions for the sponsoring organization.
Offer a discount for online registrants, similar to how airlines now offer a discount for those who buy tickets from their Web sites.
Trade booth space for an ad with a magazine that serves your association's membership.
Make your message clear and concise, state the return on investment, and include incentives and testimonials.
List the level of education each session will provide: Is it aimed to those who are new to the industry, or is it for experienced professionals in that area?
Make sure your promotional materials stress results for attendees, not what your organization wants to accomplish.
Explore all the promotional options: direct mail, mailing lists, fax broadcasts, public relations, advertising, Web sites, e-mail blasts, television/radio, partnership marketing, automated preprogrammed voice mail messaging, etc.
Stress limited availability to motivate quick response, and include a bonus value for those who act quickly. And don't forget to include phone, fax, Web site, e-mail, and snail mail addresses for your organization.
Sources: Linda Higgison, The TCI Companies Inc., Washington, D.C.; Michelle Reeder-Dauten, Investment Recovery Association, Mission, Kan.; Philippa Gamse, professionaland e-business consultant, Santa Cruz, Calif.; Nancy Frede, MarketSense, Framingham, Mass.; John Fuhr, Cvent, Arlington, Va.; Ellen Toups, OutSources, Alexandria, Va.; and Michele Wierzgac, Michele and Co., Oak Lawn, Ill.