The location has been selected

The program has been set with a great roster of speakers, including a famous keynote who is certain to be a draw. Now all that's left is to “get marketing,” right? Well…not quite!

Marketing should never be the last step in the process — it should be an integral part of every facet of planning a meeting. Here are five common pitfalls.

Underestimating the importance (or possible unimportance) of location

Put on your marketing hat when doing your site selection. How important is the site? Will attendees come if you are in Topeka versus Las Vegas, San Francisco, or Boston? Do attendees tend to combine their vacations with your event? How many related companies and other sites of interest to attendees are in the area? With solid knowledge and facts at hand regarding attendee preferences, you'll be better prepared to counter the board member who relentlessly pushes for his hometown — one that is difficult to get to and has few amenities.

Overlooking various options for meeting content

The meeting content is the most important part of the meeting, isn't it? Well, maybe…it all depends. Why do attendees come to your event? Is it the program content? Is it for the continuing education credits? Or do they come mainly for networking opportunities, regardless of what sessions are available? Know whether that expensive keynote speaker you have in mind will really be worth the money and will pull in additional attendees.

Forgetting to consider comments in last year's evaluations (or not taking them seriously)

All too often, meeting evaluations are read and filed and never referred to again. Are attendees saying that the meeting content is stale? Or that there isn't enough programming for advanced-level, entry-level, or mid-level professionals? Organizations can get into a rut and recycle topics and/or speakers year after year. While an event may attract many new attendees each year, loyal “repeaters” will tire of even the best programming after a few times. Also, ask what other events your audience attends for education, and then check out those meetings. How do they compare to yours in venue, pricing, content, overall value?

Pricing yourself out of your audience's market

We've all heard the phrase “champagne taste on a beer budget.” What is the “price point” for your attendees? Do they pay to come to your meeting out of their own pockets? Are they given paid time off, or do they have to use vacation or personal time? What is their income level? Physicians can afford a more expensive meeting than can auto mechanics or schoolteachers, and they are also more likely to have their institutions pick up all or part of the tab. Can your group afford four days in Hawaii or would three days in Milwaukee allow more of them to come?

Making assumptions about how members want to hear about your meeting

“Our attendees don't read e-mail; they only look at printed programs.” “Our target audience is busy, so e-mail is the best way to reach them.” “Our members are older, so they aren't so Internet-savvy.” Are these just assumptions, or have they been verified through research? People who were technophobes a few years ago may now be confirmed Web surfers. Has your organization tested print versus e-mail versus Web versus blog recently?

Marketing — and market research — are crucial to the success of any meeting. Use the data you have on hand, plus targeted market research, to get to know your audience. If you understand that, in these rapidly changing times, getting to know your audience is an ongoing process, and if you keep your marketing hat on every step of the way, you can look forward to hosting successful, well-attended events year after year.

Linda Schwartz is director, marketing and communications services with SmithBucklin, an association management company headquartered in Chicago. She has more than 30 years' experience in association marketing, membership development and retention, and public relations. Reach her at LSchwartz@SmithBucklin.com.

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