Attendee Research

  • 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.

Online Options

  • 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.

Partnering Tactics

  • 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.

Creative Tactics

  • 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 outsourced marketing functions 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.

Your Message

  • 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, professional speaker and 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.