In-country partners help create visibility and credibility for your organization, identify prospective attendees, and spread the word. But it's still up to you to "bring in the bodies."

Most types of business have sister organizations around the world, either in government or the private realm, notes Chris Vranas, vice president, member services, for the American Association of Orthodontists, St. Louis. “For example, every country has its own national orthodontic association. In Europe, there's always a European association of whatever. The first thing to do when you're going into a country is to set up a meeting or correspondence with those local entities. This is where your potential attendees will come from, and they'll help you promote your meeting.”

Local support can be even more important than the appeal of the destination. “You can't go to a city just because it's great,” says Torryn Brazell, chief development officer for meeting and event consulting firm Red Steel Consulting, LLC, Reston, Va. “Before I choose a destination, I want to know what kind of support I'll get.” Brazell was previously director, conferences and education, for the Internet Society, which has 60-plus chapters worldwide. “I strongly recommended meeting in a country where we had a chapter,” she says.

Overseas, the government plays a huge role, she adds. “It often has an interest in the convention center. In Kuala Lumpur, for example, where we met in 1997, the World Trade Center was partly government-owned.” Government ministries are also useful partners; in some countries, their imprimatur is essential. “Always meet with the department that relates to your conference topic,” says Brazell. “In Kuala Lumpur, we met with the department of education because we had a K-12 program, and with the information technology minister because we had an Internet program.”

The U.S. Commercial Service, part of the Department of Commerce, is “a great place to start” when you need to know who else is active in your business, advises Matt Borkowski, director of international promotion for Kircher Inc., Washington, D.C., which provides meeting support for associations. “Also talk to embassies and consulates. They'll know the players or will be able to find out.”

Industry publications are most important for meetings industry consultant Margaret Cassilly, who has some 23 years of association experience. “They'll cover your event, advertise your event, do an advertorial, and print your conference schedule.”

Of course, national tourist offices and any in-country suppliers you might work with — PCOs, DMCs, travel agents, etc. — can tell you whose support is necessary, and can themselves alert you to local customs, helping you to avoid faux pas.

Buy-In Is Critical

“If you just ask another organization to help you promote your event, what's in it for them?” asks Vranas. “But if they feel they can benefit, they'll be active. Give them involvement in your planning process, VIP status, space in your trade show.” Vranas previously was vice president, meetings and member services, for the American Society of Travel Agents. When ASTA held its World Travel Congress in Lisbon, ‘We made the Portuguese Travel Association our partner, we did joint promotions with them, and we offered free registration to the congress to people who joined the Portuguese association.”

You probably have a successful event at home, or you wouldn't be going overseas, Borkowski notes. “Invite potential partners to your event and make them feel comfortable” with who you are. If you rotate destinations, always plan at least two years ahead, says Borkowski. “It can take two to five years to build some of these relationships.”

For trade shows especially, you want the support of government agencies and associations, Cassilly advises. “Get it in writing,” she urges. “Do an implementation plan. Be thorough, but not pushy. Your approach should be, ‘Let's grow this together.’”

Prospect Hunting

“We're always looking to bring in new people,” says Cordie Miller, director of meetings for the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM), Berkeley, Calif. “We contact local chapters and place ads in local journals.” Miller also works with sister societies. “We either share lists with them or purchase their lists.”

But usually before local sister associations will give you their database of members, you must develop nonthreatening relationships with them,” says Cassilly. “This takes months and months of work.” She adds that publications have “the latest and greatest databases.”

If there's a trade show that serves your market, exchange databases, suggests Cassilly. For example, offer your U.S. database in exchange for their European database. If the U.S. Commercial Service has newsletters for your industry, she adds, you can get their database. Another option, is to work with a public relations agency, listing it as a sponsor of your event and using its mailing list.

There are no lists that target the membership of the International Association for Dental Research,” says Gwynn Dominguez, director of meetings for the Alexandria, Va.-based IADR. So she sends her brochures to dental schools for distribution and also to anyone who has contacted the association, for example, by sending in a paper.

Caveat: Privacy issues can sometimes make it difficult to obtain lists that you want. For example, in Yokohama, Japan, says Brazell, organizations sent her mailings to their lists, but would not give her the lists.

Direct-Mail Tips

Direct mail is the most effective medium, according to Cassilly. “In most cultures, you need to catch someone's eye with a printed piece. They can mull it over, write notes on it, and pass it on.” Brazell con-curs: “Sponsors want to see a four-color brochure.”

Mail is also the least intrusive medium, adds Borkowski. “Mail is less in-your-face and easier to deal with” than e-mail. He also warns that “e-mail is so easy to delete.”

However, if you have formed a partnership, any direct-mail pieces should be signed jointly, says Vranas. For example, for ASTA's meeting in Lisbon, letters were signed jointly by ASTA and the Portuguese association. This gives your association a local identity. If possible, Vranas adds, have mail postmarked locally, which might improve the response rate (see sidebar, page 31).

Translation isn't always necessary. “Our meeting is conducted in English,” says Dominguez, “so attendees certainly understand the language.” Thus mailings don't need to be translated. But for an upcoming meeting in Chiba, Japan, she translated the exhibitor prospectus into Japanese. Still, translation has benefits. “In travel and tourism, English is spoken,” says Vranas. But if you translate an invitation, for example, “you know it will be read and you are showing respect for the host country.”

If you translate, use professionals. Be sure that they know the current marketing phrases in that culture, Cassilly cautions. She recalls the time that the “See What's Hot!” headline in one of her mailings was translated into Spanish as “See What's Passionate!”

Because ISMRM is an international society, with 40 percent of its delegates outside the U.S., “we made our materials international so we wouldn't have to rewrite them when we went overseas,” says Miller. Among the changes: Dates follow the international format of day/month/year, military time — the 24-hour clock — is used, and prices always specify US$, not just $.

A mailing piece gets more respect if it's in an envelope, according to Borkowski. “The Direct Marketing Association says that a No. 10 envelope gets better results than an 8.5 by 11 brochure for both domestic and international mail,” he reports.

The Online Option: Some Planners Love It

Online is the only way to convey information, Vranas insists. “Spending money on color brochures and sending them around the world is a total waste,” he believes. But what about the exhibitor prospectus? “Give them a link to your Web site.” E-mail, he adds, is “quick, efficient, and cheap, and you can constantly send updates.” It's also well accepted: “The international audience, especially in lesser developed countries, embraced e-mail way before Americans did,” he says. And though you can buy e-mail lists, “It's better to go through partner organizations.”

“The best way to promote international conferences is the call for speakers or call for papers, and you definitely e-mail that,” according to Brazell. Keep the message short, with just the basics on the meeting date and location, but attach a URL for further information, she says. Send a follow-up e-mail a month before the deadline for papers or speakers.

E-mail is best for “short, precise blitzes of information,” in Cassilly's view. “A long e-mail is just not enticing.”

That's in line with what Miller does. “We try to limit our e-mail, using it more as a reminder, say, for important dates, not for announcements,” she says. “Scientists get so much e-mail. And most people have learned to go to our Web site, which is constantly updated.”

Always offer online registration, although usage will vary widely. “More people in Asia register online than in Poland or Russia,” says Dominguez. “Overseas people who miss your deadline will register by e-mail.” But she notes that many people overseas “don't have credit cards, so they can't register online.”

Usage also varies by industry: Online registration is an “absolute necessity for the tech industry,” says Brazell.

List your event on Internet calendars, suggests Brazell. “Then, when people do a search using a popular search engine, your event will pop up.”

However, online requires off-line support, as many dot-coms learned too late. “Every year we move more things to the Web,” Borkowski explains. “But don't forget that you still need direct mail to send people to your Web site.”

Print Plan?

If the U.S. Commercial Service has publications for your industry, they can be a good outlet for your ads, says Cassilly.

Moreover, the importance of print advertising varies greatly from country to country. “In Japan, it was big-time important to advertise your conference in the local newspaper,” asserts Brazell. “Sometimes 10 sponsors placed full-page ads. In Malaysia, our ad was in the newspaper in color, with the registration form, and people sent in the form. In Sweden, it was important to be in magazines, too, not just to be in newspapers.”

But not all planners agree. “If potential attendees aren't familiar with your organization, ads are a waste of money,” asserts Vranas. That's why it's so important to build your identity by partnering with local organizations.

Contributing editor Rayna Skolnik has written hundreds of articles on meetings and trade shows.

Border Tip

Promotional mailings for offshore meetings must be sent much earlier, not only because mail takes longer in some countries, but also because people need more time to make their decision and their plans.

Border Tip

Some countries don't accept self-mailers. But you can shrink-wrap a domestic self-mailer and not go to the expense of printing a different piece.

By Invitation Only

Chinese and Russian citizens can't get an exit visa to attend a meeting in another country unless they receive an invitation, notes Cordie Miller, director of meetings for the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM), Berkeley, Calif. The conference brochure alone isn't adequate. Invitations are often required as well by Third-World countries, and by most countries that require exit visas. Although the specifics of the invitation may vary by country, certain elements are standard:

  • The wording should be official and generic, not personal. If the attendee commits any crime while at your meeting, you don't want to be held responsible for his actions.

  • The letter must specify that the association is not paying for the individual to attend. This is intended to ensure that the attendee has his own funds and won't be a financial burden in the host country.

  • The letter should persuade officials that this is a must-attend event for anyone in the in the field.

ISMRM used those guidelines for its invitation to the physician who heads the radiology department at a hospital in Beijing, China. The letter, from the chair of the annual meeting program committee, began as follows: “On behalf of the International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine (ISMRM), I would like to extend to you an invitation …” It continued, “ISMRM is committed to a tradition of scientific excellence and truly interdisciplinary scope.” After listing the “biochemists, biophysicists, radiologists,” and other specialists that would participate in the meeting, the letter stated emphatically, “Attendance at these meetings provides valuable peer association as well as information essential to keep current in the field.”

The letter also spelled out the terms, to prevent misunderstandings: “You will be responsible for your travel and lodging expenses as well as your meeting registration fees.”

Getting the Mail Through

  • When sending conference brochures, exhibitor prospectuses, and other meeting mailings overseas, you may obtain bulk rates from the United States Postal Service or one of the many alternative mailing services. Compare not only rates, but also the services offered.

  • USPS's International Surface Air Lift (ISAL) is a service for shipments of 50 pounds or more. Mailing pieces carry a U.S. postmark. USPS also offers Global Direct service: Mail is postmarked in the destination country and carries a local return address. At USPS Business Service Network offices in many major cities, you can obtain information on international services as they relate to your specific mailing. For example, says a spokesperson, even a slight change in the size or weight of a mailing piece could reduce your costs. For information, go to International services and rates are detailed in Publication 51, available online in PDF.

  • Two of the leading alternative mailing services are Royal Mail and Deutsche Post Global Mail. Royal Mail is the U.S.-based subsidiary of Consignia (the new name for the British Post Office). Its minimum requirements vary from 1,000 to 5,000 pieces per year. Mail carries the Royal Mail postmark, or may be sent to, and then posted in, any of 14 European countries, Australia, or New Zealand. Royal Mail reps can suggest ways to “internationalize” a mailing piece. Examples: A response form should request given name and surname, not first and last name; seven blank lines should be provided for the respondent's address, to accommodate varied country formats. For information, go to, phone (800) 345-5577, or e-mail

  • Deutsche Post Global Mail, the U.S. operation of Germany's Deutsche Post World Net, uses its own private distribution network but also, by consolidating shipments, can offer ISAL to mailers who do not meet USPS's minimums. It provides direct entry into many local mail streams, and also multiple-point posting for countries to which direct flights are less efficient. For example, mail to Russia might go through Scandinavia or through Deutsche Post because there are more flights. Hand delivery is available in many cities. DPGM picks up shipments 24/7 and effectively has no minimum weight requirements. It will monitor mailings and provide reports on delivery. For information: go to or phone (800) 426-7478.

Border Tip

Some countries don't accept self-mailers. But you can shrink-wrap a domestic self-mailer and not go to the expense of printing a different piece.