You don't have to completely overhaul your meeting to attract more attendees. Sharon Collins, director of meetings and expositions at the Kellen Company, an Atlanta-based association management company, offers the following tips to get your numbers up.
- Price bundling for attendees
To get companies to send multiple attendees, bundle registration fees so that they get sliding discounts for every person they send beyond one. The first person pays full price, but if they send two, three, or more, they won't pay full price for those individuals.
- Piggyback your meeting
Plan your meeting directly before or after another industry convention. Exhibitors that work both shows won't have to break down their booths, and the arrangement may provide attendees with interest in both conventions greater impetus to attend.
- Price bundling for exhibitors
If you have multiple meetings per year, give vendors the opportunity to exhibit at more than one. They may appreciate the chance to have a tabletop exhibit at a smaller meeting in addition to the booth they normally have at the annual convention. The smaller exhibits can be sold at a discounted rate or given as a bonus. Vendors get to sell in a more informal setting while the exhibits add value for attendees.
- Make travel easy
If the bulk of your membership is concentrated in one part of the country, hold your meeting in that geographic area, preferably at an easy access gateway. “Make it easy for them to get there. Don't give them excuses not to go,” says Collins.
- Get free publicity
Publicity is important before, during, and after the event. Extend free registration to the trade press and increase your chances of getting coverage of the event, not only leading up to it, but during, in the form of a meeting recap, and after, if a reporter follows up on a story from one of the sessions. Also, issue press releases before and after the event to maximize coverage.
- Advertising exchanges
If your association publishes a trade magazine, consider doing an advertising exchange with another industry trade publication to promote the meeting.
- Extend your early-bird rate
Build in some wiggle room for your early-bird rate and then, as the date approaches, extend it by a few weeks. “We usually see this huge surge when we do that,” says Collins. People tend to jump when they think they are getting a second chance.
- Couple membership dues and meeting fees
Let members know that if they come to the annual meeting, they get a percentage off their membership dues. Or give new members a percentage off their annual dues if they attend the annual meeting.
- Use graphics
Whether it's a “save the date” postcard, a direct mail brochure, or an e-mail blast, use colorful graphics to grab attention. For postcards, put slogans and graphics on both sides because there's a 50/50 chance the postcard will land face down on a desk. For e-mails, use an industry keyword in the subject line so it doesn't get flagged as spam.
- Use the Web
A Web site is an essential tool to provide members with up-to-date information on the event. It can also be used as a one-stop resource for conference registration, accommodations, and air travel.
It's important to brand your event with a specific theme and slogan around which the entire event is built. Clichés that don't really pertain to the meeting won't suffice. Make sure the brochures and materials trumpet specific take-aways for attendees, not just a general list of sessions and speakers. Also, it's critical to have the brand and slogan emblazoned on all promotional materials, such as tote bags, lanyards, notepads, and badges. Ask your exhibitors and vendors (convention center, hotels) if you can add your logo to their signage and promotional materials about the event.