Because every association meeting has a finite pool of prospects, one way to grow your meeting is to move beyond your audience and attract professionals from allied fields. Here are six steps you can take.
Review your organization's mission statement as it relates to your meeting objective. While growing your meeting is important, it is also crucial to remain true to your mission. View your new target market as a natural extension of your current market — it should not look like a stretch to your core attendees, or as if you are “pushing the envelope” for the sake of additional revenue.
Identify other professions that intersect with your members. For example, if physicians are your main audience, are there other healthcare professionals — dentists, nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, or radiologists — who could benefit from your educational offerings? Once you develop your list of intersecting professions, you are ready to review your meeting content.
Decide if you need to modify your educational offerings or add new topics/tracks to attract new attendee categories. Even if you believe that your current program is applicable to a related profession, your marketing materials have no doubt been created with just your membership in mind. Try to host a few focus groups of professionals in your new target market for insight on ways to tailor the materials to appeal to this group. Also, if you offer continuing education credits for your regular members, can you also offer them for these new attendees?
To determine which option to pursue first, estimate the attendee potential for each of your target attendee categories. Next, review the program modifications that will be necessary to attract each identified category. Then compare the time, effort, feasibility, and cost of the program modifications to the anticipated increase in attendance and revenue for each category. Select one (or at most two) categories you believe have the most potential to attract the new attendees you think would be most appropriate for your organization's long-term goals.
Create your marketing plans for this new category. Will you need to rent lists? While the cleanest lists are typically those owned and maintained by associations, not all organizations are willing to rent their membership list, especially if you are marketing a meeting that competes with one of their own. No matter how attractive your offering may be, the quality and deliverability of your list can make or break your venture, so be sure to research this area thoroughly before you commit to a plan of action.
Make these new attendees feel welcome. If they do not feel as valued as your member attendees, they probably won't return. Construct your conference survey so that you can compare the new delegates' feedback to that of the core group. Consider personal follow-up with these individuals, especially if you plan to continue marketing to them for your next meeting.
Linda Schwartz is director, marketing and communications services with SmithBucklin, an association management company headquartered in Chicago, where she handles a number of healthcare clients. She has more than 30 years' experience in association marketing, membership development and retention, and public relations. Reach her at LSchwartz@SmithBucklin.com.