You don't have to completely overhaul your meeting to attract more attendees. Sharon Collins, director of meetings and expositions at the Kellen Co., an Atlanta-based association management company, offers the following tips to get your numbers up.
Price bundling for attendees. To make it easier for churches or organizations 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 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.
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 a keyword in the subject line so it doesn't get flagged as spam.
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 attendees to get there. Don't give them excuses not to go.
Get free publicity. Publicity is important before, during, and after the event. Invite the 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.
Look into advertising exchanges. If your organization publishes a magazine, consider doing an advertising exchange with another 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.
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 be given as a bonus. Vendors get to sell in a more informal setting, while the exhibits add value for attendees.
Use the Internet. 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.
Branding. It's very 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 will not suffice. Make sure that 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, note pads, and badges.
Ask exhibitors and vendors (convention center, hotels) if you can add your logo to their signage and promotional materials about the event. The more people see your logo, the more likely they are to attend.