Marketing is the business tool that brings a coordinated approach to the hundreds of techniques available to achieve your meeting's objective. Have you ever received several marketing pieces for a meeting and thought to yourself that one was all you needed? What a waste! Have you ever attended a meeting that had multiple marketing messages and you said to yourself, “I still don't know what the purpose of the meeting is.”?

This is where attention to a thoughtful marketing plan saves the company money and pays off in the long run. In many cases, companies that defined their marketing and communications strategies through meetings and events in the late 1990s are now having to rethink those strategies.

Once you've determined that a face-to-face meeting is the best fit for your communications needs, you need bodies to make it happen. The solution: Create a marketing plan with techniques that are sure to lure your target market to the meeting. Here's how.

TIP No. 1
Why Are We Meeting Like This?

In a recent survey conducted by Meeting Professionals International, business executives said the promise of education and networking were their top two reasons for attending a meeting. But what is the company's objective for the meeting? You need to determine that before you decide whether to go forward with a face-to-face meeting and, ultimately, how to market it. For example, is the purpose of the meeting to increase attendance or increase revenue? Are you trying to get a new audience or recruit new exhibitors? Are you launching a product or are you delivering a message? Are you motivating, educating, or training?

The objective must be clearly stated in the marketing plan and be understood by everyone involved in the development of the marketing pieces. Clarity avoids confusion in the marketing messages. An example of a confusing meeting objective might be a company that chooses to have a product launch in 100 cities around the world to motivate attendees to use a particular product. In the past, expensive incentives were given to attend. The company decides to cut back on costs, which includes the elimination of the incentive. Attendance falls by 80 percent, sales are at an all-time low, and the objective is never met because enthusiasm for the product became diluted.

Avoiding conflicting objectives and messages is critical to your marketing success.

TIP No. 2
Getting to Know You

Who is being invited to the meeting? An internal customer is commonly known as an employee, a board member, or an agent for the company (all of whom may be referred to as stakeholders). Quite often the meetings are mandatory or a strong sense of urgency is instilled. Such internal meetings include board meetings, training programs, committee meetings, retreats, regionalized sales meetings, and department planning sessions. Or is the target market an external customer who might pay to attend a conference, seminar, or symposium? Even if there's no fee attached, you have to vie for that potential attendee's very valuable time. Getting to know your attendees is critical. The target market drives the type of marketing techniques you choose or those you recommend to the marketing department.

TIP No. 3
Both Sides Now

Marketing to an internal customer takes more of a personal approach. A personal invitation in the mail, an announcement in the company's newsletter, an e-mail invitation, or a board report with minutes announcing the upcoming meeting have become quite standard. Marketing to an internal customer does not require as many marketing pieces, especially if the meeting is mandatory.

When marketing to an external customer, you have to provide very specific information upfront. Clearly state the benefits of attending (ROI) and the pricing, if applicable. You have to put yourself in the attendee's shoes and ask the question “What will this meeting do for me?”

Some current marketing plans use technology to its fullest. Most successful events are marketed with a combination of techniques that build upon one another. An example of a combination of marketing pieces might begin with a postcard inviting potential attendees to the meeting's Web site for more information or simply to register online. The postcard might include a clever photograph or a cartoon that the attendee can post on a bulletin board.

This technique is followed with an e-mail blast outlining an incentive for registering early. The message must have the company's name and meeting name clearly stated in the subject line to avoid being deleted. If you have a company e-newsletter or e-zine, place the link to the page where the meeting information is listed in the very first paragraph. Add a testimonial from a respected past attendee. Follow the e-zine with a mailing of a four-color printed brochure highlighting important sessions, speakers, or social activities.

Combining marketing techniques continuously reminds the receiver/reader about your event. By using creativity and technology, you pique the curiosity of the potential attendee.

TIP No. 4
Do the Research

Now that you have identified the target market, it is important to research your audience. What will draw attendees to the meeting? In the survey mentioned under Tip No. 1, business executives said the promise of education and networking were their top two reasons for attending. Low on the list were a great destination, speakers, and leisure time. The executives also indicated that a guarantee for a successful meeting is a well-crafted agenda, reasonable cost, and helpful information. Did you know that great entertainment and food were ranked very low in the MPI survey?

Here are the questions to ask during the process of deciding which marketing pieces to use. Does this piece reflect in the very beginning what the current research says? Does the meeting focus on education? Does the meeting encourage networking? Is the agenda well designed? Have you provided helpful information for the attendee? Is the cost reasonable? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, don't use the marketing piece!

The meetings industry has focused quite a bit on the “experience” economy in recent years. I believe we must market to what the attendee is looking for — education and networking — but we must also answer the question “Is the cost reasonable, both in dollars and in time?”

TIP #5
Be Au Courant with Your Techniques

Recently, I conducted a survey of meeting planners involved in the development of their meetings' marketing plan. The planners most often listed the seven techniques below.

  • Direct mail pieces: Four-color pieces, postcards with creative photographs (an X-ray of a car), cut-outs, 3-D shapes, CD-ROMs in different sizes, holograms, CD business cards, PDAs, cubes (a post-it-note stack of paper), meeting fact sheet, and product samples with tear-off coupons. Announcements and envelopes with velum paper were popular until mail sorters tore the pieces to shreds.
  • Online: E-mail blasts that are quickly downloaded, virtual tours, e-newsletters (e-zines), interactive games, online postcards, online coupons, teasers to visit the site, and surveys with rewards
  • Special deals: Early-bird prices, frequent customer programs, matching donations, partner with another person to attend at a discounted rate, loyalty program, gift with a purchase, free promotional products, buy one/get one free program, and Web discounts
  • Networking: E-mail, online education, social after-hours, referral partnerships, open house, sponsorships, a handwritten note, special event, greeter at registration, society clubs, virtual trade show, and chat rooms
  • Advertising: Nostalgia in black and white, color-slick, simple messages, testimonials, streaming video, music, online malls, cabs with video, moving billboard, corporate-sponsored cards, billboards, sponsorship programs, and kiosks in the mall or at related meetings
  • Open Houses: Exclusive invitations to specific target audience, free goodies, hands-on experience, education, entertainment, food, and silent auctions
  • Telemarketing: Phone-a-thon, thank-a-thon, interaction, timeshare, fax blasts, gift with sales pitch, broadcast fax, conference call, and surveys

TIP No. 6
Your Brand Is Your Bible

Quite simply, brand is money. If the company has a good product or service, the customer automatically identifies with the brand, which creates loyalty. There is nothing more aggravating than trying to determine who is delivering the message. Place your logo in a prominent position on every marketing piece, not just the printed materials. Let your company brand sell the meeting.

Finally, you must be creative in our current economy, so your marketing strategies need to be fluid.

Michele Wierzgac, CMM, president of Michele & Company founded a consulting firm after a well-established career in educational administration. She specializes in strategic meeting planning, marketing, branding, communications, program development, marketing plans, and return on investment measurements. She can be reached at or at (888) MTG-PLNR.