Your planning can be flawless, but disappointing attendance can overshadow an otherwise wonderful meeting. The good news is that you can affect attendance by using sound marketing strategies. Here are 28 to consider.

Get Involved in the Big Picture

1. Learn how your meetings fit into the overall organizational structure, how they further its goals, what its priorities are. Then you can make appropriate decisions about using direct mail, a Web site, postcards, e-mail — whatever marketing media you have available to get the message out.

2. Discover how the strategic goal of each meeting moves the organization closer to its mission. The purpose of any meeting must be defined.

Learn All About Your Attendees

3. Listen to your members. Every time you go to a program, talk to people about what they did and didn't like. Evaluations are invaluable. It sounds simplistic, but it's the foundation on which everything is built.

4. Take a tip from speakers who survey their audience ahead of time to customize the program.

5. Identify the specific needs of different areas of your constituency, and segment your seminar marketing so promotions reach those most likely to attend. Almost every database program allows you to sort members in a number of ways.

6. Use your registration process to capture as much information about attendees as possible.

7. Play with different pricing levels and incentives for different segments. Which segments of your constituency will be down? Members? Students? Nonmembers? Once you know, you'll have a place to begin targeted marketing.

8. Select a site that is most convenient for your attendees and develop programming that meets their needs. If you want more international members, pick a destination that's easy for international travelers to get to.

9. Track who signs up for sessions and use the information to create a list of individual member interests. Then market to that group when a similar program comes up in the future.

Online Tips

10. Use your Web site to pump up excitement about your conference's content, speakers, and location.

11. Put hot links to the conference Web site in all e-mail promotions.

12. Segment your audience, send out e-mail or postal mailers, and measure response. While you can do this with direct mail, e-mail is more immediate, less expensive, and easy to track.

13. Use an opt-in approach to e-mail, in which only those who say they don't mind electronic promotions get them.

14. Consider online registration to increase attendance. Begin by doing it in tandem with your regular mailings, then decrease your mailings for the next meeting if it works.

Broaden Your Promotional Reach

15. Hang a password-protected template on your Web site that exhibitors or other third parties related to your organization can download, print, and distribute at no extra cost to you.

16. Work with the local convention and visitors bureau to get the word out about your destination's attractions.

17. Generate buzz through your publications by including articles outlining some of the meeting highlights.

18. Look beyond the usual network to find new speakers, volunteers, and program development committees. New blood often attracts new attendees.

19. Don't just preach to the choir. Come up with a strategy that delivers your message to the public. Make friends with the press, who will be more likely to pick up news about your meeting if they have a relationship with you.

Save Money, Boost Attendance

20. Raise money to subsidize scholarships to help people attend regional and national meetings.

21. Consider cutting back from a four-color brochure to a nice postcard directing attendees to your Web site.

Make the Message Count

22. Make your message clear and concise, state the return on investment, and include incentives and testimonials.

23. Make your promotional materials stress results for attendees, not what your organization wants to accomplish.

24. List the purpose of each session.

25. Make sure your message has emotional appeal, promotes benefits of attending, and includes a call to action.

26. Stress limited availability to motivate quick response, and include a bonus value for those who act quickly. And don't forget to include phone, fax, Web site, e-mail, and snail mail addresses.