Creating a Buzz
by: Judy Williams

Were the coordination of event and conference management not enough, today’s organizers are generally expected to boost or promote attendance as well. Why? Because increased attendance means increased revenue.

Most savvy planners are aware of the tried and true marketing methods and event promotion methods such as blast e-mails, Web sites and direct mail. However, not all are aware of the marketing opportunities that can generate the very “buzz” you need to maximize attendance.

Before you start spending your marketing budget on the same old fare, consider that many other events are directly competing with your potential attendee’s time and money and for this reason, you must first determine what makes your event spectacular and the one to attend. If you can’t find a reason, it’s time to create one!

Location, Location, Location

In my twenty year planning career the buzz generated by Hawaii meetings far surpassed the sum total of every other location combined from the U.S., Canada and Europe. Instead of a general apathy about the next quarterly meeting, Hawaii meetings had the attendees asking for information several meetings ahead so they could make plans for a family holiday to piggy-back on the meeting dates, and other arrangements and activities. I also know from the admissions of some attendees who might not otherwise have attended that meeting, that they attended, in large part, because it was a Hawaii meeting.

Of course it’s not always geographically feasible or affordable to take our groups on to Maui but it’s very important to remember that when oft-jaded attendees are excited about a potential meeting site, they generate their own enthusiasm within themselves and among each other. Talk among themselves often results in others from their office attending the event who might not have otherwise. Attendees who have to push for permission to attend are often unusually creative in finding ways to convince management of the “vital importance” of this meeting.

Most every location has its redeeming virtues. Seek out what makes a location special and unique and then show your attendees the best your site has to offer. You can start by using color pictures, typically available from your CVB, depicting natural splendor, sports and activities to inspire your attendees imagination. In this case, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words.

Star Tripping

Never under-estimate the power of, well, power. Famous people not only act as a draw for increased attendance but their presence can add vitality and excitement to an event, leading to long term benefits for attendees and their organizations.

Obviously, bringing in a celebrity is generally not an inexpensive proposition, yet a “star” may bring you just the results you wish for your event. First, do your cost benefit analysis. Then determine whether you wish to hire a speaker who fires up and inspires the sales force, or someone who is a draw and will put people in chairs, such as a Donald Trump.

Once you determine which kind of star you want in your galaxy, work with one of the many specialized speaker’s bureaus who specialize in such bookings. They have the inside scoop on who’s hot and who’s not, prices and availability. Literal stars draw our eyes to the heavens; celebrity “stars” can draw both magic and more people to your event.

An Affair to Remember

If like many organizers, your budget and goals for your event include a grand soiree, make it one you pre-publicize. Why sink all that money into the exotic dinner cruise without giving your potential attendees an opportunity to get excited? Include a decent sized color photo of the potential boat (or other location provided by your supplier) on your web site and write some splashy copy to knock those perched on the fence over to your side. One example of a trick that I’ve seen generate much enthusiasm is to offer a free ticket or other such prize to every hundredth registrant, as one example. No, this likely won’t generate attendance from the ambivalent but it might entice a few still considering. What this will do is induce a certain enthusiasm and excitement among those planning to, or considering attending your event.

The Planner’s Best Friend

Many event and meeting organizers are unaware of how much the CVB can assist in your promotional efforts for event promotions and often at a minimal cost, or for no charge. The CVB has as much to gain from your group’s peak attendance as you do, so find out early in your promotional efforts just what is offered and at what cost. Don’t forget: Like any supplier, you can and should negotiate with the CVB for such event promotional assistance. Following are a few examples of what many CVB’s offer gratis, depending on the size of the group and its potential revenue to their city.

  • Full color visitor’s guides, local maps, pins, city fact sheets and area attractions brochures
  • Telemarketing to help build attendance
  • Pre-Promotion well in advance of your event. Pre-printed literature can be personalized with your own copy for your mailings
  • The CVB’s logo, event promotional video, color slides and digital images
  • Exhibit displays
  • Airport electronic message board
  • “Meet and Greet”

In truth, CVB’s are thrilled to help promote your event and since they all offer different services and products, just ask. I have never found a CVB that didn’t bend over backwards to help make our events a success.

Don’t Overlook the Small Stuff

Event organizers are typically within a dizzying whirl of conflicting demands and it’s all too easy to overlook some simple yet effective event promotion opportunities to promote your event. Here are a few:

  • Broadcast fax cover sheets
  • Letterhead
  • E-mail signatures
  • Announcements to trade press
  • Newsletters and magazines articles
  • Inserts in all outbound correspondence

Piggy-Back on Nearby Events

If an exciting, splashy event is scheduled in close proximity during your own event, let people know! Does your group have a group of golfers? If a major golf tournament is scheduled nearby, even immediately before or after your event, let members know. You might also consider offering transportation or something to assist those interested in attending the event.

Is Pavarotti performing nearby? To make your own performance sing, provide a means for attendees to get tickets and then promote the event in your promotional material about the conference location.

Press It

The press can not only give your event a subtle “plug” but this will be more likely if you have developed and maintain relationships with them. To cultivate such relationships, be accessible and if you find something that might be of interest to them that has nothing to do with you and your event, forward it to them. The press doesn’t forget favors and can be your best friend in getting the word out about your event.

Alas, desired conference attendance numbers are not as simple as, “If you plan it, they will come.” The most spectacular location and meticulous planning can be over-shadowed by reduced attendance but fortunately, there are many solutions, from the simple to the complex that will reap real benefits and bring real bodies to your event.

Judy Williams

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