7 Annual Meeting Improvement Tactics During Tough Economies

In a down economy, an organization’s worst survival tactic is to make budget or staff cuts. A weak economy should provide the impetus for us to work smarter and pull the trigger on those initiatives that may not have gone over well even in better times.

Organizations that make the right moves will rule the day over their competitors.

Here are a few ideas that will help give your conferences and events an edge:

1. Retention before attraction
The economy will make it more difficult to attract new registrants and exhibitors. Focus instead on retaining those who have previously attended and exhibited at your event. The lifetime value of your customers is at risk if they take a year off from participating. A strong base of loyal followers will serve as a magnet for new visitors and exhibitors.

2. Make content and connections tops
No matter how tough the economy, if your industry’s movers and shakers are at your event, I’m going to be there, too. If you deliver an educational program that is better than I can get anywhere else, I won’t pass it up. Don’t cut back on your budget for keynote speakers. Coach your speakers to write the most compelling session descriptions, deliver top-notch presentations, and ensure audience engagement.

3. Show your exhibitors and sponsors some love
Get out and visit your top five or 10 exhibiting companies. More than ever, you need to have strategic conversations on how they can get the best return out of their participation. Some of the most creative ideas for partnerships can come out of these discussions. During the show, your leadership team should walk the floor and personally thank exhibitors for participating. If you are not using the ROI Toolkit as a consultative sales tool, you may have missed the boat.

4. Make it personal
Your staff, board and voluntary leaders need to be more involved than ever. They should go out of their way to introduce themselves to first-time attendees or to ensure that everyone sitting at a lunch table gets introduced. Make sure the staff and leadership don’t travel in packs.

5. Break tradition
Evaluate longstanding events: How much value are you getting out of that past presidents’ lunch? Does your awards dinner need an overhaul?

6. Make it emotional
Hire a speaker who will tug at attendees’ heartstrings or have them rolling on the floor in laughter. These experiences help create lasting memories, shared by your members.

7. Help attendees justify their attendance.
If you are genuinely concerned about making sure that your events deliver business improvement to your stakeholders, you’ll make it easy for them to justify their participation. Think of ways in which you can help exhibitors or sponsors calculate their ROI; provide examples of how connections made at your event grew business; tell stories of how content shared at your event improved business results.

Prioritizing where to spend money and time is crucial during a tough economy. Organizations that make decisions based on the long-term business impact will have an advantage over those that are narrowly focused on the current fiscal year.

This post was reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. © 2010 www.pcma.org

What are some things you’ve done to give your conference an edge over your competitor’s events and ensure repeat attendance?

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  2. Mark Ley says:

    Points 1 and 2 really struck home with me. Too often it seems, we are focused on attracting the new and we lose site of the need to nurture the fans that have supported our events through the years. The focus shifts from providing value to the repeat attendees, to selling the new attendees on the benefits.

    Wouldn’t it be better for our attendees if we were so focused on the value and content at our events that they couldn’t help but attend? Wouldn’t that then drive them to promote our events for us and sway first time attendees to join?

    It seems to me that we would all have more success at our events if we simply shifted our focus to protecting our assets by increasing value. With our event this year, we doubled our efforts to get the highest quality speakers we could and have shifted the design of our sessions to better engage the attendees and ensure they get the value out of the time they have invested.

    As event organizers I believe we owe it to the attendees to make sure they are using their time wisely…and it can only benefit us.

    Thank you for the inspiring post!

  3. Please don’t shoot me for something so un-original, but if budget is REALLY hurting…look at some of the suggested green operational processes.
    Just for fun recently, I did an analysis of the billing sent to us by another AV company…they could theoretically save thousands by making some very simple changes in paper usage!! (I know, who sits around and does these weird things in their spare time right? What a weirdo! But at least I ended up using the data for my magazine column!)

    The added beauty of sustainable measures is that during profitable times, your margins just grow that much more. Plus, with proper measurement and goal-setting, your sustainability plans become an integrated segment of your overall meetings marketing and planning strategy.

    Looking forward to your upcoming webinars!!

  4. This is a fantastic list. I would like to add the importance of keeping in touch with members who just can’t attend. We produced video coverage of an association’s annual event in 2009. They emailed it to all the members. Those members who simply couldn’t make it felt so included, many are now returning to the event for 2010! They truly “felt the love” of their association, and are now more loyal than ever.

  5. ‘@Mark You are so brilliant! I love your comments…the very heart of guerilla marketing lies in the fact that it’s less expensive to retain a client than to pursue a new one. Added to that is the fact that a happy client will refer new clients – and only those of the best quality because they have been such positive advocates that the new client comes with an established level of trust.

    @Carrie This sounds really interesting! I could see how your client could really expand with doing more than just emailing your creative coverage…tons of opportunities!
    Just out of curiosity, how do you measure the satisfaction and “love” of the members who couldn’t attend? Is it survey based…or? I’m really into creative assessment methods and would love to know how you collected this data 🙂

  6. Dave Lutz says:

    ‘@Midori @Mark and @Carrie, thanks for the great additions to this thread!

    Skip Cox, at Exhibit Surveys, has the best definition that I’ve found of measuring repeat or loyal attendees…those that attend at least two out of the last three years. Associations that are recognizing the importance of a loyal base, will actually market differently to this group and make it super easy for them to re-up for the next Annual.

    Because attendance decisions are often made based on who else you know is attending, more and more associations are giving attendees tools to post notifications to their social networks “I’m attending, how bout you?” or giving attendees the ability to compare their connections vs. the current registration list. The tools that help increase word of mouth are beginning to have a greater impact.

    Keep the suggestions coming!

  7. ‘@midori Although we have hard numbers for open rates, numbers of viewers, etc. the measurements for return attendees has been mostly anecdotal. I’ll send you some emails from our clients– who receive emails from their attendees, which will give you an idea of how it works.

    I’m really enjoying this thread, and believe the lists contains practical things that show organizers can do right now. Thanks!!

  8. Dave, I love where you’re going with this…do you think an association should reward its most loyal attendees with some kind of loyalty code for membership or attendance?

    I always think it’s so weird when an organization reserves discounts for first-time attendee/clients only! Sure it’s important to bring new people in the door – but what about the client who has been faithful for years and isn’t offered the same deal? How is that fair?

    I also think creatively using unique referral codes is a great way to reward referrals and track loyalty…I think it was Event Marketing Institute that was giving unique registration codes to their existing attendees and rewarding them monetarily for registrations (essentially affiliate marketing).

    @Carrie, I’m midori at pulsestaging.com 🙂 Look forward to learning more…I’m obsessed with metrics haha!

  9. Dave Lutz says:

    ‘@greenA_V (Midori), thanks for keeping this thread alive! Recognizing and rewarding loyalty is definitely a great idea! I like to recommend that associations, who are delivering good value, consider doing this through a combination of recognition along with random acts of kindness. Personal touches tend to do more to build loyalty than giving out points. It’s my experience that points and discounts work best for commodity buys not valuable conferences.

    You’re right about offering discounts to first timers and alienating your loyal customers. I don’t like to recommend that as an attraction strategy. Some groups offer a money back guarantee or group discount instead. Price integrity is important to building trust. No trust, no loyalty.

    Funny that you bring up affiliate marketing. Jeff and I have been kicking around doing a post or two around affiliate marketing for attendance generation. There aren’t too many groups out there doing it, but I do think the concept has potential for some organizations. I could see some speakers/bloggers getting into the game. Hopefully, we’ll do some research and get a post or two up on that topic in the coming months.

    Lastly, keep the comments and the emoticons coming! Geeky folks that dig metrics are always welcome around these parts. 🙂

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