All our clients are looking to increase registration for their conference, which in turn increases revenue, and increases profit for the organization/association. Increased profit allows for greater investment in future conference programs (better speakers) – a win-win situation for everyone.

Some of our clients have jumped to the conclusion that the issue with low registration numbers might be the registration fee, but that is not always the case. Delegates who are interested in the event (for personal development or maintaining continuing education points) will usually attend keeping cost as a factor but not necessarily the deciding factor.  The question we want to address is “How do we effectively reach these delegates?”

Promoting a conference needs to start long before registration opens.

1. Use this year’s conference to promote next year’s – At each conference, delegates should be informed of the location and dates of the next year’s conference. This will plant a seed and inform them on the most important details: Are they available on those dates? Can they afford to fly/drive to the conference location? Look at including a question in your post-conference survey asking – Will you be attending the (year) annual conference in (city) on (dates)?  Use the comments from your survey to promote next year’s conference. Testimonials are very powerful! (Remember to get permission before using a person’s quote and name in your promotional materials). Get them connected with you on social media so you have another channel to reach them next year.

2. Targeted marketing – The best use of your time and money is to promote your conference to the right people. If you represent an association, your target is (but not limited to) your members. First, promote the conference to last year’s attendees. A high percentage of delegates at our clients’ conferences attend annually. These people will also spread the word to their co-workers and friends. Research various groups or associations who are similar to yours and create partnerships. You can both benefit from promoting each other’s events as long as they don’t compete. Identify your key demographic and concentrate on reaching them.

3. Effective use of social media – It is possible to over-do it with social media, so make sure to select the appropriate tools to reach your demographic. It is also important that you promote the conference within your means. It is better to use one social media tool, with regular updates, than to use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blog, without the staff to update each of these sites effectively. Evaluate which social media platform is best for your organization.

Get people excited about attending by promoting the social events, highlighting keynote speakers, and getting them curious about the conference host city. Don’t forget to regularly promote the link to the conference website and registration page! For an annual event, update these social media sites with new tidbits and photos throughout the year. It’s a powerful publicity tool that is inexpensive. For a more in depth look at promoting an event through social media check out – How to Boost Attendance Through Social Media (source: CVENT).

4. Get your attendees to open their emails – We encourage all our clients to send emails to promote their conference, but it is important that the message be optimized for mobile access. According to emarketers, nearly one third of emails are being opened on a mobile device (tablet or smartphone). If a delegate has difficulty accessing your email on his or her smartphone, you might have lost them. Google says that 61% of users are unlikely to return to a page that they had trouble accessing with their mobile device. Do not bombard attendees with emails. Send emails with relevant and exciting updates that will matter to the recipient. Make your headlines count. To take this one step further, send your emails using an email marketing tool such as ConstantContact. ConstantContact allows you to track how many recipients open their emails, and which links they’ve clicked on. This will help you understand the effectiveness of your online marketing.

5. Early bird registration price – Keep your potential delegates informed – and get them to register early! The early-bird pricing is the best way to encourage early registration and will ensure that you have a better idea of attendance early on in the planning process. Set your early-bird deadline at least a month (preferably more) before your conference as this will allow you to get a better idea of numbers for food & beverage, where you stand with room nights at the hotel, and how much meeting space is required. The difference between an early-bird price and regular price should be radical enough to push a delegate to register early. For example, if your regular rate is $475, the early-bird price could set at $375. Register now and save $100! Wouldn’t that tempt you to register early? It is very important to remember that the early-bird price be used in your projected budget as the base revenue. Your conference cannot lose money if everyone decides to register at the early-bird price.

As you are developing the content for an email, for social media or for a printed promotional piece, think about what YOU would want to see on this document if you were thinking of attending. What would make YOU want to attend an event? What would convince YOU to register early? Before you send anything out, review the content and make sure it is clear, to the point, professional and at the same time FUN.

The quote from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come” seems fitting here. If you build a program that offers good content, excellent speakers, and great social events, delegates will come. All you need to do is get the word out!