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Increasing Event Attendance

By Heidi Richards

Increasing event attendance is generally the biggest challenge facing meeting and event planners. Many people think that if they plan a fantastic event, people will just come. This does not happen, not on its own. In fact, this can be confusing and disturbing to those responsible for hosting and completing the event. Do you hire a Public Relations firm to help with the publicity, which is supposed to lead to more attendees? Or do you depend on the “lists” of likely people to attend. It can be a little of both. Hiring PR firms and solely depending on their ability to drive attendance up can be a big mistake. A PR firm’s responsibility is to bring in publicity, not attendees. In fact, the media rarely does stories on events that have not yet happened.

Advertising the event can be costly too. It will increase awareness of the event, while not necessarily targeting the people most likely to attend. In fact, unless the advertising is directed at a specific, highly targeted group of individuals, the cost of the ad will far outweigh any likelihood that more people will come.

So, just what will increase attendance? Mailing lists! However, not just any mailing list. Many associations and organizations experience a decrease in attendance for their events over the years. Why? Because they keep using the same mailing lists over and over again. In fact, when events are new, more people are likely to attend just to “check it out.” Then attendance starts falling off. In order to keep that from happening, you must develop a specific targeted mailing list and a solid action plan to use the list that will ultimately increase your attendance. Here are a few strategies you can use to see immediate results:

· Research other available mailing lists. Look for associations and organizations who present events to similar audiences. Offer to trade sponsor recognition in exchange for their mailing lists. The sponsorship could include a table at your event for them to distribute promotional literature. It could include their name and logo in your brochures, programs and other printed materials. It could include an exchange of your mailing list (for a one time only use). Negotiate what they would accept or develop sponsorship guidelines to include what they would receive. This will cost you nothing and your mailing list could go from 1,000 to 10,000 (or more). Of course, it will cost more to mail to more people. When my church decided to host an auction, we researched other organization that had hosted auctions in the past. We were able to trade lists with some of them, resulting in a list triple the size we started with. The result: nearly half of the attendees came from those other lists.

· Since printing and mailing to a larger list will increase costs of promotion, use other strategies to save money. Print inexpensive brochures that are self mailers (saves on envelopes). Use a two-color process instead of four color. Use creative designs that catch the eye and save on printing. Bidding is always a good business practice; have the printing “bid” on, unless your printer sponsors the printing in exchange for exposure. Use bulk mail instead of first class. It saves tons in postage, enabling you to mail to more potential attendees.

· Create a publicity “stunt” to increase pre-exposure for the event. When a women’s organization that I am involved in (American Busienss Women’s Association) wanted publicity for a regional conference we were hosting, we brainstormed ideas that would get the media’s attention. We were hosting a cocktail reception, open to the public the night before the conference was to start. The event had two goals to meet. One was to increase local awareness of the organization. The other was to increase attendance. Our theme for the event was Hot, Hot, Hot in South Florida . We invited the South Florida Calendar Fire-Fighters to the event to “mingle” with attendees and sell their calendars. The calendars were a fundraiser for the Jackson Memorial Burn Center in Miami . So we created a “pre-event” to promote the reception. We called the Cooper City Fire Department (two of the calendar guys worked there). We asked if we could take publicity pictures with the Firefighters on their Fire Truck. They said “yes.” We asked a member who was a professional photographer to take the pictures. The results were great! A full color photo on the cover of the Society page, prior to the event and mentions in other local papers. We had a sell-out attendance. In fact, the firefighters sold all the calendars they had brought that they had to take orders to fulfill the rest. And the “pre-event” was FUN.

This may not work for every event. Especially if it is for member’s only. If your event is open to the public, study trade papers to see what other organizations would be likely cross-promoters of your organization. If you have a healthy budget, purchasing the mailing lists is an option to be considered. Keep looking for new lists. Chambers of Commerce have great lists that could include likely attendees. You can also promote the event with broadcast faxes and e-mails. Be cautious when doing so. Unsolicited advertising is not only intrusive, it can give the event a bad reputation and may even cost you money in fines, etc. I do send e-mails; however, it is to lists I have created through the several associations I am involved in. If the event is for a nonprofit or service organization, you can create your lists using volunteers. Check out the high schools and colleges for students who need service hours. Offer them service hours in exchange for inputing the information into your database.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be amazed at the results!

© 2005 - Heidi Richards

About the Author: Heidi Richards is the author of The PMS Principles, Powerful Marketing Strategies to Grow Your Business and 7 other books. She is also the Founder & CEO of the Women’s ECommerce Association, International www.WECAI.org (pronounced wee-k+) – an Internet organization that “Helps Women Do Business on the WEB.” Basic Membership is FREE. Ms. Richards can be reached at Heidi@speakingwithspirit.com.








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