Assess & Improve Conference Profitability
The conference and convention industry is a tough business. The events are expensive to arrange, require intricate planning and typically only last a couple of days. Finding ways to assess and improve conference profitability is essential to the longevity of any conference or convention. What's more, there is a never-ending cascade of variables that can affect the success of these events; making it very hard to pinpoint exactly what could positively affect the bottom line.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of room for error. The expense and singular nature of conferences and conventions make planning each event mission-critical. This means that conference organizers are often required to hit a home run with each event, or make significant improvements to each event. And, this remains a constant for events that are struggling and those simply attempting to grow. So, what approaches can be implemented to properly affect conference profitability?
Below we have to put together several examples of what can be done to further assess and improve conference profitability. All the information below is based on best practices or includes an example of someone who is executing on these strategies successfully.
Mitigating Conference Risk
Conference organizers by their very definition are organized. However, what many might not know is that conference organizers are typically some of the most organized professionals on the planet. This usually means that a common concern about "things slipping through the cracks" is actually not as big of a risk as something like the success of the conference theme, the selection of the conference location, or the layout and scheduling of the conference. Those are the true risk factors to profitability, and the hardest decisions for conference executives to make when assessing conference profitability.
A recent documented example of this process was a conference that had these exact concerns, The American Wind Energy Association, a "green" energy event held in Chicago. Not even a month after their most recent conference their conference organizer had already began assessing what worked and what didn't at their past event. He joined officials from a trade group in Washington, DC to go over what should be tweaked for their next conference, and discussed what subjects, audience targets and people should be taken into consideration when planning their next event. Evaluating and answering these questions immediately following their latest conference was essential to determining the initial thoughts and plans for their next show; as it helped them directly determine the best location for their redefined target audience, what speakers they wanted to screen and what dates and themes required consideration.
It's important to assess past shows and validate new opinions quickly following a previous show; as the sooner these areas can be determined, the sooner an event can get a jump on marketing (and possibly pivot away from plan deviations). The name of the game is agility. For conference organizers, this means making a checklist of what you want to know, and where you can get information following each event. This will help you quickly evaluate what worked and what didn't and allow you to compare that to the bottom line to make educated decisions regarding what can/should change for the next event.
Designing Conference Growth
Conferences are difficult to grow, and the hard truth is that many never do. There a host of factors that can play a role in conference growth, but one the harshest realities is that most organizers don't get many opportunities to experiment. This means planning is paramount.
One example of successful growth is the success of the — now famous — South By Southwest Conference & Festival (SXSW), in Texas. The event attracted nearly 30,000 attendees in 2015. It has become the place where products launch, celebrities meet and consumers converge.
So, what contributed to their success? It is largely the same factors from above (location, theme, schedule, audience); however how they did the math is where conference organizers can really learn from their success. Austin, TX is a bit of an outlier. A tech hub in the middle of Texas (a state not really known for technology and innovation the way that California or Washington are). This produces a unique culture. The culture of Austin, Texas embodies what SXSW wanted in their conference. This was determined from lots of research and due diligence, and was not a decision that was determined lightly. They realized that the bands, bars and entertainment native to that area meshed perfectly with their target audience.
Another thing that SXSW does well is manufacturing a superb attendee experience (from idea to attendance). All target audience members have some kind of first interaction with the idea of attending your conference or convention. That initial impression could determine everything; from attendance to expectations. The ambience and physical presentation of the conference marketing materials should match the experience of attendees at the conference. Same goes for the conference website. If either of these things are out of sync, it could dramatically affect conference profitability. This is something SXSW does very well.
By applying some of the principles above to mitigate risk and manufacture conference growth, organizers can expect to affect and assess the overall profitability of their conference in a much more efficient manner. The key to both objectives is mindfulness around how to affect the factors that provide the greatest impact on event profitability. As discussed above, the location, theme, target audience and physical experience of the conference are all critical to its success. All of those factors should be mindfully considered prior to execution.
If you'd like to learn more about conference profitability, contact our experts today, or ask a question in our comments section.