Event Marketing Timeline to Maximize Attendance
Maximizing attendance is a goal of nearly every event. In order to help event planners, we have put together a sample timeline to help market an event in a manner that will increase registration and boost attendance. Based on our experience in the events industry and a research study performed by PCMA’s Convene magazine, we’ve structured the timeline to attract potential attendees in all stages of the decision making process.
Attendee Decision Making Timeframe
One of the biggest facts that jumped out at us is the average lead time for an attendee’s decision. 84% of respondents make the decision to attend a meeting or conference two to six months before the event. With this statistic in conjunction with other insights from the industry, we were able to sketch out a timeline of activities and functions to be performed in order to maximize the attendance at your next event!
What Matters Most to Potential Attendees
By now, you know we pretty much preach about having quality content and speakers at an event…. And there’s a good reason why. 95 percent of respondents to PCMA Convene’s study indicated that education and content matter. Professionals attend events to learn about new ideas, educate themselves on industry trends, and to become experts in field they have minimal knowledge. 91 percent of respondents stated that keeping up with their industry is an important factor when attending meetings. Therefore, having current, up-to-date speakers on innovative or trending topics is ideal. Ask potential attendees what they want to see and what topics they want to learn about prior to the event and implement the frequently requested ideas, if possible.
Destination as a Deciding Factor
Potential attendees put a lot of thought into which professional events to attend and with minimal chances to get away from the office, attendees want to go to a fun and exciting location. For instance, 82 percent of respondents stated that the destination factors into their decision to attend. So before you even begin the planning and the marketing of your event, make sure your destination is reliable and attractive to potential attendees.
Connecting and Networking
While learning and becoming a more well-rounded industry professional is the forefront goal of all potential attendees, they still want to have fun and socialize. 75 percent of all respondents of Convene’s study consider networking and making connections important, while 72 percent indicated a strong desire for opportunities for social interaction and discussion. These conversations between attendees can foster business relationships and fond memories of the event, bringing attendees back year after year. Satisfied past attendees are one of the best outlets for spreading positive feedback around via word of mouth.
Cost as a Deterrent
Another major deterrent of attendance is the cost to attend. Travel, lodging, and other expenses add up when someone attends an out-of-town event. 60 percent of people want a discount to defer costs. Keep this thought in mind by offering different discounts, sales and prices throughout the registration time period in order to help potential attendees defer some of the costs associated.
Flexibility Depending on the Length of Event
Keeping in mind the aforementioned factors to the decision making process of an attendee, we created a sample timeline for event marketing in order to increase attendance. This sample event timeline is for medium-large events with multiple days; keep this in mind when using this timeless as a guide for your event. As a rule of thumb the shorter the event, the shorter the event marketing and announcement lead times but this timeline can be adjusted accordingly. For example, if an event spans multiple days, you will need to begin raising awareness at least nine months in advance so potential attendees can make arrangements in order to attend. On the opposite end of the spectrum, however, if an event is only a couple hours long, you may only need to announce the event and begin attracting potential attendees 2-3 months in advance.
Sample Timeline to Maximize Attendance
10 Months or Earlier
Once you set the date for your event, send out a “save the date” to potential attendees. Give the foundational information such as the dates, location, and destination. It is important to know your audience and what dates and times work best for them and what type of communication is most effective. You don’t need to hammer your event into people’s minds now, you just need to plant the idea in their mind and make sure they are aware of the event and the date. At a minimum, start “seeding” your event at least 6 months before the event.
Send out the first real invitation to a carefully targeted list of potential attendees including last years’ attendees. Following up with past attendees is a great way to increase attendance, especially if they purchased their ticket or registered during early bird sales or they purchased multiple registrations or tickets.
For more high-profile events, sending traditional invitations in the mail can create a sense of personalization. Email is suitable for most other events. One of the most beneficial things you can do to maximize attendance is to use a RSVP system with the information so that potential attendees can mark yes, no, or maybe.
Free event promotions and advertising is always beneficial, especially when it is coming from a past attendee themselves. We suggest asking the first people to register to write a blog about why they are so eager to attend, what they learned last year, and what they look forward to learning in the coming event. Along with past attendees, ask your speakers to write about your event. Speakers are generally well-known in the industry and have the outlets to be able to reach more potential attendees than you would have alone.
This is where utilizing a RSVP system, whether online or via mail, is extremely beneficial. Send an invitation reminder if they haven’t RSVP’d yet. Reach out to the “maybes” with more information about how the event will benefit them and highlight key insights or skills they could learn from attending. If you don’t have a RSVP system, send the same information out to potential attendees that have not previously purchased a ticket or registered.
This is the point in time where most potential attendees are making the decision on whether or not to attend. Begin the “fear of missing out” marketing and present your event as a “must attend” (because it is!). Highlight speaker credentials and give descriptions of what each speaker specializes in and plans to offer in their presentations. Emphasize any unique aspects of your event that attendees won’t be able to experience elsewhere.
Begin early bird pricing and advertise and promote this through your advertising channel and via email marketing. The fear of missing out in conjunction with the early bird pricing will help drive up registration and attendance.
When there is only about two months left, the leftover potential attendees are probably holding off on the decision due to pricing and costs. This is the perfect time to advertise and hold flash sales or “one day only” sales with price cuts to help defer costs and attract the potential attendees that are cost-conservative. Urgency pricing and the continuing fear of missing out will get the people who are teetering on the edge a nudge in making the decision to attend.
By this point, the main goal is to build excitement and build a conversation about the event between your attendees. Share exciting details about the speakers, sessions, or exhibitors. Communicate any changes in the event or the programming. Update attendees with last minute details. If you allow an option for billing later, send reminders of outstanding balances and due dates.
Send out communications that show you are excited to have them attending your event. A “see you soon” themed email can help build goodwill and a positive experience before the event has even taken place. Provide any documentation to help their experience go smoothly, such as event directories and guides. Remind attendees where and how to print their tickets and pick up their badges. Provide attendees with a list of FAQs with answers prior to arriving so they can be prepared and ready to go as soon as they arrive. Minimizing questions and concerns prior to the event helps alleviate issues during the event, allowing for a better opportunity for each attendee to enjoy themselves and experience the event without anything going wrong.
1 Week after the Event
Send out a “thank you” communication, whether it be a letter, postcard, or an email; it’s dependent on the event but make sure your attendees feel appreciated and important to you (because they are!). Distribute satisfaction surveys via email and wait for the responses. Following the responses, meet with your team for review of the data, ideas for the following year, and gain insight from the trends.
That’s a Wrap!
A major challenge for event planners is to convince potential attendees to purchase a ticket or register for an event that requires travel, time off from work, and time away from family. Using this timeline helps portray the value of an event, convince people who are on the fence to attend, and helps you manage communications with potential attendees to reach the maximum attendance at your next event.