Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Does the Early Bird Get the Worm?

Full Disclosure: I HATE the phrase “Early Bird.” Always have – it strikes me as out of place in a business environment, and more with savings associated with an early dinner. But having not come up with a better phrase (much less one that would be embraced industry-wide) I’ve long since given up the fight to change it.

But a recent – and growing – challenge has been that the Early Bird cash discounts do not generate the results they once did – they have, I would argue, evolved into a commoditized incentive. It's expected, there is nothing particularly compelling about it, and while certain audience segments do register early to gain the savings, it no longer drives the incremental registrations/revenue it once did. This is a shame, as these deadlines have traditionally been strong early indicators of an event’s overall ultimate performance.

So what to do to revive the glory days of Early Birds? We need to move away from a straight cash discount and link it to the prospect whenever possible. A few thoughts:
  • As a straight incentive, personalize it as much as possible. Pending audience size and leverage you have with a hotel, I have successfully utilized a "room upgrade" raffle (who wouldn't like the opportunity to walk into a suite vs. standard hotel room?) as one example.
  • Given today's challenging environment, another thought would be to appeal to people's sense of social responsibility - while frankly I have not used it as an Early Bird incentive, I have conducted market surveys utilizing a small charitable donation for each response received; this tactic can certainly be translated to a small donation for each registration received prior to a certain date. (The amount/charity can also be called out on site, bringing the organization additional recognition.)
  • Content-based incentives – white papers, on-site meet-and-greet with speakers, special networking events all continue to be effective ways to get people to act early.
    The one common denominator of the above, again, is that they are personal – they have direct benefit/impact to the person receiving it (as opposed to saving a couple hundred dollars – a corporate savings, not a personal one.)

One additional note - while early registrations are a key indicator to an event's success, I also suggest you ensure you have an attendee retention strategy in place. Individuals who register early also have a high cancellation rate (as Early Birds are more predisposed to having plans change than a person registering a week or two before an event), negating the good work you do to acquire them. Having the registration team prepared with a talk track, emails in place for individuals canceling online, and a strong ‘buzz’ leading up to an event to keep registrants engaged are all important elements to incorporate into the Early Bird retention efforts.

Best of luck!

P.S. In a fit of self-promotion, I invite everybody to check out – and Tweet (if you Twitter) my new site,

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Developing Win-Win Partnerships with Exhibitors

In a similar vein to enriching Media Partnerships, another low-cost channel a successful Event marketer should fully explore and leverage is partnering with event exhibitors/sponsors [from here in referred to as exhibitors].

The concept is simple – for events with exhibitors, all parties have a common goal – to drive as many feet to the event as possible. And exhibitors have a goldmine of information to tap into: internal databases of unique, qualified clients and prospects you would not typically have access to. These clients and prospects are individuals the exhibitor would, certainly, like to meet and greet at the event. You, on the other hand, have the resources, knowledge and bandwidth to effectively communicate to these individuals. To that end, partnering to ensure the exhibitors’ clients and prospects attend the show is a win-win.

Communication channels can be varied; a few samples are:

  • A co-branded email, highlighting the exhibitor’s participation in the event.
  • A high-impact letter or direct mail piece to some key clients.
  • Lead generating Webinars and/or podcasts highlighting exhibitor presentations, case studies, etc. that are part of the event content.
  • Web presence on the exhibitor Web site, calendar of events.

One item to include in these communications is a premium to the attendees these efforts generate (i.e. a discount) – another win-win, as it affords good will from you to the exhibitor, and allows the exhibitor to extend goodwill to their client/prospect database.

Do remember that this effort should be one of you, the marketing department, providing complimentary, back-office services as a value add. The effort needs to be seamless for the exhibitor; they should not be expected to spend manhours coordinating or implementing these campaigns. It will be your responsibility to manage the process; the only facet you would need from the exhibitor would be their providing specs for banner ads, the appropriate list segment from their database, etc.

This can be a hurdle in itself – understandably organizations are reluctant to release details of a proprietary database. To that end I would recommend engaging a bonded 3rd party to handle names (assuring exhibitors you would never access the list) and, as SOP, have a standard Usage Agreement (specifying the list would be provided to a 3rd party for one-time use, would be destroyed after use, etc.).

Another facet to keep in mind: experience has shown you need to start working on this early in the campaign. Exhibitors are not events organizations, it typically takes time to educate and build awareness around what you are trying to achieve. It is essential, early on, to communicate this offering, educating exhibitors on why they should participate, and (most importantly) that it is of no cost and effort to them. Developing a flyer/PDF/email detailing all of this is advisable; be prepared to follow up with a phone call.

So schedule kickoff of these efforts early, be prepared for a lengthy process to implement, but persevere - one email/outbound communication to these hidden audiences can be invaluable to tapping into new audience segments and developing new alliances. (As a side note - also falls in the "business development" skill set for your professional development).

Good luck!