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How to market your association’s next convention

Get the most out of your event strategy with these tips and tricks.

You can market your association’s upcoming convention in one of three ways: you can shout about it a lot, you can coerce your members into shouting about it a lot, or you can adopt a content marketing approach to attract, inform, entertain and entice a swathe of new attendees and potential members.

In the pantheon of unfortunate events, throwing a party that no-one turns up to ranks pretty highly. Imagine: you’ve sorted your A-grade D-floor-filling mixtape, loaded the bath-tub with ice, hid away the most breakable items and then you sit, increasingly despondent as the doorbell refuses to ring.

The thing is, it’s even worse if you are an association organising an event. First up, you’ll have spent somewhere between a lot and a ton of money hiring a venue, event staff, entertainment and speakers. Getting punters through the door is generally essential if you want to keep your firm’s CFO from lurking menacingly at your office door.

So how do you ensure there are no tumbleweeds at your event? How can you make sure it is buzzing?

Sure, you can go the conventional marketing route. It has its place but let’s be honest – we all get marketed to hundreds of times a day and most of us are verifiable ninjas at evading paying attention to exhortations to spend money.

This is why content marketing can be so valuable in not only reaching your target audience but convincing them why it is worth their while to get along to your event. And it can also be a key tool to convincing non-members to do themselves the favour of signing on your membership form’s dotted line.

So what does content marketing for events look like? We’ve been helping associations promote their events for years; here are our tips and tricks on how to market your association’s next event.

Prove value

If your event is entirely new, then obviously telling prospective attendees why it is worthwhile is paramount. But it is also just as important for long-established fixtures on the industry calendar, for the exact same reason pilots don’t switch the engines off once the plane has taken off.

This can be done subtly or explicitly; for best results, do it both ways. This is the approach we took with the annual convention of one of our clients, the National Insurance Brokers Association (NIBA).

In the months leading up to their most recent convention, the Insurance & Risk Professional magazine we runs for NIBA featured a slew of subtle pointers to the event. The magazine is geared towards keeping its readers up-to-speed about whatever is happening in the industry. As such, it routinely features interviews with leading figures in the industry. And as it so happens, many of these experts were speakers at NIBA’s convention. This made it a simple affair to use many magazine articles to promote the event by adding small graphics alerting readers to the fact that the expert they had just been reading about would be on hand at the convention dispensing even expertise.

We also promoted the convention content more explicitly; for example, the event’s MC was the ever-entertaining Andrew Klein, a lawyer-turned-MC renowned for his ability to make potentially lifeless content potently lively. Klein was also hosting a workshop showing delegates how to make their presentations as punchy as possible, which is particularly important when trying to convince potential clients of the need to buy adequate insurance. By tapping Klein to write an article on a similar topic for the magazine ahead of the convention, we were able to not only offer readers valuable and practical content; we were also able to demonstrate to them exactly how valuable and practical the convention content would be.

Keep it front of mind

The dream, of course, is that each and everyone of your members will see the first bit of promotion of your event and rush headlong to your website, brandishing their credit cards and skittling anyone in their way. Sadly, dreams don’t come true as often as we would all like.

Instead, you’ll need to keep reminding people about the event. But you’ll have to do so without hassling or boring them. The key to that is a well mapped-out content schedule. For the NIBA convention, our schedule was carefully plotted out so that we could announce the event months ahead and have fresh attractions to talk about every other week, right up to the event itself. In the months leading up to the convention, it was a rare week we didn’t communicate with members about the event but we never repeated the same message. One week, we might be talking up the social options; the next, the technical workshops. As well as keeping the event promotion fresh, it also has the benefit of giving you opportunities to talk up the different elements of the event, which leads us very neatly indeed to the next point.

Speak directly to them

Every industry contains a wide range of people, from newbies nervously trotting around hoping no-one asks them a question that exposes how little they know about what they are doing, to the old hands who have been there forever and delight in asking newbies difficult questions.

To be effective, a good content marketing strategy needs to talk to both these people, and everyone in between. People want different things, and your event content marketing should have tailored messages for different member segments. In the cause of promoting the NIBA convention, we tracked down members of different experience levels and interviewed them about what it is they wanted from their association convention. Then we highlighted exactly what elements of the convention program would fulfil those wants.

Show them what they’re missing out on

Never underestimate the power of FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Social photos and video highlights packages are gifts that give twice. Post-event, attendees love to check out galleries and videos from the event, whether it is to check their hair was looking the best or to see if they can find out the name of that cutie from their sister company. This content can be easily repurposed ahead of the next event, reminding previous attendees of the good times they had while showing potential first-timers what’s on offer.

In NIBA’s case, the photo galleries we run online are some of the most popular content from the convention, attracting many thousands of online views not just from people at the convention but also vast numbers of people who haven’t attended. Yet.

And, as indicated, they do double duty. In the lead-up to the next convention, simply providing members with a link to last year’s galleries is enough to convince a huge proportion of them to take a little stroll down memory lane.

Make it easy for them

It’s a no-brainer that you make it easy for potential event attendees to register. That means easily identifiable links to the registration page and as smooth a process as possible. But it also means giving them the tools they need to convince their bosses (who will be the ones picking up the bill), or even themselves, of the worth of getting along.

For the last NIBA convention, we provided the magazine’s readers with a five-point hit list of reasons, along with backing evidence, that they could take to their managers to push the case to be sent along. For instance, how what they would learn would be of direct benefit to the company. Or how affordable it would be if they took advantage of early bird rates and accommodation deals. Or exactly how much of the ever-important CPD burden the event would fulfil.

Closing remarks

Putting these elements into the content marketing mix in recent years has helped revivify NIBA’s convention, which is now as successful as it has ever been, despite increasing competition. And the same principles apply whether it is a national conference or a small industry lunch.

Done well, the content marketing approach to event promotion will do more than just ensure your events are successful; it’s also a way to prove to a wider audience the valuable things your association is doing for its members.

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