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How to market your convention like a pro

Have you ever attended a conference because you saw an ad for it?

The recent MFAA National Convention attracted more attendees than ever before, and we like to think our robust content program had a little something to do with that. Here’s what we did and how you can market your convention to boost event registrations.

How long is it since you have been moved to attend a conference because you saw an ad for it? Have you ever? What would make you act – whether the action is finding out more about the event, trying to convince your boss to pay for your attendance, or actually registering? How about content that actually helps you do your job better, with advice from an expert who will be speaking at the conference?

Over the past few years, we have taken this approach in our work with the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia (MFAA) and seen brilliant results: the proportion of members attending the 2014 National Convention increased 75 per cent compared to the previous time it was held in the same location, and the 2015 National Convention saw 22% more member registrations than 2014, and 17% more registrations overall.

The keys, we have found, are working closely with the events team to plan well ahead, and making sure that every bit of content exists for the audience first, not the promotion of the Convention.

Planning

In our work with the MFAA, we are lucky to have plenty of channels that we already use regularly, so we are able to hijack these for Convention content. As we have developed strict objectives and content standards for each channel, this also means that no content that is solely promoting Convention without considering audience needs slips through.

  • At least six months out from the event: set aside slots for the types of content you would like to use when, and sit down with the events team to get their feedback. The events team is the gatekeeper between you and the Convention presenters, so must be won over to your plan. This also gives them notice that you will be bugging them for the names of presenters and topics, so you should get what you need, when you need it.
  • Five months out: Refine your plans to use the keynote and plenary speakers in your content. For the MFAA, this is when I locked in plans to interview speakers for eight of our fortnightly videos, as well as for several of the long reads that would appear in our print publication eight weeks prior to Convention and for shorter profiles in a Convention feature. You could add webinars, podcasts, blog posts – any number of types of content – to the mix. Consider what each expert will be discussing at Convention and why it is important for your members, and home in on one narrow aspect of that topic that will be of practical use to your members – this is what the expert will discuss in your content.
  • Next: just start doing it.

Getting it done

This is the simple part. You have done your research and you have a plan, so follow it. When you are briefing writers for articles, brief them to interview the Convention speakers you have identified as experts in each topic alongside the other expert interviewees. Go out and film the videos, record the podcasts, post the blog pieces. Whatever it is you planned, pull your finger out and do it.

At this point, it’s important not to slip into the trap of trying to cover everything your expert will discuss at Convention – they probably have 40 minutes on stage to fill – but don’t forget usefulness either. At the other end of the scale, those speakers will expect you to want an overview of their presentation and an outline of what your members will gain from attending it. That content is boring and will make you sad. More importantly, it won’t convince anyone to attend Convention, so it will also make your boss sad.

For the MFAA, our Convention videos have discussed recruitment, maximising the value of each client, boosting productivity, leadership skills, creating an expert profile, social media marketing and more – all topics that members have told us they want to know about. In these videos, the Convention speakers are the sole interviewees – the topics are narrow and they are both subject matter experts and recognised authorities on those topics.

In print, we can dive a little deeper into more complex topics, such as small-amount consumer lending and growing a broking business without sacrificing current clients, interviewing our speakers alongside other recognised experts and incorporating small calls to action at the end of each article

Of course, the content needs calls to action. Include breakouts to articles or a roll-out at the end of each video with a link to find out more about the Convention, but keep these short and snappy – no-one wants to be beaten over the head with demands that they attend.

Mind the gap

There are a few mistakes that are so easy to make. I know because I made them. So here’s how to avoid them:

  • Thinking everyone already agrees with you: your events team may be hesitant about your content plan because they don’t want to give the whole game away – they might ask why anyone would attend Convention if they have already heard from all of the speakers. It’s vital to sit down with the events team early on, listen to every concern they have, and really understand and respond to each one. You will win them over, because you are right, but it’s important to do so carefully or you will never get access to the speakers.
  • Giving the speaker the reins: there you are, running an interview with a speaker who doesn’t understand what you are doing and just wants to draw a diagram outlining what they will discuss at Convention. Being a captain of some sort of industry and likely a professional speaker, this person is probably rather authoritative in their manner, but you still need to get what you came for. If this happens, take charge, explain exactly what you are doing (while stroking the expert’s ego, of course), and get the interview you need. After one instance of filming the construction of a rather elaborate and extremely boring flowchart, I found that the best way to avoid this situation was to take the time, well ahead of the interview, to thoroughly talk the interviewee through the objectives of the content program and how it would positively impact their experience of Convention. Sure, it’s more information than you’d usually provide to an interviewee, but you will get what you need.
  • Including calls to action that you can’t track: You will want to be able to prove your worth at the end of all this, as well as analyse the results of each channel ahead of next year’s planning, so create custom links to track the traffic to the registration page from each piece of content that you create.
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