The room has been set to perfection, the swag bags have been filled with your favorite giveaway items, and the last item on the magical check list has been crossed off. Now it is time to close your eyes, take a deep breath and pray that the attendees will arrive. No matter how well designed, no matter how beautifully orchestrated of an event, it cannot be considered a success if the message is not heard by the proper attendees.
Since the late ’80s, to quote “Field of Dreams,” the philosophy has been “If you build it, they will come.” Today’s reality is, “If you build it, they will not necessarily come.” The way we recruit attendees to an event has changed dramatically. Recruiting attendees is the benchmark value in measuring the return on investment (ROI), and the measurement starts with audience size.
Reaching and developing the proper audience/attendee list requires a communication strategy that depends a great deal on the type of event. For a social occasion, the tradition of sending a beautifully engraved invitation accompanied by a matching RSVP card has been challenged and, in some cases, replaced by free e-mail based invites like Evite, which sends out more 250,000 invitations every hour.
For corporate events, planners are having to compete with shrinking travel budgets and the difficulty people are having getting away from the office. They need to take a blended approach to communications, but not all their methods may have a measurable ROI. For example, having an online registration system is essential; however, it can’t build an audience. It simply makes registering for the event easier.
Here are some tools a planner may use when recruiting audience for an event, along with their pros and cons and average response rates.
- Pros: Not widely used. The direct mail piece has a longer shelf life then most methods.
- Cons: Costly method for recruiting and may yield very little return on investment.
- Response rate: 1 to 1.5 percent
- Pros: Most economical method to reach the greatest number of people.
- Cons: SPAM filters. Attendees are becoming less responsive to e-mails.
- Response rate: 0.5 to 1.5 percent
- Pros: An economical approach to reaching a target audience. Potential is great for creating viral marketing campaign.
- Cons: Audience development is the key to making social media work for you.
- Response rate: Unknown
- Pros: Most effective method in reaching a target audience.
- Cons: Most expensive method of recruiting.
- Response rate: 3 to 5 percent
The secret to selecting an effective communication strategy for audience recruitment is understanding how your attendees learn about events. Tailor your strategy to do this most effectively. To track your efforts, take out your magical checklist and in put in a section entitled “recruiting.” List out the elements you need to employ to build a proper audience and make sure your team follows through. Assign a code to each method and require attendees to fill in those codes when they register so you can track the effectiveness of each strategy.
With some strategic planning, you’ll no longer have to pray for attendees. You’ll have to pray that the hotel does not charge you for the five extra people who need a lunch.