Your next annual meeting, conference, or trade show has the potential to be the most successful event in the history of your organization. Pandemic-induced health and safety restrictions are gradually easing, consumer confidence in travel is increasing, and the world is coming to terms with the “living with COVID” era. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that your events are not guaranteed to attract the same number of in-person attendees as they did in 2019. In fact, many association events are seeing 20 percent to 30 percent fewer attendees from their pre-pandemic highs. Why? For starters, millions of people have changed jobs or retired over the past two years. Which means your email contact list of past attendees may not be as reliable or robust as it was a few years ago.
Additionally, your potential attendees have likely found other ways of learning, getting accreditation, conducting business, and networking over the past two years. They may have additional budgetary cutbacks and inflationary considerations to take into account as well. You cannot simply build and market the event like you used to and expect everyone to come back. Your event must work harder than ever before to attract attendees in the post-pandemic era.
So, what’s the key to creating an event that is irresistible and indispensable to your audience? Ensure all your teams and partners are actively working together to design, build, and market the event. Here are some proven tips to create a unified team and make sure you stay on track.
What Cross-Team Collaboration Looks Like
- Set clear objectives. Then, commit to achieving them as a team. Alignment across teams starts with agreement on goals. The metrics must be clear and measurable. For example, total attendees, Net Promoter Score (NPS), or exhibitor revenue. Once you have articulated what success looks like, make sure that everyone is aware of the progress towards goals on a regular basis. The programming team, for example, should care about progress towards the exhibitor-revenue goal and the exhibitor sales team should care that the content being developed will ensure a high NPS. When teams are focused on achieving the same collective goals, they will be more likely to support each other, spot new opportunities, and create the best possible experience. I have recently seen a large membership organization adopt this more collaborative goal-setting approach and, as a result, the teams have been able to increase sponsorship revenue within the first three months.
- Be more transparent. According to Gallup, only 7 percent of U.S. workers strongly agree that communication is accurate, timely, and open where they work. Event planners should involve the programming, marketing, sales, and tech teams throughout the planning process. Foster an environment where anyone can talk about their challenges or opportunities. Is the registration platform being built in a way that will allow marketing to track ecommerce conversions? Is there enough of a paid media budget to attract the audience for the brand-new content track being developed? Could the opening reception have an area for the exhibitor sales team to host its VIP partners? Remove the silos of communication and solicit feedback from the other members of your team. One technical institute that I’ve partnered with now regularly assigns an “Event CEO” to be the person who ensures all teams are sharing ideas and issues with each other. You’ll be amazed how much more engaging of an event you can build together.
- Remove the uncertainty. Anyone who’s ever designed and marketed an event knows that the details rarely come together right away. It takes months of planning before the features of the event become concrete. However, you still need to commit to room blocks, decide on F&B minimums, and drive registrations long before the event is fully baked. How do you get people to register before you have something tangible to promote? Launch with a testimonial campaign featuring past attendees. Introduce offers and incentives that encourage early registration (not just early-bird discounts). Get speakers and content on the event website two months earlier than you have in the past. Doing all this requires event planners and marketers to collaborate and make decisions upfront. Don’t open registration and then wait weeks before you start having conversations about how you’re going to drive registrations. Otherwise, you’ll be playing catch-up the entire campaign.
Your annual meeting, conference, or trade show is the manifestation of your organization’s value proposition to your audience. It must deliver on the promises that you make — it’s got to be worth traveling to the hotel or convention center. It’s got to be better than the alternatives for their time and attention.
In my experience, cross-team collaboration is by far the most underutilized event strategy and the easiest to activate. When your teams and partners are working together towards the same goals, communicating effectively, and helping each other design, build, and market the event in a unified fashion, you can attract the largest addressable audience and achieve great things.
Bill Zimmer is vice president of strategy for event strategy, marketing, and design agency 360 Live Media.