Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How to Increase Attendance at Your Events

8 Tips to have a Sell-out Crowd Every Time!

By Heidi Richards Mooney

Have you noticed a decrease in event attendance over the years? If so, you are not alone. Every day, more and more groups and organizations are popping up, vying for the attention of specific targeted groups of people. Increasing event attendance is generally the biggest challenge facing meeting and event planners. Many people think that if they plan a fantastic event, people will just show up. Of course, today, with all the competition for people's time, this does not happen.

Event planners and hosts can sometimes find themselves in a quandary about just how to promote the event to get maximum exposure and participants. Some will hire a public relations firm to get them much needed publicity in the hopes that it leads to more attendees. Others buy "lists," which can be very costly and there are really no guarantees that the list will draw the type of attendees that will add to the overall success of the event. Keep in mind, a PR firm's responsibility is to garner publicity for the event, not necessarily bring attendees. It will, of course, raise awareness of what you are trying to accomplish, but may not result in adding to your bottom line or database. That is partly because in most cases, the media covers events "after the fact." There are exceptions, like a slow news day, a celebrity involvement or a totally unique concept that has never been done before; these would greatly raise the chances of the event being covered on the spot.

Advertising, on the other hand, is totally different. It can cost money that results in zero return on investment because it too may not be seen by your target audience.

So then you may be asking yourself, what can I do to create a successful well-attended event? One thing you can do is what some groups I have volunteered for is to cross promote. By that I mean either share your mailing lists with them and vice versa or promote one another's events to your stakeholders.

If you do this, make sure your "list" is always kept up to date. And ask any partnering organizations how often they update their lists. That is because people move away, lose interest and basically get "tapped out." Or their interests change and they go on to other groups. The same holds true of events themselves. Organizations today have to keep reinventing themselves and their parties, galas, fundraisers and other events so they can continue to draw the people they can count on. If not, you've lost them before the date for the next event has even been set. That is why it is important to have a plan and a specific targeted list of supporters, those with the highest probability of attending and becoming life-long supporters.

Here are eight strategies you can use to see immediate results:

  1. Research other available mailing lists. Look for associations and organizations who present events to similar audiences. Offer to trade sponsor recognition in exchange for their mailing lists. The sponsorship could include a table at your event for them to distribute promotional literature. It could include their name and logo in your brochures, programs and other printed materials. It could include an exchange of your mailing list as mentioned above. Be sure to spell out the terms of using your mailing lists. For instance, can the list be used multiple times or only once?
  2. Negotiate what they would accept or develop sponsorship guidelines to include what they would receive. This will cost you nothing, and your mailing list could go from 1,000 to 10,000 (or more). Of course, it will cost more to mail to more people. When my church decided to host an auction, we looked at our community, asked volunteers for their input and found several other organizations that had hosted auctions in the past. We were able to trade lists with some of them, which tripled our original list. Since our events were at different times of the year, we agreed to trade our list for theirs, which resulted in almost half of our tickets coming from those lists.
  3. Since printing and mailing to a larger list will increase costs of promotion, use other strategies to save money. Print expensive self-mailing brochures to save on envelopes, which can be costly. If two color will get the message across effectively, opt for that instead of a four-color process. Use eye-catching graphics and good copywriting to "sell the event." If you must hire someone, I recommend a copywriter, a good investment. She or he will know the words that "sell" and can come up with copy that is both appealing to the target audience, and it can be used again in multiple ways to spread the word such as postcards, email invitations and more. Be sure you bid on the print job. Unless you are getting it donated or sponsored, printing costs can vary greatly from company to company. I also recommend using bulk mail instead of first class, which will save you considerable investment and you can increase your reach by sending to more of your target audience.
  4. Brainstorm lists with your in-house "staff" and volunteers. It is said each person has at least 200 in their circle of influence. Tap into those circles if and when possible.
  5. Create a publicity "stunt" to increase pre-exposure for the event. When a women's organization that I am involved in (American Business Women's Association) wanted publicity for a regional conference we were hosting, we brainstormed ideas that would get the media's attention. We were hosting a cocktail reception, open to the public the night before the conference was to start. The event had two goals to meet: One was to increase local awareness of the organization. The other was to increase event attendance. Our theme for the event was Hot, Hot, Hot in South Florida. We invited the South Florida Calendar Firefighters to the event to "mingle" with attendees and sell their calendars. The calendars were a fundraiser for the Jackson Memorial Burn Center in Miami. So we created a "pre-event" to promote the reception. We called the Cooper City Fire Department (two of the calendar guys worked there). We asked if we could take publicity pictures with the firefighters on their fire truck. They said "yes." We asked a member who was a professional photographer to take the pictures. The results were great,  full color photo on the cover of the Society page, prior to the event and mentions in other local papers! We had a sell-out attendance. In fact, the firefighters sold all the calendars they had brought that they had to take orders to fulfill the rest. And the "pre-event" was FUN. This may not work for every event, especially if it is for members only.
  6. If your event is open to the public, check out other local papers and journals to see what other organizations would be likely partners with your organization. Of course, if you have it in your budget you can also offer to purchase their mailing lists, which then removes any partnering responsibility on either part. Always, always be on the lookout for new lists. Chamber of Commerce and other business leagues and organizations make it a practice of selling their lists to earn extra income.
  7. You can also promote the event with broadcast faxes and emails. Be cautious when doing so. Unsolicited advertising is not only intrusive, it can give the event a bad reputation and may even cost you money in fines, etc. I do send emails; however, it is to lists I have created through the several associations I am involved in. If the event is for a nonprofit or service organization, you can create your list using volunteers. 
  8. Check out local high schools and colleges for students who need service hours. Offer them service hours in exchange for inputing information into your database.

Follow these eight tips and see how many more people attend! 

[Photo Credit]

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