Forward Thinking

4 Strategies to Raise Attendance

I really love analyzing conference-attendee data and revenue. I know, pretty nerdy. But stick with me on this.

One way to mine attendee data is to scrub and normalize company names based on the URL domain from email addresses entered by each attendee. Exhibitors, staff, vendors, and speakers are eliminated from the list in order to base the analysis on “true” attendees. It takes time, but once done it’s much easier to study attendance and revenue by company. Four out of five times, this analysis is gold.

Here’s why: Association A’s top 25 attending companies have represented 41 percent of the attendance and 39 percent of registration revenue for the past three years. Top company participation trended down in 2014, to 36 percent and 34 percent, respectively. This explained the entire conference’s registration revenue decline from 2013 to 2014.
Association B’s top 30 attending companies have represented 37 percent of the attendance and 19 percent of the registration revenue for the same three-year period. The trend is stable, but the top 30 companies vary greatly from this association’s top 30 member companies.

These examples may be a bit on the high side, but I’ll bet the Pareto principle (roughly 80 percent of the effects come from 20 percent of the causes) is part of your conference business model. A growing number of conference organizers are on to this and are developing improved strategies for group registration, including more-aggressive discount packages and customized conference experiences. Here are four approaches to consider.

1. Group Discounts

It’s not new, but more organizers seem to be decreasing their definition of a group from 10 to five, because it’s really hard to take advantage of an offer that is difficult to organize. The most common offer seems to be buy five, get one free. Some organizers add other stipulations, including that those five must register and pay together and that the free person must hold a certain title or position.

2. Special Access
This could be as simple as giving a suite upgrade or private meeting spaces to the first 20 group takers. Some organizers are arranging VIP group gatherings or receptions. Others are developing and bundling in pre- or post-conference experiences to help the group achieve their participation objectives.

3. Group Concierge
In this high-touch approach, a dedicated person (whose email and direct line are distributed to all group takers) attends to the group leaders’ needs. If you do this, be sure to plan for some proactive touches, too. Consider taking this to another level by deploying a key account strategy for acquisition of target companies.

4. Organizational Learning

Most groups take a divide-and-conquer approach — sending one staff member to each concurrent session, so they don’t miss anything. What about flipping that around so that co-workers attend the same critical sessions and collaborate on how best to implement those learnings at their company? The likelihood is greater that they will apply a specific strategy they learned together than if only one person heard the strategy and tries to influence others.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.