Has it ever been harder to do event marketing?

Event Marketing has surely never been harder

Now I write “never” but I suppose that only goes back to 1996 when I started running events. So with that caveat I am bold enough to state the following as a fact: marketing an event has never been so perspiring and perplexing an experience. And it is only continuing to be more of a challenge. 

Wondering whether or not any particular exercise is more difficult now than in the past is not the most important question: considering if that particular task is worth doing at all is what should be upper most in the mind. To get to that answer I think we have to look at exactly what one needs to do these days to sell tickets to an event.

Event Marketing is still as crucial as ever

We can’t avoid the fact that very few events sell out: in fact selling anything without some form of awareness building is rare. That awareness can be through a viral campaign (although more than likely a marketer will be involved in sparking that activity) or it can filter through the more traditional avenues of promotions and placements. However we choose to raise the awareness of our event it is a skill that the modern day event organiser must conquer.

Despite the massive email marketing effort that is needed to ease your way into the conciseness of potential attendees, every event marketer / organiser must eventually pull themselves away from what can easily become an all consuming task. But this is so hard when you are so close to your event. During one of my events I found myself logging on to Eventsforce to check my bookings more often than the local radio station was playing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”! In the end I set up an email alert to notify me when someone booked on to the event.

I am pleased and relieved to say that I have stepped back from the brink of constant marketing monitoring and I would hope that having found time to write this detailed blog proves that despite the effort needed to sell out your event it doesn’t have to be all consuming.

Just one more re-tweet, just one more update to post….I promise…..

This is a case study post. What I will cover in the rest of this blog is in no way an events marketing masterclass: it is simply a list of what one small event, run by a small company who made a small profit had to do to sell 100 tickets and attract 10 sponsors. I hope that it will be a really useful benchmark for any event, of any size.

The event was a success, so let’s take a look at what we we did:

First up: Let’s look at the channels we used

We started with the traditional route and emailed our email list. We emailed several times over perhaps 12 weeks. We tried to make those emails content led. We set up trigger campaigns to maximise the chance that the audience read the emails. We personalised the emails and included messages and content relevant to particular segments of our target market: association organisers, corporates etc.

Now we have a pretty small list of 1,200 contacts so we can’t really expect more than twenty bookings. We couldn’t justify the cost of a hard mailing and besides we hadn’t collected postal addresses so we relied on email. Now of course these days email is not enough so we had to get creative. Social Media had to be engaged.

Here are the links that we would class as the now “traditional” Social Media channels that we used to drive bookings for Tech Fest:

  • Company YouTube Channel
  • Company Facebook page
  • Company Twitter page
  • Company run group on LinkedIn
  • Company Pinterest page
  • Company page on LinkedIn
  • Slideshare

As with many events we posted links in approx. 10 – 12 LinkedIn groups. And as an extra route to market the event also jumped on my:

  • Twitter page and
  • LinkedIn profile

It is worth mentioning this is not a “look at how great we are” (it is so far from that!) but simply a look at what we did for our event. Will it raise any questions around your event? I hope so.

An endless task but hopefully not a thankless one 

It was a daunting task simply remembering and actioning the updating of all of our Social Media platforms. We used Hootsuite but we are on the look out for a more advanced social media hub. On top of the posting, of course, you have to consider the liking; following; retweeting; answering; deciding which messages to follow up and the other means of engagement for all those people across all these platforms. And don’t forget my personal favourite tying to remember on which particular platform you had seen a particular message.

So for our little event we used all of those channels. But of course that is not all we did to market our event. We:

1. had a few emails go to an external database as contra for an attendee attending the event

2. a monthly email from January to June to the previous attendees

3. had PR which generated a few electronic press articles

4. asked our supporters to promote their involvement to their clients through email and Social Media

5. we asked our attendees to promote their engagement with the event

6. we used a social media network called Conferize to place the event on dozens of event listings; to promote it to other people in the network with similar interests and to create a one stop destination for the content pre, during and post event

7. we spent money on pay-for-click advertising on Facebook, Google and LinkedIn

8. and I mentioned the event at a few speaking engagements in Europe and basically to every person who would listen.

Event Marketing needs have increased dramatically, but have the other aspects of the event management process reduced to create some space?

I would love it if the answer was yes but unfortunately events are becoming more complicated and time consuming in almost every aspect. Without trying to distract you from the main thrust of this Blog I wanted to mention the environment in which our events are now marketed. That is one with much more competition. One with a downwards push on revenue. An environment where we have to consider the design of our content and how our attendees interact with it. We have to address the true value our participants derive from the networking options we create; how we can look at sponsorship creatively and how we turn our events into experiences. I hope you forgive me for deviating slightly to cover what I think is a very important contextual point.

What did we send down those channels? 

In my Blogs I’ve often spoken about the importance of a content marketing strategy. There is little point using all these channels if all you are going to is continually send inane cliches like “must attend” and “unique networking opportunities” to those unfortunate enough to follow your feeds. So we tried to create content that would be shared and would demonstrate to our attendees why our event really was a “must attend”.

Content is crucial but it is a crying shame that it doesn’t just drop in your lap: you have to play a part in creating or co-ordinating it. And that my friends takes time. Here’s what we did to demonstrate that we had some truly unique content and that our event would prove to be unique and exceptionally useful for our participants:

1. Five Blogs about Event Technology (three updated from a similar event we ran earlier this year and two created for Tech Fest)

2. Participant generated content from Tech Fest 2012

3. Pictures and videos from Tech Fest 2012

4. Testimonials from Tech Fest 2012

5. Pictures and links to videos that were inspiring us as we considered designing Tech Fest 2013

6. A video introduction to the event

7. 10 video introductions from our speakers to each of our sessions

8. An animated conference programme for day one

9. An article in a UK publication the month before the event

10. Regular LinkedIn comments in LinkedIn Groups on anything event technology related

11. Regular retweeting and commenting on event tech related tweets

12. Commenting on several blogs which spoke about event technology

event content marekting strategy

I doubt this is the entire list of what we did as those actions were spread across almost a full calendar year but it is a fair enough account of the promotion we undertook to market Tech Fest.

Measuring success

I am the first to admit that we have marketed Tech Fest without much regard for measuring the success and the impact of individual parts of our marketing strategy so it is worth stressing again this is far from a marketing masterclass. But with tongue only slightly in cheek: where does one find the time in between the actual doing and the frothy beer drinking? And on a very serious point we wonder how different are we from other event organisers?

In place of reports, analysis and data we place gut feelings, experience and how quickly the the booking alert was activated after anything we do. Are we alone in using these cues?

Whatever the data said we know that we would still be driven by a belief that content matters and if it doesn’t actually generate bookings it is still worth spending the time creating something that adds value to someone. As an example we can’t tell you if the time, effort and cost that went into creating an animated programme generated interest in our event but we are sure that it sparked a creative flicker in the mind of an event organsier or two. How does one even attempt to measure that?