Email Leads the Conference Communications Stream

Though it’s a tried-and-true practice, launching a conference is the most daunting and underrated challenge in B2B marketing. Typically, you only have about six months to go from the initial idea to the actual event.

As part of this rapid-fire process, you will need to create an instant brand that stands out from all the other competitive events happening at the same time. And because conferences are high-ticket items, the brand you create has to immediately communicate a high perceived value to justify the hefty registration fees, travel and entertainment expenses, and time out of the office.

Under these pressure-cooker conditions, email becomes the perfect channel for instantly generating awareness, momentum, and registrations for your conference. When you integrate it with other traditional media — such as print, direct mail, and telemarketing — you will have the powerful multichannel marketing campaign you need to reach your registration goals.

Here’s the sequence of marketing efforts that we’ve seen works best:

  1. “Save the Date” announcement email — which generally offers an early registration discount or other inducement

  2. Brochure — the main communication piece designed to convey the conference theme and graphics, describe the sessions, and provide all registration information
  3. Web site — an increasingly important component that contains most of the brochure information and facilitates online registration
  4. Postcards and interim emails — which announce new speakers/topics, act as a reminder, and promote interest to prevent registration attrition
  5. Telemarketing — which stimulates response, particularly among C-level executives
  6. Print ads — which are placed in trade/business publications to generate awareness
  7. Final email — which are designed to get the remaining fence sitters to make a commitment

It takes quick thinking, an experienced team of marketing and creative professionals, and a strict adherence to schedules and budgets to get all these components written, designed, and distributed. But it can be done with a minimum of frustration when you follow our time-tested guidelines.

Getting Off To a Good Start

The “Save the Date” announcement introduces your conference to the world. Its job is to alert attendees the event is coming, attract their interest, and, at the very least, induce them to circle the date on their calendars. In the best case, it could get them to actually register.

It used to be that the “Save the Date” was either a traditional letter or postcard. But today, email is increasingly the vehicle of choice since it’s quick and inexpensive to produce and disseminate.

A “Save the Date” may look like a no-brainer, but it is the leadoff effort of the whole communications stream. Most of the strategic thinking for the whole marketing effort has to be done before it’s created. Here’s how to ensure the best creative product:

  1. Prepare a creative brief for the entire communications stream. It should include target audience, objectives, a description of the conference — including its unique positioning in the marketplace — key messages, benefits, obstacles to registration, and call to action. This will be the marketing bible for the event, which people should reread before starting development of each of the components.

  2. Craft a separate, shorter creative brief for the email itself. Think about what needs to be said in the subject line, how it should be versioned (with a special emphasis on what to say to get past attendees to come back), what you need to do to encourage early registration (discounts, free white papers, etc.), and which format (text-based or HTML).
  3. Set up a meeting with the conference producer, marketing staff, and creative team — and anyone else in the creative approval process. At this meeting, the content producers should share their vision of the event, the business environment in which the event will be taking place (e.g., economic downturn), the mindset/fears/concerns of the prospective attendee, and the topics they think will be of most interest. This is a key step many marketing people overlook, but it is amazingly effective in developing a unique flavor for the conference — and in getting everyone on the same page — streamlining the approval process for the creative. (Hint: Ask your copywriter to tape-record the session to capture all the valuable marketing and content information that flies furiously during these meetings.) The creative brief should then be updated with any new information uncovered during this meeting.

Now the creative team has what it needs to work its magic. And the “Save the Date” email that emerges in the next couple of days should put your conference on the radar screens (and calendars) of your prospective attendees.

This is the first article in a series on The Conference Communications Stream. Future articles will address creative and marketing techniques for creating and integrating all the email components of a successful conference promotion.


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