You’ve just walked out of the kick-off meeting for your next conference. You have the date, location, and, hopefully, the name of the event. At this early point in the event promotion lifecycle, that may be all you have to go on. Most likely, the actual agenda, list of speakers, and topics are works in progress.
Ideally, you’d wait until the whole program is finalized. When promoting a conference or similar business-to-business (B2B) event, you rarely have that luxury. To get on the radar screen (and calendar) of executives you need to reach, you need to send a save-the-date email, pronto. As discussed in an earlier column, for C-level executives you’ll want to mail as much as 12 months in advance; for everyone else, 6 months is a good lead time.
First, Assess Your Event’s “Brand”
Your conference has to stand out in the competitive landscape as a must-attend event. During the three main conference seasons (fall, winter, and spring), it will be competing against a huge number of other events vying for the executive’s time (including her own work schedule).
To brand your event, do a quick “creative asset inventory” asking yourself these questions about its past history. Is your event:
- The first to:
- Predict an industry trend
- Highlight a new technology
- Introduce a speaker
- The most:
- Objective (as opposed to vendor-run events)
- Quoted in the press
- The only _____ (fill in the blank)
- The largest _____ (fill in the blank)
- The longest running _____ (fill in the blank)
- The best _____ (fill in the blank)
Most important, is your target audience aware of and knowledgeable about your event? If executives already have a favorable impression of your company or event, you’ll have one less hurdle to jump in getting them to attend this year’s offering.
Supercharge This Year’s Theme
Now, focus on this year’s theme. Hopefully, it’s compelling and captures the essence of the problem or opportunity uppermost on your prospect’s mind. If the theme is a general one, you’ll need to make sure your save-the-date email works overtime to snare the reader’s attention.
Below are ways to hit the hot button and get a prospect to take the leap from your email to the registration page on your site:
- Do a read on your audience’s most pressing concerns. All it takes is a quick scan of two or three issues in the industry’s latest trade publications to get a sense of what’s keeping your prospects up at night. Customize your description of the content to address these immediate concerns.
- Showcase the opportunity. Here’s a quick checklist to make sure you address the real reasons your prospect should attend:
- Make or save money for the firm.
- Enhance career by networking with important or lucrative business contacts, learn something new, stay up to date, get new perspectives, or capitalize on new trends and technology.
- Be part of something important, such as a high-level industry roundtable.
- Be the first to see the hot new products.
- Celebrate achievements, associations, anniversaries, and so on at an awards dinner.
- Travel to a new location and enjoy sporting, cultural, or entertainment events (though a strong incentive in the past, most B2B conferences now downplay that angle).
- Pinpoint the fear factor. Economic slumps depress conference attendance, but they can also spur executives to look for new solutions to pressing problems. Make certain to play up why the prospect can’t afford to miss your event:
- Avoid losing money for the firm
- Don’t fall behind in career by missing an important networking opportunity, not being part of the industry “in” crowd, missing a trend or technology, or getting stale
- Prevent noncompliance with industry regulations
Make an Offer They Can’t Refuse
Why should your prospect register today, not six months from now? Give him a very good reason to respond while your email is still on the screen. Different audiences respond differently, so you’ll have to test to find the most attractive reasons for your group. Here are some offers to try:
- Early-bird discounts and incentives. Encourage prospective attendees to save money by registering now, not later. Although many executives are not really motivated by a $200 discount, if they do plan to attend they’ll often respond by the early-bird deadline.
- Free white papers, research CDs, books, magazine subscriptions, and so on. This is intellectual property you probably already own, so the cost is low. Electronic white papers are inexpensive to deliver.
- Priority seating for early registrants. Everyone wants the best tables up front, where all the action takes place.
Make sure you play up the no-risk factor. Explain your cancellation policy up front. Let people know they can cancel up to, say, 10 days before the event with no penalty. By assuring potential attendees of this, you remove another barrier to instant registration.
In part two, we’ll look at format and copy strategies for a successful save-the-date email.
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