Arguably the toughest thing about event marketing is that it takes place in real time. Despite best efforts and thorough planning, going live means performing in front of hundreds to thousands of people – all the while making sure your T’s stay crossed and your I’s stay dotted. For anyone that has worked an event before, you know Murphy’s Law will rear its wicked little head sooner or later. What can go wrong probably will go wrong. Of course, while you should do your best to ensure that anything to do with Murphy or his law is thwarted as much as humanly possible, it would be smart to also learn how to correct any unfortunate incidences during your anticipated event.

Defining the Problem

You’re more or less guaranteed a good flock of attendees if you’re part of a larger organization responsible for marketing the event. The issue of poor turn out is usually an affliction suffered by smaller organizations, particularly those hosting private events – the reasons being poor connections and over-confident planning.

The Gift of Gab and the Art of Networking

The first reason for your less than desirable attendance rate is because you don’t have the connections you think you do. Sending out invitations is relatively meaningless if those invites aren’t backed by relationships that you’ve worked to build or through some value offered to the attendees.

In a PlanYourMeetings.com article titled “No Shows? Please say it ain’t so”, writer Mary Crogan offers three strategic questions to help reduce no-show rates; one of these questions value. Crogan recommends determining your event objective in advance: “Each event should have a strategic objective, whether it’s to introduce members, raise funds or network, for example. By establishing the objective up front, your team members will better understand how their efforts contribute to the big picture and your attendees are more likely to say yes to your invitation.”

On a side note worth mention, Crogan also advises planners to cross-reference dates with any other local or industry events that might create a scheduling conflict for attendees. Great advice.

You can also cure the problem of low turn out by acting proactively. Designate a magnetic personality within your fundraising/marketing department whose job includes client/audience engagement…in other words, schmoozing. They should understand their role relies heavily on creating meaningful conversations and building rapport with influencers. This way, calls and invitations from them are less likely to be overlooked at your next event. Event managers might also want to strike strategic alliances and partnerships to co-host events; this way both parties are privy to a larger pool of attendees.

Event Planning Goes Hand in Hand with Event Marketing

The second reason your turn out rate suffers is because you likely did a poor job of planning/sending invitations and RSVP tracking – which is a task often underestimated by novice event planners. Over confident planning stems from a socially primitive belief that simply having an event is enough to attract guests. Event planning is not about “building it so they will come”; rather, it’s about telling everyone you’ve built it so they know it’s there. That’s why event marketing is a huge player in event planning. Once you’ve planned the event, the next step is marketing it.

This isn’t just a one time marketing task. You can’t just social blast an e-vite and hope that suffices as social engagement. You have to have a new media strategy, which is precisely where most companies fail.

Cindy Delaney would agree. The head of Delany Meetings and Events, Cindy believes that “the challenge with social media is that in order to do it successfully, someone has to be assigned to it almost full time,” noting that most people don’t want to pay for that expenditure.

I highly recommend having both a print invite along with a social media one. The former merits weight and gets remembered, the latter is convenient if you consider that’s where the bulk of people are today. For example, I’d take a paper invite more seriously, but am more likely to follow through if I can RSVP, engage with, and purchase tickets through a landing page.

Still there’s a lot more to online event planning than simply a landing page or a designated spot for correspondence. As Crogan phrased it, you can “go beyond event information and use social media to get to know your audience, introduce attendees before the event, and tailor your program to their interests and needs.” In short, you can create a pre-event conversation by (as Crogan suggests):

  • Initiate regular discussions that include keynote speakers
  • Offering sneak peeks to event activities.
  • Creating a Twitter #hashtag for the event and use it every time you’re talking about it.
  • Creating an on-site meeting place for your social media followers to catch up in person.

Of course event marketing planning involves spatial and resource logistics, but it also involves an understanding of your market audience and what they want. Success hinges factoring in both aspects of event planning – though that still doesn’t guarantee complete success. When planning your event marketing strategy, it would be prudent to have a game plan for how you’re going to bounce back from failure. The ability to bounce back will allow discrimination between a failed event and a resilient one. When examining an event gone south, factor in the following: (1) your event vs. that of your competitor, along with (2) both expert and consumer reviews on your event. These are two measures that should be considered even when you have event success.