My first public event I organised and promoted was in January 1994. Since then I have been directly responsible for around …
- 2,000 events – from 2 hours to 4 days
- 120,000 people attending
- $40M in direct event revenue
- $150M in back end sales
That’s a lot of event marketing, a lot of logistics and a lot of time. I think I’m pretty good at it so I thought I’d share some of the key strategies that I’ve learned over the past 2 decades.
One of the first things to decide is WHY. Why do you want to run an event (or event series) in the first place? I see there are only 4 primary objectives.
- Value add – nice to put on for clients such as Xmas party / office opening
- Retention – add value to clients such as user group conference
- Education – educate your target market such as a training class
- Sales – create value at the event so you pick up ‘back end’ sales
Notice I did not have ‘make money’ on the list. You can make money from events and seminars but not a whole lot. The world is littered with event companies who have gone broke. I have nearly been there a number of times because of events.
If you do want to make money from events then in my opinion there are 2 ways to do it.
- Charge a lot for the event itself – say $5,000+ per person or…
- Sell something from the event itself and create back end sales.
Events can be a powerful tool in your marketing, sales and client success strategy but be warned. They are very time consuming and can be very costly.
As long as you know exactly why you’re considering running an event that will help you in your decision making process.
Before I get into detail let’s look at the ultimate seminar. A wedding. Think about it. A wedding really is a celebratory seminar. The guest speakers are the Bride and Groom – and a few other larrikins. The delegates are friends and family. The offer is a good time (hopefully), free booze, free food and some entertainment. The invite list was very carefully selected. The marketing was a ‘save the date’ then a formal invite that you attached to your fridge. Plenty of notice was given to respond. You RSVP’d (yes or no) and you even bought the speakers a gift. Talk about the ultimate seminar!
We’re not running weddings every day however there are some lessons we can take away from a wedding.
Filling the room
If you’re going to go to the effort of putting an event on than you might as well get as many people there as possible to make it worth your while. Take it from someone who tries anything and everything to get people to attend – filling the room is the hardest thing to do.
To fill a room you have to realise that there is not one way to fill a room. There are dozens of ways.
I am a massive believer of direct response marketing and getting a return on my marketing investment when filling a room. I like to make a profit on an entire event tour and make my main profit on the back end – what delegates buy on the day. To do that I watch my costs very carefully and only apply low cost marketing that gets results instantly.
So that means traditional (TV, Radio, Print media, Sponsorships & Billboard) marketing is out. You can certainly get people to attend from traditional methods however the spend is so large it often doesn’t warrant the cost. It’s often very hard to cashflow as well. I equate everything back to an ROI on Gross Profit of the event ticket. So if your GP is $100 per person and you want to spend $50,000 on a campaign it needs to return at least 500 people registered. In my opinion (for the non-corporate promoter) traditional methods do not work that well.
To get people to attend in decent quantities (250 or more per event) there needs to be 3 moving parts in place:
- Database – large, keen and clean
- Brand – known, liked & trusted
- Activity – lots of it
Let’s say you’re really well known, you do loads of activity yet your database is small. You won’t have many attend. If you have a large database, loads of activity yet your or your product is not that known or liked. You won’t have many attend. If you have a large database, you’re really well known (and liked) yet you only do a minimal amount of activity like send a couple of emails. You won’t have many attend.
You need all 3 (database, brand and activity) firing on all cylinders all of the time.
Your database needs to be massive. It needs to have all of your target market in it. It needs to be clean with correct data. It needs to keen (interested in you) and it needs to be warmed up. You also need to leverage off other people’s databases and leverage off them.
Your brand needs to stand for something. You need to have a good ‘name’ and be respected in your target market. Your product / solution needs to be liked and you need to give away content (try before buying) to get the target market to like you even more.
The activity needs to be multi-faceted, relentless and in your face. Your event needs to be everywhere. People respond in different ways and with so much ‘noise’ coming at us all the time we need to have different types of marketing activity coming from different angles with different mediums all the time.
If you know who your target market is (and you need to know precisely who they are) you can quite easily build a large database. Ultimately your database should contain all of your target market. All of your potential buyers in one spot.
You can build a database in many ways. You can:
- Buy one – always a good start
- Rent one – can be expensive but worthwhile
- Use other people’s databases – get someone to promote you
- Build one manually – using Linkedin or online directories
I like to use all 4 all of the time.
Once you start creating your database you need to ‘warm it up’ so that is receptive to your offerings. The way you do that is by sending useful content (articles, podcasts, tools, newsletters, videos etc) to it on a very regular basis.
The warmer your database the better it will respond.
To create a brand is not that hard nor is it that expensive. But it does take time. People buy from people they know, like and trust. To be known, liked and trusted means you need to stand for something and you need to demonstrate what you stand for by distributing key messages to your target market.
Your brand builds over time as you distribute more useful messages. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on brand building activities. You can do most of it electronically. The key is consistent distribution of messages.
Here are some ways to build yours or your company brand:
- Blogging – regular articles & opinions on your personal / company blog
- LinkedIN – regular articles & opinions on LinkedIN
- Twitter – regular tweets using consistent hashtags
- FaceBook – regular articles, updates and opinions on your persona / company page
- YouTube – regular videos about your area of expertise
- Press Releases – regular press coverage about your company
- Case studies – regular case studies of clients who you’ve helped make a success
- Books – write a book about your target market
- White papers / reports – regular research studies & reports about your target market
I like to use all 9 methods. I like to create content and distribute it for free through various channels. It takes time but it doesn’t take much money.
Let’s use the scenario of a 1 day seminar that you want to hold. If you’re organised then your marketing should start 12 weeks out – 8 weeks at an absolute minimum. In the 12 week timeframe you have a lot of time to market the event in many many different ways. There is not one way to fill an event so multiple methods need to be used to get people to attend.
- Website – event website with awesome copywriting, testimonials, videos, content and seamless registration process
- Direct mail – regular mail with 4 page colour brochure and tear off registration form
- Email – email is forgotten after a few hours of receiving so multiple (maybe 24 or more), different emails with different value propositions work very well.
- Telemarketing – calling is expensive so make it count and call after a letter, video, email has been sent.
- Webinars – getting people to a webinar to show off your content works and then sell them into the main event. If you’ve got a full day event you could do 4-6 different 30 minute webinars.
- Digital advertising – it’s relatively inexpensive so use it. Just make sure the copy on the initial piece is great and the landing pages that the link goes to rocks.
- Social media advertising – see above.
- Search engine optimisation – a must have but remember people are not actively searching for your event.
- Public Relations – worth a try however most journalists will not promote the event when you want them to. Get the journalist to the first event if you’re doing a tour.
- Blogging / LinkedIN / Twitter / FaceBook – use them all, put some value to your readers and link back to the landing page or the main website
- Video campaign – film short pieces about the content of the event and link it back to the main website.
- FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) campaign – if you’re doing a tour capture real people with real testimonials, create a video summary and email out the next day promoting the rest of the tour.
- Text message – if you’ve got the mobile numbers of people than use them – use it like Twitter (short powerful message) with a ‘tiny URL’ to click from the phone to the website.
- Article distribution – create an article series about the theme / content of the event and email out.
- Newsletter distribution – start a regular content based newsletter and link it back to the main website.
- Affiliate marketing – if you can get someone else who has your target market as theirs then do a deal with them and pay for them to promote your event.
- Sponsors – if have a great name and can attract a decent size audience there are companies in your space that will pay you to be at your event to exhibit. As part of the contract make sure they are contracted to promote the event as well to their database. Give them some free tickets as well.
- Speaking – if you’ve got speaking engagements during the promotional time the use them to promote your main event. Give them a ‘deal on day’ to get them to sign up.
- Offers – buy 3 get 1 free, stepped pricing (goes up over time) all work,
I use all 19 ways. I like to think of it as relentless, diversified, in your face marketing with value!
All marketing activity needs to be measured to see if there is a suitable return on investment. The ROI is measured against the gross profit of the ticket price. As an example, if your gross profit (ticket price less variable costs per person) is $125 per person and you want to send 30,000 direct mail pieces at a cost of $45,000 the you’ll need to generate 360 registrations to break even – $45,000 / $125 = 360. That works out to be a 1.2% response rate (30,000 / 360 = 1.2%) for the campaign to break even. If you think you can get around 1% response then spend the money.
In some cases you may have some with very high ROI and some with low ROI. As long as you get a total positive ROI (on the entire event / series) then that’s what you’re looking for. An example is below.
Now the interesting thing about this example above is you have spent $144,375 in marketing to get 1,548 people to attend and made a gross profit of $193,500. You have more than likely made a loss on this event once you factored in the fixed costs. However, it’s what you can do with the 1,548 people that counts.
If you are skilled in ‘selling from stage’ then you could feasibly convert 30% of the attendees (say 500) into another sale. If that additional sale was only $2,000 then that’s $1M of new revenue! BAM.
All of a sudden your small loss on the event series itself turned into a very lucrative sales opportunity.
I can’t finish this article without mentioning cost management. There are 3 main cost centres with events:
- Speaker related – keep to a minimum and use in-house speakers if at all possible
- Venue related – negotiate hard and only spend what you need to spend
- Marketing related – keep a very close eye on ROI of all campaigns
With some good venue negotiation, clever marketing & cost control you can make a profit on the event itself and then the event becomes free marketing for you. Nothing better than free marketing to build a business.
Have fun creating inspiring events that make money on the front and back end.