If your company is investing the time, money and resources to plan a conference, then it better be awesome, right? There are so many conferences happening every year that you have to go the extra mile to make your event memorable.
The keys to a killer conference are a top-notch panel of speakers, exhibitors, sponsors, and packing the house with attendees. Creating the invitation list is the easy part. Actually getting A-list speakers, exhibitors and sponsors to sign up? Well, that’s the hard part.
Here are 7 ways for attracting the cream of the crop to your next conference:
1. Media Partners
The key to building buzz around a conference is notable media partnerships. You need publications who have a large reach in your target audience.
If you’re a medical device company, align with media outlets that cover healthcare, medical device technology, electronics, and hardware, etc.
Consider offering preferred media sponsorship levels, too. At the Premium level, provide media partners with the ability to host and brand exhibitor press conferences. At the Gold level, offer special access to speakers. And so forth.
2. Tons of Personal Video Invitations
It’s really hard to overstate the value of personalized messages. A personal invitation from the conference host to key invitees is a great strategy for attracting the best and brightest thought-leaders in your industry.
Consider creating tiered lists of speakers (A, B, C, and so on). Start with the A-list and make sure each person gets an invite tailored to them and their connection to the event.
Because of the effectiveness of this approach, you’ll probably never have to invite past the A-list. When I was planning the first conference for #FlipMyFunnel, I made a personal video invitation for every person on my A-list and everyone said "yes!"
3. Direct Mail Before the Conference
Getting people signed up is only half the battle. Having them show up at your event is often an even bigger challenge.
To help drive attendance, send postcards to everyone who registered with a call-to-action that directed them to tweet a selfie with the card.
You might also consider sending a personalized video message (see above) to select attendees after they register. This can drive additional excitement about the event and encourage more people to show up.
4. Twitter and LinkedIn Ads
The beauty of social advertising is the level of targeting and the ability to engage people on their terms. Every platform offers its own level of targeting, and all are valuable to ensure your message reaches the people you care about most.
On Twitter, targeting is more content and interest-specific, so adjust your conference invite strategy accordingly. If you’re in the custom flooring business, for example, you might use hashtags like “#HitTheFloorConference” or “#PickYourFloorConference” to attract the right people.
On LinkedIn, targeting is much more company and job role specific. Try targeting invitees who work in companies in related industries. For example, if you’re hosting a conference on business travel, search LinkedIn for travel insurance companies, entrepreneurs that sell travel apps, etc.
5. Local Industry Groups
A company does not need to be a sponsor in order to drive attendance to your event. Search for brands and groups whose focus is tangential to yours. For example, local chambers of commerce, Rotary Clubs, Little League, PTA, etc.
Explain to these organizations how promoting your event can serve as a marketing opportunity for them, and provide the leadership with promo codes and email templates to assist their outreach.
6. VIP Sponsor Experience
One of the highest priorities for a conference is ensuring that your sponsors have the best experience possible. Do this through weekly emails that update them on important conference news, and provide them with everything they need to promote the event to the fullest.
This includes custom promotional creative materials with their logo in various sizes for social media and also email templates that require very little editing to send.
Also, consider hosting a VIP Dinner the night before the event. Doing so allows sponsors to get face-time and quality conversations with the conference attendees they care about most.
7. Ask for Things That Are Out of Reach
One big lesson in conference planning is you don’t get what you don’t ask for.
For instance, if you’re doing a press release to announce your event, consider partnering with a wire service firm, like PR Newswire or Marketwired.
Tell the firm you’d like them to distribute your news release free of charge… in exchange for being the official wire service of your event.
The other exhibitors will want to issue press releases as well. The wire service firm will understand that giving you a free press release opens the door to many more sales opportunities.
You can put all the time and energy you like into choosing a location, parties, and decorations. But if you can’t get the right people to your event, nothing short of giving money away will get them to the next one.
Follow the above steps and your next conference will be your best conference!