7 Creative Ideas to Attract New Attendees to Your Event

Check out these strategies focused on getting first-timers to your trade show or conference.

The National Business Aviation Association uses a variety of techniques to reach new potential attendees for its conferences, including custom emails and remarketing, which allows them to create ads that follow a user even after they have left the event website.
The National Business Aviation Association uses a variety of techniques to reach new potential attendees for its conferences, including custom emails and remarketing, which allows them to create ads that follow a user even after they have left the event website.
Photo: Courtesy of N.B.A.A.

Smart planners know they can’t rely on the same database of attendees year after year to fill their events. But how do you reach new people? Consider using some of these practical strategies from other trade shows and conferences.

1. YouTube videos
Nearly half of the 20,000 people who attended Sapphire Now this year were first-time attendees. The German software company strategically courts new guests to its annual customer conference by focusing on educating them how to get the most out of the event experience. One part of the strategy involves a series of YouTube videos, each no more than one minute long, that are shared through SAP’s social channels. “The videos are about the value and benefits of coming to Sapphire Now. You can do in three days what it would normally take you three months to do, because here the entire SAP ecosystem is in one place,” says Michael Trovalli, SAP’s vice president of global events. Some of the videos offered practical tips for first-time guests, with topics such as “Checking in at the Conference,” “Transportation Overview,” “Creating Your Agenda,” and “What’s on the Show Floor.” By the time the conference began in early June, Trovalli says views of the brand’s YouTube channel were up 1,200 percent compared to one year earlier.

2. Complimentary registration
The Premiere Orlando International Beauty Event is an annual trade show and conference for the hair, beauty, nail, and spa industries that has grown steadily each year, with more than 55,000 people attending the most recent event in early June. But organizers know there are still many salon professionals who have never attended, so this year they created a program targeting owners of salons in the southeastern United States. Dubbed “By Invitation Only,” the offer included free registration for the three-day event, an exclusive education program on Saturday with presentations on best practices from five salons around the country, an evening reception, and a breakfast on Sunday. Organizers said about 100 people accepted the invitation, and they intend to continue the program next year.

3. Exhibiting at other shows
N.P.E.: The International Plastics Showcase is a triennial event that is the world’s largest plastics trade show and conference. More than 50,000 people attended the most recent one in 2012, but organizers know there is potential for the event to grow since plastics are used in so many industries, such as medical, automotive, and packaging. As they gear up for 2015, organizers are looking for opportunities to exhibit at other trade shows that reach some of those peripheral markets. “We are always looking to create multipliers—any sort of entity that already has a community and a reach into the market we are trying to attract, and figure out a way to work with that group to give them some value and get their community interested in why they should come to our event,” says Brad Williams, director of trade show marketing and sales for S.P.I.: The Plastics Industry Trade Association, which produces the event.

From July 8 to 10, representatives from the plastics association will be exhibiting at SemiCon West in San Francisco, a trade show for the microelectronics industry. The exhibit will demonstrate 3-D printing from Stratasys, a company that regularly exhibits at N.P.E. and that has agreed to be a partner in the new outreach effort. Williams says they selected 3-D printing because they know it’s a hot topic that will attract attention on the show floor. Association staff will be there to hand out free floor passes for N.P.E.’s 2015 event, and Williams says they are looking for similar opportunities at trade shows in other markets.

4. Content marketing
Many brands and organizations have embraced content marketing as a way to keep potential attendees interested and engaged throughout the year. The term refers to the concept of providing a steady stream of useful and relevant information to a target audience, in the form of blog posts, newsletters, webinars, or podcasts. Interop, a twice-yearly event for the information technology community, communicates with potential attendees through a blog that provides articles and resources on hot topics within the industry. The event is owned by UBM Tech, and the blog is posted on InformationWeek, an online news site also owned by that company. The blog’s editor, Andrew Conry-Murray, is testing a book club as a way to engage his readers in the weeks leading up to the New York conference in September (his selection is No Place to Hide, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s account of his encounters with former government contractor Edward Snowden). Conry-Murray is posting updates as he reads the book, and he plans to host an in-person discussion at the fall conference.

5. Targeted emails
The National Business Aviation Association serves a variety of professionals in the business aviation industry, from pilots and dispatchers to maintenance staff. Rather than sending the same marketing materials to its entire database, the association sends customized messages to different segments of its target audiences for its eight conferences and three large trade shows. “If you are a pilot, here are the top three reasons you should plan to attend this show. And those may be completely different than the email to the schedulers and dispatchers," says Aimee Kaufman, director of marketing for the association. "So we are always trying to talk in a targeted way instead of blanketing them with generic messages that may not apply to them." Kaufman says the marketing message is also different for past attendees versus people who have never attended.

6. Remarketing
Remarketing is an automated advertising concept first offered by Google and now also available through Facebook and Twitter. It allows brands and event organizers to reach people who have previously visited their websites by showing them relevant ads as they search other sites online. “We have begun using remarketing to promote our events,” Kaufman says. "This means that once they click on any of our Web pages that pertain to that event, a Web banner ad promoting that event will then follow them around—both on our N.B.A.A. website, but also throughout the Web on other websites they visit. We are big proponents that everything we do is about touch points. You want to be in front of them as much as you can, and hopefully one of those touch points will get them to register.”

7. Free Webcasts
Educause, a nonprofit association for information technology leaders in higher education, provides a number of Webcasts for its hybrid conferences that are open to anyone, anytime, via the conference homepage. Victoria Fanning, director of hybrid and online meetings, says these are intended to give people a “taste of the conference,” and ideally convert them to in-person attendees.

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