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Mary Long

Launching in a Saturated Event Marketplace

Mary Long B2B - 04/23/2013-10:20 AM

*Editor's Note: This blog originally appears on FOLIO: sister site, EXPOWeb.com

While the Healthcare Information & Management Systems Society produces an annual tradeshow attended by more than 30,000 industry professionals, The Privacy & Security Forum was its first foray into smaller conference territory. A senior executive wondered out loud to me if we would make any money at all. Well, we did.

The event welcomed more than 250 attendees during a day and a half program with 12 sessions and 26 speakers. There was a small exhibit area where 16 sponsors and exhibitors presented their solutions.

It took meticulous pre-planning, carefully crafted content and marketing, seamless on-site management and thoughtful post-show follow-up. Here are the most important lessons we learned.

Timing is critical. There are many variables that contribute to a successful event and a lot that can go wrong. Having time on your side is a must. Four to six months in market and a couple of months of pre-production time are essential. Everything must be spot-on when you go to market. After the launch you must assess and adjust throughout the process.

In our case, we changed the date of the event three times before finally signing a venue contract. After a competitive assessment we selected a target date of late October, got bids from several venues and then had to redo the process due to a scheduled internal management meeting.

Option 2 was the week of the 2012 presidential election, a distracting time all around but especially for the key government speakers we hoped to secure who would not want to be away from the Capitol that week. Option 3 was the second week of December, a risky choice as event season is winding down and the weather can wreak havoc, but we had committed to doing this event as part of our business plan.

We knew the topic was hot and holding an event outside of the busy season could be an advantage. We decided to go for it, but had burned through a few weeks by the time we had a signed contract.

We spent even more time testing and selecting a registration system. The first one we tested was used in-house to sell paid content, but did not provide a customer-friendly experience for event registration, so we moved to another system that required the same cycle of testing but proved to be the better choice.

We had been building the event web site while all of this was going on and were finally ready to launch. We held our breath and dove in head first.

Content always rules. Stick to what you know and make sure the market wants to hear about the topic you choose. We based our choice for privacy and security on a recent reader survey.

We sent out our first announcement five months in advance of the show. At that time we had the entire agenda complete and 70 per cent of our speakers secured. Our speakers were the leading executives and government representatives that our audience wanted to hear from.

To insure that time out of the office was well spent, we upped the ante by releasing a respected industry report during a dedicated session at the event and provided the report to all of the attendees. We received 12 registrations out of the starting gate, what we thought was a very good sign for a brand new event. We felt like we had a winner on our hands.

Integrated marketing campaigns are essential. You need them to get your message out. We sent out 15 e-mails over the course of the marketing cycle to a targeted segment of our database and the same messages through our social media channels.

We also ran digital and print ads, sent out a press release through a wire service, listed the event in the ‘What’s New’ sections of regional HIMSS chapters, sent collateral to tradeshows we participated in, ran pre-show editorial on the event and offered discounts to university alumni groups, targeted associations, speaker contacts and exhibitor clients and prospects. Our messaging was tailored for the health care provider and payer audience that we built the event for.

On-site we provided plenty of Q&A and networking opportunities. Interacting is really the point of live events and this human contact and relationship building is why the event business continues to thrive in the age of web seminars, Skype, Twitter, etc.

Glitches are guaranteed on-site, so make sure your staff is professional and prepared to handle anything. Above all, don’t let your attendees know there are any problems—just solve them.

One of two key government speakers canceled two days before our event started. She was scheduled to speak the afternoon of day 2. We moved the other government speaker, scheduled for day 1, to her slot because that second afternoon needed a strong session to maintain the interest of the audience.

We asked two CIOs who were speaking in other sessions to take the first day’s morning session and provide insights into their security strategies. The session was moderated by one of our editors. We quickly printed an addendum to the agenda and announced the changes during the forum’s opening remarks. We made sure the adjustment sounded like a positive development and everything went off without a hitch.

See Also: What's Your Story?

After the event, don’t forget to thank your attendees for participating and let them evaluate their experience with one of the numerous easy-to-use online survey tools. We got invaluable feedback on topics, speakers, location and attendee testimonials. In return, we gave them the event presentations and a discount on registration for next year’s event.

Launching a new event is never a sure bet, but we beat our attendee projections by 27 percent through hard work and planning to ensure that all the parts involved in holding a successful event were moving together like a well-oiled machine.

When the event was over we received numerous inquiries from attendees and vendors alike about next year. We’ve got a few good years ahead of us with this one and have established a strong foundation from which to launch other events. This year’s Privacy & Security Forum will take place Sept. 23 and 24 at the InterContinental Boston. The topic matter will have the same focus but the facility is larger to accommodate the additional attendees, sponsors and exhibitors that we expect.

Mary Long is a marketing consultant specializing in event management and marketing, audience acquisition and lead generation. She can be reached at marylongac@yahoo.com, on Twitter @marylongac or on LinkedIn.

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