Emergency event turnaround… OK, so you’re reading this a little late (see part one of this post on getting events right first time) and you’ve sent out email blasts and mailers in the thousand to your event about version 126.96.36.199’s new grey button and the takers aren’t exactly flooding in. Or, you think you’ve done everything right and you honestly can’t understand why things are just not going your way. Your sales team needs the leads and all eyes are on you; what to do?
Appraise your event very critically. What’s not working? Is the timing a challenge (it could be school holidays). Is the content not chiming well (did the last big industry conference already cover your topic in the same way?) Ideally you don’t want to second guess this – call a few of the non-takers and ask them honestly why they don’t want to attend. Focus on the area they are outlining: it’s normally to do with content (interest factor), speakers (authority/scarcity) or convenience (they can’t get there, or it’s too much effort to get there). Download this free event countdown tool to help you with timings.
B2B events: tip sheet 2. Rescue rangers
- Boost the interest factor
Unless you’ve booked your event on a remote island, the primary reason for poor take up is likely to be poor content. Any business event featuring Richard Branson or Derren Brown is going to be full. Why? Yes, the cachet of their names and fame, but they are famous because of the quality of their content. Branson on his life story and business approach, Derren for psychological tricks and persuasion techniques. It doesn’t matter if your speakers aren’t known but you need to market their interest factor and reason for having authority in the field just as much as you need to stress the quality of the content. Plus, on the day, the speakers need to live up to the hype otherwise you’ll have a full event but not a great one that makes people keep coming back. Seth Godin makes a great point in his blog about ensuring if you are going to get people to come, the event’s really worthwhile.Be deliberately provocative in the communications if you can. You might consider retitling the event. The B2B IT industry loves its long words. To engage interest, think tabloid headlines for your event title and presentation titles. “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster” is infinitely better than “Previously Little-Known British Comedian Digests Small Captive Rodent”. Our last event was called “The Naked Decision Maker” (but we could easily have called it “How The Recipients of Your Marketing Activity Perceive It.” You can look to TV formats for inspiration; Dragon’s Den, Big Brother, The Weakest Link.
- Swap out the speakers
Add a new speaker, or change the one(s) you have. If any of the presentations look like a pitch, take them out or refocus them. Use the change as an opportunity to recommunicate with the audience. “New speaker added, the author of the book “Killer Outsourcing” Bob Peters, who also writes the #1 blog on outsourcing.”
- Make it more convenient
If the event date, timing or location is an issue for everyone, or the majority, change it. You can change the date if you need to, but often simply switching from morning to evening or a full day to a half day can really help. Change the format, condense the timing into a rapid-fire learning session. People prefer punchy 20 minute presentations over 1 hour marathons every time. Can you shorten it? Consider offering two places/bring a colleague; some people don’t want to attend on their own. If it’s a high profile event and you can afford it, consider offering free transport to and/or from the event. If you can’t change the date but some key contacts can’t make it, give them a call and ask (a) whether you can bring the content to them (b) whether the content would be of interest to anyone in the company.
- Make it sound unmissable
People are insecure at heart. Give them reasons they can’t afford to miss it. The “No FT, No Comment” approach. Tell them that they will hear something for the first time at the event. Explain what tools they will be given that will help them do their jobs better. Create a list of other organisations who are already attending the event ie, if it’s a retail focused event say, “Senior representatives from Tesco, Boots and Starbucks have already secured their places.” Consider adding job titles too, if seniority is an issue.
- Make it easier to sign up
Amazing how many invitations demand the recipient to make a phone call to book a space at the event. Add more response mechanisms to the emails. Fax backs still get a great response from a senior audience in the UK; it’s easy for the exec to tick “yes” or “no” and get the PA to fax it back. Give your sales team a quota to bring a couple of people each.
If all else fails, don’t fret. Some excellent events are run with few delegates; it does encourage better debate. Relook at the format to add further opportunity for debate and questions. If you’re worried about the room looking too empty and you can’t change it, think of creative uses for the other half of the room and make it look like you meant to do that all along. (Exhibition area, demos, TV room, breakout area, coffee and Wifi areas for example)
If you only have one or two signed up the a few days before, cancel the event and make appointments to see signed up delegates individually to run in house events for them and their teams. These appointments can often be extremely fruitful. At The Marketing Practice, we often find that we gather as many sales-ready leads among people that can’t attend an event as from registered delegates but only with a well thought-through offer as part of a complete strategy wider than any specific event.