Starting a New Event? Do Good Prep Work and Then Get Everyone Excited!

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"Let's face it, association training and education programs are evolving...FAST. If your own programs don't align with members' new expectations, you're at a disadvantage in growing your membership base—and revenue. Which is why we created Learnapalooza!"  

That marketing pitch earlier this year came from SIPA member Columbia Books & Information Services for their successful inaugural event—Learnapalooza. (A colleague here attended and was very complimentary.) A discussion last month on the SIPA Forum concerned starting a new event and should you have to make money right off.

Let's take some of those Forum answers and add other information I've come across for a handy and helpful guide.

Build in advance time. "We have started several events—only within our core market, where we know the audience very well," wrote Stephanie Eidelman, CEO of insideARM. "They have always been profitable out of the gate... What has affected things in our market is the dynamic of people being able to plan for the event. So it's possible you need a full-year cycle for people to become aware of the event, trust that it will happen, and include it in their budget."

Keep initial costs tight with "absolutely no frills" and start with a good list. That's from Diane Arseneau of Zagora. "It also depends on the state of the database you started off with. If you start from scratch, just building it can be costly. Without it, you have little chances as marketing costs will be quite high without any real handle on the quality of it."

Make sure you're filling a need. "When I did my first conference 22 years ago I was a one-man show and did everything myself," wrote Hardlines founder and editor Michael McLarney. "69 people showed up and I calculated that I made $3.24. Today we have 175 people attending from across our industry and big sponsorship support. It is one of our key revenue streams. Don't get too worried about losing money the first year. If you're filling a need in your market, this will grow. And don't underestimate the importance of sponsors as well as registration $$." 

Boast about the benefits of being the first. The Craft and Hobby Association changed their name to the Association for Creative Industries and remade and rebranded their big event from CHA MEGA Conference & Trade Show to simply Creativation. The show's sponsorship grew 58% from the previous year with marketing like this: "It's everyone's first time at Creativation!" and "Connect with new buyers, suppliers, designers, makers, bloggers, media and entrepreneurs as we grow our event..."

Get your staff (and audience) excited. Your team will be the ultimate ambassadors for the new event, so make sure they have bought in and are excited. Get everyone on the same page about benefits, audience and marketing highlights. (Remember, everyone's in sales these days.) And then convey that excitement! Creativation was designed to be fun. "Shuttle buses" took attendees to a Town Square. Ten new feature areas were clustered around city streets and neighborhoods. There was an Ultimate Pitch contest with a $10,000 prize.

Feed off your editorial and look for a sponsor. "We're in year 3 of a new event in a very new sector, allied with a dedicated editorial function in the newsletter, which I think has been critical, plus market data, in what's an opaque segment," wrote John Owen Waller from Structured Credit Investor. "It's working well after making hardly any money in year one. Sponsorship and delegate revenue was pretty strong this year and we had 90%+ turnout with 160 delegates. To keep costs minimal we partnered with a sponsor as they have a decent events space."

Highlight ways in which your event feels in step with the times. Creativation's Innovations Center allowed attendees to discover never-before seen ideas, trends, methods, techniques and devices through new hands-on and interactive displays. "Meet 25 innovators who created, designed or made a revolutionary, mold-breaking innovation." And they had a sponsor for this area. Learnapalooza had a bunch of in-step sponsors for their first event.

And when you finish Year 1, post testimonials and pictures.

  • "Learnapalooza was just that – an amazing amount of valuable content delivered in a relatively short amount of time."
  • "Enjoy our show highlights and relive your favorite moments by viewing pictures in our 2017 Creativation Facebook album." (Pictures are great, so if you take them, use them!)

Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…