New Rules for Attendee Marketing

June 15, 2022

Julie Parsons

Julie Parsons is the co-founder and managing director of District Marketing Group, specializing in full-service marketing for association events, education products and membership. Her career in trade show and association marketing spans more than 20 years, leading successful teams and initiatives for a variety of organizations.

Event marketing is on the rebound following a nearly complete shutdown during the pandemic and its aftermath of staffing shortages, resource gaps and budget cuts. The question for event marketing and operations leads is how to recover and grow revenue and attendee numbers with less. District Marketing and Bear Analytics recently hosted a webinar to discuss strategy and tactics for attendee acquisition gains. Here are some of our key tips and takeaways.

Read the Tea Leaves 

Assessing the needs of the marketplace right now is both challenging and exciting. For the most part, the tenor and tempo of the event marketing cycle and strategy haven’t changed. And yet everything within a campaign, from budget to messaging to audience to conversions windows, may be different post-pandemic. 

There are a lot of contradictions to work around and interpret. People inarguably missed live trade shows and events and virtual wasn’t a viable, long-term replacement for that. And yet our audiences are now used to virtual content and platforms, convenience and last-minute decision making and are considering budgets much more carefully. 

Another example is that attendee behavior isn’t predictable right now, at least not based on event trend lines or historical data, and yet data is more critical than ever to hitting the right people with the right message when they’re ready to act and to make intelligent decisions on strategy and spend. 

Follow the New Rules

There’s no silver bullet. A lot of event marketing today is making smart use of the “launch to live” cycle to try, test, measure and pivot. That said, here are three key strategies to keep in mind.

  • Make sure you are, indeed, moving the needle. Set detailed KPIs and then measure, track and pivot. Don’t look at each channel as one steady flow of execution. Stop and possibly look at phases, layers to your audience, rolling communications, segmentation and targeting. A campaign can’t just roll like a wave from launch to show. People have changed, markets have changed, comfort has changed and needs have changed. In a lot of ways that’s an opportunity, but it requires consideration. If you’re typically a show that has reached 50% of reg by 10 weeks out, that may no longer be the case—and may not be for years to come. Lean into the behaviors you can count on, but also plan for some unpredictable behaviors, lagging stats and the need to move funds and efforts to performing channels.
  • Rework your value messaging. Go right to the core of your event, your team, what you’ve always known to be true and reconsider it from an attendee/consumer perspective. A good old-fashioned SWOT or value proposition exercise may yield a lot of good intel on how to message your event’s value. ROI is often overused as a term in messaging, and yet it’s never been more important to show a tangible return on investment. You can back up messaging on the event value proposition with tools to help individuals justify attendance, promo codes and opportunities to save, contests for room nights and other incentives, but you have to revisit the messaging first. You can’t show value if you don’t know why today—right now—people should invest in attending, what you can deliver that’s new and what people expect from your event.
  • Know where your industry is. It’s more than okay to speak to your industry as it stands and critical to show that as an industry-focused organization you understand their status, struggles and opportunities. How did your industry fare during the pandemic? Are they recovering and rebounding, was their business essential and never shut down, were they hit hard or did they thrive? All of these things are possible within different markets, and there are as many versions of mid-, post-, non-pandemic strategies and experiences as there are organizations and industries. You need to have a good sense of where your industry is in that cycle so that you don’t oversell safety to an audience that has moved beyond certain concerns, for example, or oversell optimism to an audience that’s still recovering. The most obvious considerations are healthcare and essential industries, but either way, remember that unity and recovery is a different message from resilience and facing a profitable future.

It’s an exciting time for events. We were missed and we’re back! Keep an eye on the big picture, and we’ll be back with another blog to talk about tactics and details soon. 

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.