Executing a winning conference marketing campaign is critical for reaching your attendance goals. And in the digital age, the internet plays an important role in reaching prospects in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Most conference producers would say online marketing has made it significantly easier to reach targeted audiences, but you still must be organized and prepared to measure the ROI of each opportunity.
The first step, before even considering an ad placement, is to make sure your website is ready to sell. This means creating a landing page on your site that sells the benefits of your event, while providing easy access to registration information. This landing page will be where you direct all of your advertising traffic. Once it is in place you can then begin to pursue the marketing placements listed below.
It should go without saying that you want to utilize every in-house communication channel available to announce your conference. This includes email lists, blog readers, Facebook friends and Twitter followers. These channels represent your core audience, and they should be your easiest sales if you approach them with a respectful and value-driven message.
Similar to your own in-house resources, targeting the communication channels of other closely-related organizations can reap huge returns. Start with the people involved with your conference, from speakers to sponsors. Who among them is most likely to have a following that would be interested in your event? Many times you can secure free advertising by simply asking for a mention in a partner’s email newsletter or Facebook page. You can even negotiate this into your contracts with sponsors and speakers.
Blog advertising, whether through sponsored posts or banner buys, is one of the cheapest forms of online advertising. Take some time to find bloggers in your niche and reach out to them for promotional opportunities. The best bloggers have a dedicated fan base that reaches thousands of people with similar interests, and they are always searching for new material to write about. A subtle announcement on the right blog can lead to an instant wave of traffic to your website.
Here is another conference marketing opportunity that can be had for free or very little cost. Every trade magazine and association newsletter features a list of upcoming events related to their industry, and many others maintain a calendar of events on their website. This is a service provided for readers, which means you should be able to list your conference for free. And don’t stop with the one or two publications that come to mind first. Think outside the box to target every potential outlet. There is an association for every imaginable career, hobby and lifestyle, so don’t limit yourself to only the ones you know.
Social media may be all the rage right now, but internet forums are still very popular because they are better suited for group discussions. Think about it, where else can you ask a single question and have it viewed by hundreds of passionate fans and experts? A simple Google search will reveal the most prominent forums centered on your topic, and you probably won’t spend a dime to promote your event. If you aren’t a current forum member, then the courteous approach is to contact the webmaster and ask for guidelines on how to list your conference.
The obvious choice for promoting your conference locally is the newspaper, but many of them charge a listing fee depending on where you’d like your event posted. One alternative is to see if they offer an online community calendar where you can the post conference dates for free. Another often-overlooked option is the classifieds website Craiglist, and here you can “repost” your ad every few weeks at no charge. Your local convention and visitor’s bureau will be happy to add your event to their online calendar, and don’t forget to ask your venue for a spot on their website.
With all of the free and low-cost conference marketing opportunities available online, it might make sense to pursue these options before committing to an expensive media campaign. As tempting as it may sound to use paid platforms like Facebook ads or Google Adwords to reach prospects, the truth is that a well-executed internet outreach program has the potential to perform better - and at a fraction of the cost. But before you jump into your online marketing campaign, make sure your website is setup to sell your event and process registrations.