Promoting your business-to-business marketing events

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Ensure your B2B event’s success with these practical tips.

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Having worked with dozens of business-to-business marketers at large, medium and small companies, planning and promoting seminars, workshops and other marketing events, I’ve learned what can turn a promising event into a big success or cause it to fail miserably. When planning your next event, consider these tips to help you avoid having to learn the hard way.

Write effective promotional copy

No matter what type of event you’re planning, it’s your promotional copy-and how it’s written-that is going to get people to sign up. If you don’t have a writer with direct marketing experience on staff, hire a freelance writer. Ask around, or search on the Web using phrases such as “direct marketing writer” or “freelance writer.” The investment in a good writer will pay for itself in increased attendance. In addition, think about the following:

What doesn’t work?

  • Assuming your audience already knows why they should participate, copy short on details doesn’t give people enough reasons to attend.
  • Not understanding your audience and their problems or pains-you won’t get people to your events with promotional copy that ends up being a thinly disguised commercial for your company or products.
  • Grammatical errors, incomplete information or broken hyperlinks (in e-mail announcements). One organization sent out an expensive four-color mailer-and forgot to include the date of the event. Another left off its phone number, while another company referred people interested in attending to a nonexistent Web page.

What works?

  • Generate excitement with benefits built into your headlines and promotional copy:
    • “Six mistakes that can cost you big bucks… and how to avoid them”
    • “Evaluating new suppliers: how one company did it right”
    • “Avoiding inventory nightmares-or ten tips for getting your inventory under control”
  • Write long copy. A leading seminar producer recently used a 27-page letter to sell his $10,000 seminars. He found that some people need lots of reasons why they should spend their precious time and money by attending his events. You don’t need 27 pages, but do make sure your promotional copy is long enough to spell out all the details and benefits of attending your event. However, long copy needs to be easy to skim, for those who want to get right to the bottom line, with subheads, bold fonts, bullets and call-outs.
  • Sell the event, not your company. Although your ultimate goal is to sell your company’s products or services, if you want more attendees at your events, you need to focus on selling the benefits of attending your event, not on selling your company and its services. Be sure to include information about what they’ll “take home” in terms of new knowledge or something tangible, such as workbooks, white papers, or checklists.
  • Provide certificates of completion and continuing education credits for technical people and professionals like lawyers and CPAs. It gives them another reason to attend.
  • Ensure that your promotional copy includes all the following information: Location, Date, Time, Cost, How to Register and How to Get Additional Information.

Promote your event well

Start early when promoting your event. You want to get into the calendars of time-stressed executives, managers and technical people before they are booked up with other obligations.

What doesn’t work?

  • Relying on one method of communicating-i.e., only direct mail or only e-mail. Sometimes direct mail won’t get the message through, or e-mails will get filtered out before being read.
  • Promoting your event too far in advance, or waiting until the last minute to promote your event. You need both to promote well in advance and to remind prospective attendees again shortly before the event.
  • Using “wedding-type” or formal invitations and postcards. Generally, response plummets when these types of communication pieces are used because you don’t have room to list all the details and benefits of attending.

What works?

  • Employing an integrated marketing communications approach that includes postal mail, e-mail, telemarketing and your Web site.
  • Hitting your audience more than once with promotional messages. Test for yourself, but three times seems to be the magic number. First, well in advance. Second, two or three weeks in advance. Third, as a last minute “last chance” reminder.
  • Buying text ads in the e-newsletters your customers and prospects read, and posting event information to online event calendars and industry or relevant business publications.
  • Following up with key prospects via telephone (if your budget allows).
  • Sending last minute “See you there!” reminders to registrants.

Consider your audience, their jobs and their schedules

To ensure the success of your event, plan your event format around your audience type. Executives, especially C-level types, have limited time and generally won’t attend an all-day conference, while technical people or users who need lots of detailed information will.

What doesn’t work?

  • Holding live events on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons. It will usually cut your attendance dramatically.

What works?

  • Short “Executive Briefings,” “Executive Breakfasts” or Webcasts for C-level and other time-pressed executives.
  • “Lunch and Learn” seminars or half- or full-day meetings or conferences for technical and administrative types.
  • Holding your live events at new or “in” restaurants or hotels, or at an interesting location such as a client’s factory or party boat for an “Executive Briefing and Harbor Cruise.”
  • Mixing happy customers with prospects. Happy customers will often sell your prospects on why they should do business with your company.
  • Timing your event for Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday-days people are more likely to attend, and days that give you time to deliver last-minute reminders to attendees. Friday morning events also work well because people will tell the folks at their offices, “I’m attending a seminar tomorrow. See you on Monday.” and then will take the afternoon off after attending your seminar to get an early start on the weekend.

Location, location, location

Like a retail business, the location of your live “cheeks in the seats” seminar, workshop or other event is important. Having people drive around an unfamiliar downtown during rush hour will only irritate them or give them an excuse not to attend, as will sending them out of their way an hour or more to a suburban location.

What doesn’t work?

  • Difficult-to-find-or-get-to venues (i.e., a busy, downtown location located on a one-way street).
  • Not supplying easy-to-follow or complete directions.
  • Venues that don’t include accessible parking close to your event. If your budget allows, consider prepaying attendees’ parking fees.

What works?

  • Using Microsoft’s facilities, your own company’s meeting rooms or a customer’s facilities. If these aren’t available, book a room at a large hotel or meeting center easily accessible from the highway. (Or use Webcasts or Web seminars instead.)
  • Ensuring that the venue is accessible and the directions are correct by driving to it yourself, parking and then walking to the building.
  • Paying attention to the location of parking lots and garages: women attendees don’t want to walk by themselves to an out-of-the-way lot or garage, especially after dark.
  • Supplying maps and directions with the best routes to take.

Electronic events

Webcasts, Web seminars, teleseminars-whatever the name or format-these “virtual” events require just as much planning and promoting as a live seminar or presentation. In addition, because of their virtual nature, they also come with their own special considerations, so it pays to keep in mind the following:

What doesn’t work?

  • Using untested or bottom-budget technology that causes glitches during your event.
  • Waiting until the last minute to hold a trial run-through or not doing one at all.
  • Poor audio, which can cause attendees to end the call. For example, you may want to automatically “mute” those who dial in to attend by phone, as background noise coming in over multiple-participant phones can be a real problem.
  • Keeping people on the computer or phone for more than an hour.
  • “Lecturing” the whole time. Web seminars can be great, but no one wants to listen to someone drone on and on. Make your presentation as interactive as possible. (This goes for live events as well.)

What works?

  • Limiting electronic event times to one hour or less. Give attendees a 45-minute presentation and a 15-minute Q & A. Those who want to can leave as soon as the presentation is over. You can stretch it a bit by concluding the formal presentation at an hour and offering attendees the option of staying on for more questions and answers. But your attendance will drop dramatically as you move beyond an hour.
  • Scheduling electronic events in midday time slots. My clients have seen their best results when scheduling their events between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. in their attendees’ time zones.
  • Conducting a trial run-through or rehearsal of the event to ensure that you understand how the technology works and how the presentations will flow. This is a great stress reducer and can have a significant impact on the quality of the presentation. (Again, this applies to live events as well.)
  • E-mailing supporting materials to attendees before the electronic event. Keep in mind that attendees may not be at their offices or desks when phoning in or logging on. Allow people to download materials at their convenience and have the materials ready when you refer to them.
  • Providing access to your electronic event after the fact-especially if your main goal is to generate high-quality leads. Send attendees, no-shows and those you invited but never heard back from a special link to a recorded version of the Webcast or teleconference.

The bottom line? Events are a great way to increase leads and move prospects along the sale cycle. Ensure your event’s success by planning and promoting it well, keeping your target audience in mind when determining the type of event, finding a good location and understanding the differences between “real” and “virtual” events.

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