November 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio November 1999 Current Issue
November 1999 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:




The process of marketing an event over the Internet continues to evolve

The hotel contracts are signed for the big event. The program is being developed. Now comes the marketing push. Should you replicate last year's plan, sending out tens of thousands of brochures and a fax blast to potential attendees? Or can you rely on the power of the Internet and e-commerce to fill seats and rooms?

E-marketing is the use of e-mail, Web sites and electronic newsletters to attract attendees. It involves new tools and some new rules. And it works. Seventy-two percent of the 2,500 who attended a meeting we produced this fall were there as a result of our e-marketing efforts. We printed fewer brochures, took fewer phone calls and had dramatically lower cancellation and no-show rates. We shrank the marketing budget by 30 percent, even as the size of the event grew by 40 percent.

The e-marketing of a meeting is becoming easier now that attendees are more comfortable and experienced with buying goods and services through the Internet. Attendees are starting to value online marketing information and transactions in their personal lives, so e-marketing a meeting is easier to implement. Here are some tools and strategies to keep in an e-marketing tool kit.

E-mail, but no spam. The term "spam," coined by the culture of the Internet to refer to digital mass mailings, is unattractive for a reason: People take their e-mail inboxes very personally. The challenge for the marketer is to be invited into the e-mail inboxes of prospective attendees. For the pitch to work, you must get permission to send the e-mail.

One association sends a 100-word e-mail to members and asks if they would like to receive updates about the next annual convention. The association gets permission from these people to send the biweekly e-mails.

Once invited in, lead with content rather than a marketing pitch. We send a short e-mail with a free article from a keynote speaker. At the bottom is a one-line marketing offer, with a link to the meeting's Web site.

E-newsletters. Launching an e-newsletter with the same name as your event can extend your brand identity, and it creates an ongoing digital relationship with potential attendees. The publication can be as simple as a 300-word e-mail containing a few short news items and content of interest to the audience.

Invite visitors to your Web site to subscribe to the free newsletter, then take the opportunity to add a short promotional pitch at the end of each edition. As the event gets closer, the e-newsletter can help boost earlier registration and build excitement about the event.

Our "TechLearn Trends" e-newsletter was started this way. It has 30,000 weekly readers and costs about $3,000 a year to produce.

Web sites with drill-down content. Web sites can be effective e-marketing tools if you make a commitment to fill them with content and value. Our meeting site is loaded with hundreds of articles and presentations from previous events. We include the names of organizations registered for the upcoming event, and we have 500 percent more information than a brochure could hold. Our goal is to keep people coming back to the event Web site to see what is new. We use the site as a way to close the circle with attendees and readers by providing an e-mail link and a way to subscribe to the newsletter online. The Web site does not have to be flashy. Just load it up with information and value.

E-marketing is a young field, still marked by experimentation and innovation. Learn from your own reactions as organizations pitch you to buy products and services online. E-marketing is all about reaching out and digitally touching the members, customers and prospects in your world.

ELLIOTT MASIE is president of the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based Masie Center (, an international think tank focused on learning and technology.

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