Wednesday, September 29, 2010

When can I expect to see registrations start to come in?

Believe it or not, I actually get this question fairly often. A client will open registration and then want to know how soon people will start to register. It is particularly common when registration opens particularly early. However, while it is a fair question, a little patience is often in order as it can often take a while before your attendees begin registering.

When folks will register for an event depends on many factors. Think about what would affect your decision about when to register for an event – and extrapolate that to your projected attendees. Do they need to wait for agency approval? Perhaps they need to wait until their next paycheck. When you hit an agency’s budget cycle may also cause people to wait – or to register right away. Similarly, if you open registration while your audience is on vacation, you will probably have to wait a bit longer to see registration numbers pick up. Even with all of the variations among groups, though, I have noticed that there tends to be a “sweet spot” and a few secondary periods in which most registrations come in.

For most events I have done, the sweet spot tends to be four to six weeks before the conference is scheduled to take place. I believe that the reason for this is that it is far enough out that people have time to budget for it and plan to attend, yet it is close enough that they also feel some sense of urgency to complete their registration.

The next two periods that typically result in the next highest numbers of registrants is from six to eight weeks out and two to four weeks out. Both of these time frames share a trait with the sweet spot – but not the other. Six to eight weeks out leaves plenty of time to get registrations through their agencies for payment, but there is sometimes a lack of urgency that it needs to be done right away. On the other hand, those who register in the two to four week period certainly have more of a sense of urgency, but are often faced with challenges in processing payments.

Another period worth noting is event-specific. The deadline for early registration – the date when the cost of registering goes up – often sees a spike in registrations as people scramble to get their registrations in before the deadline. This “early bird bump” is one reason we often recommend to clients that they offer early bird rates: they get more registrations in early enough that we can make meaningful projections about the final attendance. I have also seen smaller spikes in registration immediately following targeted marketing efforts as people respond to the email or phone call reminding them to register.

All in all, there really is no magic period in which a group should expect the majority of their attendees to register. Instead, it is a moving target that successfully predicting requires an in-depth knowledge of your attendees and the specific conditions they operate within and the situations they face. However, I am able to use the “sweet spot” of four to six weeks as a decent gauge of how well an event is doing getting registrants – and whether or not additional marketing efforts are called for.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Our Experience as a Vendor at a Virtual Trade Show

In the spirit of “Green Marketing”, RDL attempted something new. We participated in a Virtual Trade Show. We built our trade booth using the tools provided, which was fun since it had the potential of being totally interactive, and times were posted for it to be interactive, with an open chat room for folks going through the booths.

As part of the trade show, visitors can pick up a copy of your brochures and other marketing materials. You can post videos, articles, do a giveaway or be as creative as you wish in terms of what you post at your booth. There is a record of who visits your booth, what they took, and if they left a business card so you can do follow-up. This all sounded like great way for us to reach a larger market.

The Trade Show was to a have an interactive grand opening and then was to be open for 30 days with at least one more “live chat” event. The target market was to be the west coast and, as an added bonus, it was being marketed to the Far East. We purchased the booth through a regional organization that is part of a nationwide organization whose mission is to support small, women-owned businesses. We believed in their ability to follow through on their marketing commitment to the booth holders.

Our experience was dismal to put it kindly. Over the 30 days that became 60 days, only one person who was not part of the sponsoring organization or one of the other vendors visited our booth. They were selling, not buying. The marketing commitment from the sponsoring organization was non-existent, so the only marketing efforts made were those we made using our own traditional marketing outreach tools. In our mind, we had a trade show and no one was invited except our closest friends and colleagues and they had no reason to go. They either already knew us or could check out our website as a link in our marketing materials.

In hindsight, there were flaws in what potentially had some great opportunities. Of course the first one was depending on the sponsoring organization to fulfill their commitment. We were new to the organization and did not know the organization’s reputation for offering great ideas with a total lack of follow-through. Some lessons are hard met. Another flaw was having the site up for too long. It needed to be a short-term, highly publicized event, hopefully tied to another event such as a webinar or other electronic marketing activity.

I am not sure that RDL would do another virtual trade show. It was a costly mistake in terms of time and money for us, but I still think it may be viable tool for marketing a business in our virtual world. I would recommend approaching it carefully in terms of who is sponsoring the site, how it is marketed to others, and who else is part of the show. Our partners were a combination of small service providers and large corporations. It should have been a successful mix.

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises

Ed. Note: Linda’s original post on this topic can be found here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Current Economy and Three Signs that the Hospitality Industry is on the Road to Recovery

Like many professions and industries, the hospitality industry has been hurting. We wonder when the economy will turn around, when business will pick up, and how to survive in the meantime. And, these questions represent common themes of discussions in the groups and associations to which I belong. Given my many years in the meeting planning industry, I am frequently asked for my opinion and perspective as a planner on the state of the economy as it relates to our industry. Now, I am no economist and have nothing but anecdotal evidence and my own experiences to support my views but, for what it’s worth, here is my two cents on the matter…

The current economic “downturn” is the third one I have been through in my sixteen years as a meeting planner and it is certainly the longest and most severe. The causes are many and often disputed. To make matters worse, most reports in the news suggest that we may not come out of this for quite some time as the complex interplay of economic forces adjust to the “new realities”. Does this mean that the meetings industry is doomed? Are we condemned to languish for years in economic doldrums? I think not.

Each time there has been a downturn in the meetings industry, it has been preceded by a drop in leisure travel. The typical pattern has been for transient business to drop and, six to eighteen months later, corporate business falls off, which is then followed by the association market. Government meetings have usually gone on more or less unimpeded. They may have slight drops but nothing on the same scale as the other markets. This time, government has also dropped significantly (about the same time as corporate and association). However, it is not all darkness on the horizon. I have noted three signs that indicate that recovery may be on its way for meetings and conferences.

1st sign: that drop in leisure/transient business that seems to appear each time before a downturn? Well, I’ve noticed that it also appeared to rebound ahead of each of the previous recoveries. In talking with the hoteliers I know, they have all seen recent (last six months to nine months) increases in the level of transient business at their properties. And, these increases have been significant both in terms of numbers and duration. Transient business, once it started to pick up again, has remained solid for many of the hotels that I have talked to. In my mind, this is the most important factor in gauging how the industry will fare in days to come.

2nd sign: Inquiries for our services are up. Like hotels and other service providers, we do not win every job we submit a bid for but an increase here is another good sign. I see this an indicator that groups are once more looking to host events. In some cases, it has taken them longer to secure funding for their events; in other cases, they had fired their planners (to cut costs) but now need assistance to produce those mandatory events that were once handled in-house. In either case, it means that the desire to hold an event is there and as the saying goes: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

3rd sign: Last minute hotel bookings are up. This also tells me that people still want to do meetings and events but perhaps they have been waiting to make sure their funding is secure or it is taking longer for meetings to get approved. A year ago at this time, there was nothing happening - many hotels were practically empty - so to see the increase in last minute bookings is encouraging. The uptick in the transient market, combined with high levels of last minute bookings for events has helped carry them through thus far.

As encouraging as the signs may be, though, we are not out of the woods yet. I do agree with the economists that the industry is still in for some rocky times but I also believe that our recovery is already beginning. Where everything last year was very gloomy and all signs were negative, I now have some positive signs to point to that reinforce my belief that things are improving.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Healthy Meeting Options – Beverages

The food and beverage choices that you make as a planner can have a huge impact on your attendees. In fact, the food that someone has at a conference can be remembered long after the event is done and that memory may even last longer than whatever they learned in the actual sessions! So what can you do to help your attendees to have a healthier meeting? We have previously discussed healthy options for food; this time, let’s take a look and the other half of that pairing – beverages.

1. One of the most obvious ways to help people drink healthier is to provide water for the meeting participants. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I have been to plenty of meetings where water was not provided. Be sure to provide water at your meetings. The next big question is whether to serve water in pitchers or bottles. I will stay out that debate here, though I will say that I have heard compelling arguments for both sides of the debate. Suffice to say that which one you choose may come down to personal preference, event budget, or other factors as much as it may be driven by environmental concerns.

2. Provide non-caloric options, such as tea and coffee. Remember, these drinks are only non-caloric so long as you do not add anything else to them, which brings us to the next option…

3. Choose nonfat or low-fat milk for folks to use in their coffee or tea.

4. While I have never been able to completely eliminate soda from the day’s menus, it is possible to offer healthier options here, too. Vegetable juice, fruit juice (100%, please!), unsweetened teas, and even carbonated waters are all good options here.

5. Finally, exercise portion control. Yes, this is possible with drinks (bars do it all the time). Asking the hotel or caterer for smaller cups (an 6.4 ounce cup instead of an 8 ounce or larger mug, for example) means that, at minimum, an attendee needs to walk a bit more to get the same amount of beverage, which burns that many more calories. It may not seem like much, but it does add up.

Providing healthier options for beverages at a meeting may seem like it would yield only minimal benefits - and that may be true if it is the only approach used. However, when used in conjunction with healthier meal options and increased exercise during meetings, it can greatly support the overall goal of healthier meetings.

~ Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director, RDL enterprises

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Thoughts on Surviving this Economy as a Small Service Business

After over 20 years in business, the economy finally came knocking on our door, walked in, did a little staff reduction, and found a place to stay for a while. As is true for all businesses, this has been a challenging eighteen months. We are under no delusions that it is over, although we maintain hope that things are easing.

How have we survived? I can only say our survival is based on some tangible and some intangible reasons. Probably the biggest reason is commitment. The staff here at RDL have maintained a commitment to success in spite of the months our client base had dwindled, and we were marketing as creatively as we knew how in spite of our limitations both financially and experientially.

The RDL staff are an amazing group of people. They are absolutely positive that we will continue in our success and are unwilling to think or hear that there are any other options. Everyone has been a part of the belt tightening that keeps us going and although the belt has not been moved up or back a notch, we are breathing a little easier as our hard work has begun to show some results.

Some of our existing clients continue on planning their events, and some have postponed them in hopes of future funding. Our hard work and commitment has paid off in the new clients we have added to our base. One came as a referral from an existing client, one came as a result of good networking, and others have come through following leads.

Whoever said that positive thinking doesn’t work, should spend a day at RDL. We are positive that as the economy gets healthier so will our bottom line and we can loosen that old belt buckle or maybe even just buy a new belt.

~ Linda Begbie • Executive Director, RDL enterprises