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Associations Now

Use Longtime Exhibitors to Draw New Attendees

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, December 2012 Money & Business

By: Andrew S. Lang, FASAE

Summary: How one organization built a win-win strategy for itself and its vendors. (Titled "Spread the Word" in the print edition.)

If your association runs a tradeshow, the Drug Information Association has a few valuable lessons about how you can expand your reach, gain new members, and generate new revenue.

Susan Cantrell, director, North America, for DIA, told me her organization had been looking for ways to attract new attendees to its events. "We knew that we were reaching our own customer database with our many meeting promotions," she says. "But we wanted to try to contact a broader audience, both because we want to deepen our penetration of our existing market and because we believe our customer base may be shifting."

To do that, DIA developed an "Exhibitor Invites" program, through which exhibitors at the annual meeting would email contacts who were not in DIA's database.

Doing that required some care. First, the vendor assembling the lists from exhibitors needed to guarantee they wouldn't share them. Then all the lists needed to be "de-duped"—duplicate names had to be removed, not just from the shared exhibitor lists but from DIA's annual meeting registration list.

The program was offered to all 456of DIA's annual meeting exhibitors; 93 agreed to take part. Each participating exhibitor was encouraged to send three separate emails using a template developed by the vendor and preapproved by DIA. The association selected two promotions to offer through the Exhibitor Invites program. The first was $100 off a full or one-day meeting registration; the second was a one-day exhibit-hall-only pass for $100. The first promotion included food and beverage. Exhibitors gained a free way to promote their booths to prospective attendees, says Cantrell, and they could offer clients a registration discount that would otherwise be unavailable.

By the end of the campaign, the 93 companies had sent out an impressive 705,948 emails.

How did it do? The promotions attracted 212 registrants for the meeting; 162 had not attended DIA's annual meetings in the previous four years. Of the 212 registrants, 54 purchased a regular meeting registration using the $100-off meeting-registration promotion while 158 purchased the $100 exhibit hall pass.

Though 212 new attendees may not sound substantial, their purchases accounted for $83,530 in additional registration revenue. The bulk of the program's direct costs consisted of the $15,500 fee DIA paid the vendor to assemble lists. Staff time was minimal, largely spent approving correspondence and providing graphics and discount codes. The bottom line: net income in excess of $65,000.

Cantrell was quick to point out that while Exhibitor Invites was a financial success and that the program would be repeated, the greater benefit to the association was that it promoted both the meeting and the organization to a broad base of potential customers that it did not previously have in its database.

Making a profit while expanding your brand recognition: That's time and money well spent.

Andrew S. Lang, CPA, FASAE, is with LangCPA in Potomac, Maryland. Email: alang@langcpa.com

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