Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now in Washington, DC.
One association’s solution to declining conference attendance was to work with the host city’s CVB to sell a few previously unsatisfied attendees on a new location.
The problem. In 2017, the Association for Creative Industries (AFCI) moved its annual Creativation show from its long-time home in Anaheim, California, to Phoenix. For the next two years, attendance dropped.
The tactics. Knowing that AFCI needed to reverse the trend, Andria Gibbon, former vice president of events and education, and her team brainstormed ways they could change attendees’ minds about the location. They also involved the city’s CVB, Visit Phoenix. Together, they decided to bring five attendees who had complained about the new location in postconference surveys to Phoenix for an all-expenses-paid trip ahead of the 2019 event.
For three days, these members went to restaurants, took a bus tour of downtown, and visited a letterpress, a concrete studio, and other places of interest to professionals in the creative industry.
The trip changed these members’ minds about Phoenix, but ACFI still had others to convince. To help with this, its public relations manager checked in with the five members during their Phoenix visit and turned their comments into testimonials and blog posts that were shared on the AFCI website and social media over several months. AFCI asked the five to share the content on their own social media too.
“I think the fact that we had [AFCI members] exploring the city as opposed to our own staff or a CVB saying ‘Come to Phoenix’ helped to get the buzz out,” says Gibbon.
The results. Attendance at 2019 Creativation was flat compared to the 2018 event, which Gibbon takes as a positive sign after two years of decline. “The initiative was a huge success for us,” she says.