A Strategy for Boosting Early-Attendee Registration

Smart Business Associations Now Winter 2020 Issue By: Samantha Whitehorne

Attendees’ habit of registering late was causing a lot of angst for one association’s staff, exhibitors, and sponsors. To solve the problem, it got rid of its traditional early-bird registration model.

The problem. The American Institute of Steel Construction always had a successful annual conference, but late attendee registration was giving exhibitors and sponsors angst. And with the bulk of registrations happening so late in the game, it made certain planning steps, including ordering the correct amount of food and beverage, difficult for AISC staff.

The tactics. In 2012, Scott Melnick, senior vice president at AISC, went to his board with an idea he’d heard from a presenter at a recent conference: replace a traditional early-bird registration model with a fee that increases by a preset amount each week. “They thought it was the craziest idea they ever heard,” Melnick says. “But we did it anyway—and have done it ever since.”

AISC opens registration at an initial rate 16 weeks before the conference. Then, each week after, registration fees increase by $10. “What we’re basically doing is creating a false sense of urgency,” he says. “It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s proven extremely successful for us.”

The results. Twelve weeks out—an important milestone given the number of deposits typically due 90 days before an event—AISC had more than twice as many registrations in 2012 than the year before: 729, compared to 327.

A similar pattern has followed every year since. The data AISC has collected and analyzed now helps them predict what their final attendance numbers will be five weeks ahead of the meeting’s kickoff.

Melnick says the new pricing strategy also had another benefit: “With more reliable numbers, it improved the confidence in the event from exhibitors,” he says.

[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "Get a Jump Start."]

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now in Washington, DC.