How to Use Multichannel Marketing to Achieve Conference Growth

Multichannel Marketing April 24, 2018 By: Kevin Helm, CAE and Denise Gavilan

If you build a multichannel conference marketing campaign, will more attendees come? The effort behind the International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare shows that it’s a powerful strategy.

Have you ever heard association professionals say they don’t want to grow attendance at their annual conference?

Nope, neither have we.

With a vision for attendance growth, we set out to build and implement a new marketing and communications campaign for the 2017 International Meeting on Simulation in Healthcare.

Hosted by the Society for Simulation in Healthcare (SSH), IMSH is a scientific conference that explores the latest innovations and best practices in healthcare simulation. Through an exhibit hall, 400 sessions, keynotes, and more, IMSH provides healthcare education professionals with the tools and resources they need to advance their skills and to improve patient safety.

But, before we talk about the campaign, let’s take a step back and explain simulation in healthcare. You may be familiar with the idea of simulation, perhaps most famously for training pilots, where one will learn to fly in a simulator, realistically taking off and landing without ever leaving the ground.

When it comes to healthcare, the concept is very much the same, focusing on training medical professionals before they care for real patients. For example, when IMSH attendees explore the exhibit hall, they see lifelike mannequins that need immediate surgery or are suffering from trauma. They also may use a virtual reality headset to navigate heart surgery.

This meant the new marketing campaign needed to capture this highly interactive, technical environment; demonstrate the hands-on sessions; and showcase the speakers, networking opportunities, and other activities. We needed to bring the conference to life and excite potential attendees. This was accomplished in the following ways:

Thanks to this marketing campaign, SSH achieved record-breaking attendance at IMSH 2017. The exhibit hall sold out two months prior to the event, and 3,447 people attended from 54 countries.

Introduce a theme. Gavilan & Associates worked closely with SSH as part of a dedicated team to promote the conference. This team settled on a theme for the conference that had a clear common denominator: “Patients: The Heart of Simulation.” This messaging, along with word pairings critical to successful simulation, formed the basis of the entire conference—from sessions and keynotes to the marketing and communications efforts. In addtion, the conference graphic identity, developed by Graphek, visually articulated the theme by using robust colors and a familiar depiction: the waves from a heartbeat monitor.

Develop a conference website. For the first time, SSH launched a conference microsite, presenting fast-moving video of previous conferences, engaging photos, descriptions of education sessions, eye-catching infographics, and more. The response to the microsite was positive: It received 24,523 unique visitors from 148 countries and more than 124,000 page views between September 2016 and February 1, 2017. Because of this, the microsite remains the cornerstone of the marketing effort.

With those key pieces in place, we then implemented a 10-month multichannel marketing and communications campaign that also included:

  • Content and image-rich emails. The messages ranged from simple “last day to save” graphics to profiles of speakers. We also sent six regional emails.
  • Targeted outreach to healthcare audiences, including Orlando-based simulation centers. This took place on a grassroots level via committee members, email, and social media.
  • Ongoing social media posts and graphics that included calls to action, session highlights, speaker profiles, and exhibit hall images. Because of this, Facebook “likes” increased 4.8 percent and engagement increased 39.2 percent between January 1 and February 2, 2017. In addition, we gained 158 Twitter followers during that same time period.
  • Two Facebook ads promoting key deadlines were tested for the first time. These ads reached more than 25,000 people and received 266 clicks.
  • A save-the-date postcard, which encouraged people to visit the microsite, was distributed to 5,000 individuals on the East Coast when registration opened in September.
  • A toolkit was developed for the IMSH volunteer planning committee. The kit included social media messages, a flyer, and sample emails they could share with their colleagues.
  • An online Justification Toolkit was created, which provided potential attendees with a letter and a breakdown of costs to share with their supervisors.
  • A promotional video was introduced at the end of IMSH 2016 and used throughout the 2017 meeting’s marketing effort.
  • We placed ongoing ads in SSH’s publications, Simulation Spotlight and Simulation in Healthcare.

Thanks to this marketing campaign, SSH achieved record-breaking attendance at IMSH 2017. The exhibit hall sold out two months prior to the event, and 3,447 people attended from 54 countries.

In addition, the postconference survey revealed that 60 percent of attendees learned about IMSH via email, 53 percent learned about it through the microsite, and nearly 50 percent learned about the confernece through a colleague or word of mouth. Survey reuults also showed that attendees associated these characteristics with IMSH, which were communicated through the marketing effort as well: educational, applicable to practice, and informative.

Kevin Helm, CAE

Kevin Helm, MBA, CAE, is cofounder of the Virtual Association Network and associate executive director at the Society for Simulation in Healthcare in Washington, DC.

Denise Gavilan

Denise Gavilan is owner and marketing strategist at Gavilan & Associates LLC in Annandale, Virginia.