I’m trying to break a terrible habit that I have where I’m in line at the store, I get to the counter, and then it dawns on me! I have to pay for this thing! And then I spend the next few awkward moments fumbling for my wallet while the cashier waits and the person in line behind me sighs a little too noticeably. I knew this transaction was coming; why wasn’t I ready already? Running an event can get like that too. “The drop-dead print date is tomorrow!?” “We should write a press release for that, shouldn’t we?” “Did you talk to the vendor about that thing?” The good news is that you can plan ahead pretty specifically for what will happen before the show starts, while it’s happening, and afterward so you’re not left scrambling to catch up.
Here we’re talking about courting repeat attendees. Think about generating interest by rewarding involvement before the show even starts. Then announce ahead of the show that people who like your Facebook page will get a prize when they visit the show. Plan a Twitter scavenger hunt. Encourage people to share their experiences from last year’s show, your product, or service to win a prize at this year’s event. There’s this other really great thing you can do and it relates to some pretty surprising ideas that I’ve put together for an event this year, but I can only tell you in person (see what I did there?).
Here we’re thinking about broadening your attendee base. Rather than just send out the same ad to every magazine/TV spot/email address, figure out who your audience is and then send targeted content specifically for them. Does that magazine that you bought ad space in have a theme that month? Can you segment your email list into different types of groups (yes, you can)? Can you change your ad so that it’s not the same exact message every time it goes out to your audience? What other brands are your audience falling in love with and how can you involve them in your event?
Take every opportunity you can to record the activities of the event. And by ‘take every opportunity’ I mean plan ahead. Are people going to be test driving something? Get a camera in there to record it. Have you booked speakers for seminars or conferences? Record all of that, too. Better yet—stream it live from the show. Find out what industry experts have registered for your show, seek them out, and interview them at the event. Listen to what your attendees are talking about before the show starts and then start conversations about that stuff while you walk the show floor, camera in tow. Hoard as much content as you can collect—it will yield months of quality material that you can use to market next year’s event.
You’ve done so much to plan the event on the back end of things so take a moment to look at the event as one broad gesture and consider what the average attendee sees. Where is there dead air? Where are people likely to get bored or lost? When are they waiting in line? How are you going to keep them interested in the event longer?
In my experience, there are two places that have this completely figured out: Disney World and Las Vegas. Both are exceptionally focused on how their guests feel and think about their visit—they manage to make their guests feel special and privileged alongside throngs of other guests. Disney has tickets that let you bypass long lines, food everywhere, and entertainers around every corner who focus on making guests smile. Las Vegas keeps you focused on its beauty and decadence from the moment you step off the plane with slot machines in the airport, informative video playing in the taxis, and the sidewalks even weave through (and in some cases belong to) casinos so you’re never just moving from point A to point B without something to grab your attention.
Here’s where word of mouth is your best friend. Yes, push out your after-the-fact advertising and content. But take every chance you get to tell people—anyone who’ll listen—about what you enjoyed most about the show and why. Talk about the people who won awards or prizes, connect with them online, and get them to talk too. Listen to your audience and encourage them to share their experiences as well. Remind people why they came to the event in the first place and why they’ll want to come again next year.
If you plan on running the same event next season or next year then take the time to reinforce the relationships that you made while assembling your event. Thank as many people as you can personally, and for those you can’t, send thank you notes. Events are way more fun when you’re running them with friends.