In 2017, a survey of over 400 marketers projected that in 2018, they would spend 24 percent of their annual budgets on event marketing, planning and advertising. In fact, many surveyed believe that event marketing is the single most effective channel, rated over digital advertising, email marketing and content marketing. That’s a lot of faith in the power of events.
For event marketers in Austin, Texas, March is open season. It’s when SXSW rolls into town, the weather is at its best, the year is still fresh enough that the budgets are balanced and new ideas are still being churned. So for those of us who work as event coordinators, planners, advertisers and marketers, many of our events stack on top of one another in the spring.
I’ll use one of our clients as an example. They’re a luxury residential subdivision in the Hill Country, and typically run two events per year: one in the spring and one in the fall. Here are a few things we considered as we mapped out the events.
Which types of ads matter
For the event we ran last fall, we let anyone purchase as many tickets as they wanted, whenever they wanted, via Eventbrite. Additionally, we ran ads in Austin Way, Austin Woman, Builder Boost (which brought out their own bus for realtors) and Austin Monthly -- all were digital and email-specific, so all an attendee had to do was click. We also ran Facebook ads boosting the event, as well publishing a press release. Four bi-weekly email blasts were sent out to our own prospective audiences mailing lists we had previously curated for them, and sent out an additional email to registrants giving them an idea on directions, parking, weather, rainy day plans, and more.
Our first event in October broke our goals for registrations (417 / 250 RSVPed) and 145 attended. For a free event, usually you expect to see roughly 50% of the registrants make an appearance, so we were slightly less in attendance (34.77% of registrants) than anticipated. The audience was large, but it also wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for.
So for the spring, we pivoted. We ran ads in Austin Woman, Austin Monthly, and Community Impact. Two digital ads across Austin Woman and Austin Monthly, and one print ad in Community Impact. We also had the event listed on the calendar for Culturemap Austin, Do512.com, and boosted similar Facebook Ads. Additionally, we ran our own email marketing campaign out to our own lists, published a blog post, a press release, and posted to social media 3-4 times per week.
We sold only 251 tickets, but 101 showed. This comes out to be 40.24% of all registrants attended, which is a much larger engagement rate, even though the registration rate wasn’t quite as high as the previous event.
For event marketing, the instinct is always that digital will be better - but everything depends on your audience. Depending on the type of event / brand you’re marketing for, you might get more registrants by doing all digital, but if you’re running ads in the wrong place, the wrong audience attending the event won't actually help your client in the long run. So check your audience - if it’s worth investing in a print ad like we did at Community Impact, then do it.
Registrations vs. attendees
So many factors can contribute to registrations, and even more so, attendance. Let’s start with registrations.
Like previously mentioned, registrations fell slightly below our projected 300 count. This could have been because:
- We were targeting more segmented audiences.
- We limited the ticket purchases per person to 2 instead of all being able to register as many as they wanted.
- We were competing with other popular events like SXSW.
For attendance, even more factors can throw your numbers out of whack.
- For our event, a cold front blew through the Hill Country the night before and dropped the daily highs from 85 to 52 degrees. Even though this event was mostly indoors, the weather still gave people cold feet.
- We offered free tickets for this event, which decreased incentive to follow through but opened the event up to a broader audience.
At the end of the day, everything really comes down to setting those first few key performance indicators (KPIs) right off the bat and measuring against those KPIs after the fact. Typical key performance indicators you’ll want to consider, include:
- Goal number of registrants
- Goal number of attendees
- Goal percentage attended vs. registered rate
- “Where did you hear about us” - projected number of both registrants / attendees from each advertising piece
- Goal number of people likely to purchase
- Goal event profit amount
Benchmarking those after-the-fact numbers against your KPIs will make all the difference. If some weather fluke occured during your event, mark that down so you don’t have any outliers in your data set.
At the end of the day, everything is about meeting your audience where they’re at. If you can do that at the outset, it’ll make the difference between a popular, well-attended event, and the right event for your client.