Make Your Conference Attendance Count

Nothing beats a good conference. It’s a total concentration of information you care about with people who are passionate about similar things. Better still, though it’s crass to say it, those people might be able to benefit you one day—maybe by becoming or leading you to customers. Right?

Maybe.

It can also be expensive and time-consuming. (And if you’re an introvert, completely draining.)

We’ve found that the best way to make the conference matter is to plan a campaign around it a few months in advance.

In this post, we’ll share a template of basic campaign tactics we recommend to clients when they’re heading to a conference. But before any tactic can have value, it’s important to step back and look at all the details of the conference. So first, consider:

The Context

Start with a general overview. Mark down some obvious details like date, location, event host and sponsors, speaker list, schedule, etc. Then dig into how that impacts your organization:

1. Consider Audience

Who else is attending? This is perhaps an obvious one but really think about primary attendees and more fringe folks who could be there. Consider what percentage (roughly) might be a target persona vs. someone slightly different. There’s nothing wrong with going to a conference to grow professionally, but it’s important not to expect to generate leads if there’s not much opportunity for that.

2. Set Event Goals

In thinking about the purpose of the event and who will be in attendance, set some clear and measurable goals. Even if you have only one goal, know what it is and what success looks like. Some of the questions we ask include:  

  • Do you want meetings set in advance? If so, how many? Per person or as an organization?

  • How many leads do you expect to generate? And how? Will they come from interactions at a booth? General networking? Hosting a happy hour?

  • What does a “lead” mean? Someone who gave you their email, who held a conversation with you for at least 10 minutes, who requested a follow-up?

  • Will you attend sessions? If so, why? For professional development? Competitive intel? To meet people in specific breakouts?

  • Any other reasons you might be there?

3. Consider Opportunities

Every conference has opportunities for sponsorship, hosting a booth or otherwise amping up the experience beyond “normal” attendance. Prices vary for these types of opportunities, as does ROI. Think through everything the conference offers—what’s a worthwhile investment for the company—before you begin executing on specific tactics.

Here are some of the questions we like to answer to facilitate making those decisions:

  • What does sponsorship mean, exactly?

  • Are you hosting a booth? If so, what size is it? Where is it located in the venue?  

  • Who's attending from your organization? Do you want to set yourselves apart in any way (say, wear the same colored t-shirt)?

  • Is there any special angle you want to leverage like a new content piece, experience with high-profile customers, product launch, colleagues who are speaking, etc?

  • Will you have access to any other attendee information?

  • Do you plan to host a cocktail hour or other event? Do you plan to attend someone else’s cocktail hour or another event?

  • What’s important to your company right now and how can you can creatively hook people with it?

Once everyone’s on the same page and you have the strategy and approach mapped out, then the fun begins!

The Campaign Planning

A solid conference campaign has at least three parts: pre, during and post, with most of the heavy lifting taking place on the front end. At each of these stages, there’s a chance to reach out to your audience with different types of messages and in different ways. So map out all three, locking down the right tactics based on audience, goals and opportunities.

This is hard to templatize, of course, but sparking the right conversations often starts with throwing out options and deciding whether they’re right for you or not. Here are a bunch of options we recommend as a starting point:

1. Pre-conference Tactics

  • Send some emails! (Promote early and make sure they're compelling.)

    • Announce your attendance to your entire database to position yourself as a thought leader and invite others to learn with you (even if you know they won’t go).

    • Send 1-3 emails to other attendees if you have access to their contact info - invite them to a cocktail hour or ask them to reply to your email to set up a time to meet.

  • Create a landing page specific to the conference

    • Do you want to generate leads by asking people to enter their emails to download a piece of content? Do you want people to sign up to meet you at the event? Do you want to create URL to showcase part of your product? Options are endless! But think about what would best hook the other attendees.

  • Schedule social media (make sure to leverage any hashtags the conference host is using). Also, join any conversations happening among others!

  • Launch some ads targeting other attendees and sponsors

  • Plan a cocktail hour or other event as a way to meet with multiple people at a time

  • Consider assets you may want to have and distribute: sales collateral like a one-pager, business cards with a URL to the landing page, an espresso machine to draw a crowd to your booth, etc.

  • Put a plan together for social media during the conference (leveraging hashtag). While some of this will need to be spontaneous, get it on your radar. Plan to post at least 4x a day and engage with other attendees!

  • Plan after-conference touchpoints

  • Create a lead ingestion plan for during and after the conference

2. During-conference Tactics

  • Leverage the # and be highly active on social, inviting folks to visit booth, attend happy hour, find out about new product, etc.

  • Launch geo-targeted ads

  • Write out a plan for everything you prepared for, including but not limited to:

    • Hosting the cocktail hour

    • Wearing matching t-shirts at certain times

    • Distributing assets

    • Promoting product

3. After-conference Tactics

  • Collect leads as soon as possible, and follow your lead ingestion plan

  • Launch some social expressing sentiment about the conference and possibly inviting further questions/relationship

  • Send an email (to everyone you met and collected names from) inviting additional relationship (CTA could be to sign up for/learn about a new product, get a demo, schedule a follow-up conversation, etc.)

  • Write a recap blog post (or series of posts) and share your learnings (here is an example from a conference we attended!)

  • Send a debrief email to database/mailing list with key learnings with CTA to learn about new product

  • Most importantly, assess ROI based on event goals!

With a plan in place, tracking ROI should be relatively easy. This makes whether to attend similar conferences—or the same one next year—a no-brainer. Additionally, once you’ve created your first conference campaign and campaign assets, replicating everything becomes that much easier! Which means, if you’re thorough, your next conference will almost certainly yield even better ROI.







 

Laurel Brunk