Marketing Your Next Conference: What to do and What Not to do?

April 13, 2015 Updated: April 23, 2016

Hosting a successful conference or convention is one of the best and most profitable ways to cement your place in your field. It’s also a great way to make connections, sell merchandise and broaden your audience. ..if you can make it successful. 

So How do you do that?

There are a lot of things that go into the running of a successful event: making sure that you have enough space for vendors, setting up an interesting educational track, having a great entertainment track and related off-site events, even making sure that your venue has strong enough Wi-Fi to accommodate an influx of users and that there are enough outlets around for people to charge their devices. Before you can think about the smaller details, like what your badges will look like, you have to start marketing your event.

Why Does Marketing Come First?

You should start marketing your event as soon as you know that it will be a real thing. A simple “coming soon” announcement is a great way to start building buzz for the convention you’re setting up. It’s important to create buzz as early as possible so that you can generate interest–not just among people who might want to attend, but vendors who might want to table and speakers who might want to present. It’s really hard to get people to buy space or agree to appear at an event that nobody knows about or has ever heard of before. If you can show people that you can build excitement even without a few  basic details, you’ll have a much easier time attracting the crowds you want to attract later on.

Book Great Guests

There are some speakers and guests who will not take a chance on first year (or even second year) events. Others won’t care how new you are as long as you can pony up their speaking fee. As soon as you know that your event is going to be a real thing, start contacting speakers (or their agents) and getting them lined up for your conference.

Great and popular speakers typically have huge audiences and, often, vocal followers. Once that audience knows that your event has booked a favored talent, they will start talking about the booking. They’ll talk among themselves. You can count on the local members of that audience to start talking to you about when passes go on sale, what those passes will cost, etc.

Allow Independent Input

One of the things that most successful conferences have in common is that they allow the “indie guys” to submit panel ideas and to run booths or tables in their vendor halls. These “indie guys” (it should be noted that there are indie “gals” too) are trying to build their own followings and expand their audiences and raise their sales–just like you! You can be sure that any indie person that you allow to table or present at your event will work like crazy to market the appearance to his or her following.

Sneak Peeks are Powerful Peeks

Setting up your website and posting updates as you make them is a great way to get people involved in the process. A website is also a place to sell ads and sponsorships to help make funding the event easier on your budget.

In addition to your website, getting your event’s app in place early on is also important. More and more conferences and conventions are using event apps for program notes, initiating real time feedback loops, facilitating real time communication between organizers, attendees, vendors and speakers. By setting up your app (or partnering with a company that specializes in them) and allowing people to download it early, you increase their desire to actually attend the event to see how it shapes up in real space. Plus, the app is another space in which sponsors can buy ad and promotional space for themselves!

The point is: when you are organizing an event, you have to do some marketing on your own to begin building buzz. Once you’ve got a buzz-foundation, though, you can count on your speakers and attendees to carry the bulk of the marketing work for you.