16 July 2013 By Northern Lights
“We send out so many invitations – but the right people never attend events.”
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, this seems to be one of the biggest challenges for marketing teams. I have now heard this comment dozens of times just this year: Dubai and UK; universities, corporates, charities and public sector. Whether it’s corporate hospitality days, guest lectures, a major conference or a charity fundraiser, it can be hard to get the ‘right’ people to turn up.
Because we are known for being able to get senior people to events, too often we are asked ‘could you send this invitation to your contacts?’ Well no, sorry. Not just like that. Our networks are pure gold – and getting people to attend events is the result of years of nurturing and never abusing.
So how do you build a trusted network of decision makers – and how do you then get them to come to your events?
Here we share our secrets.
1. What’s in it for them?
Too many events are all about the organisers/hosts – not the guests.
The quickest way to ensure failure is to design an event around the messages that you want to put out and then send out hundreds of blanket email invitations.
Instead, start with the audience who you want to attend. What are their current issues and problems? Why would they want to turn out?
Here are some ideas as to what might tempt directors to attend events
Of course there are some events that just hit the button for that person
Not much about you in here is there?! And that’s the reality. Senior people are busy, diaries are full. So find that hook which will put your event at the top of ‘must attends’ for the year.
But even with ‘must go to’ events, you still need to know the individual – it IS their lifetime dream – and to do all the additional things below.
Looking at the above list, there may well be a different hook for each guest. Identify what that is and then mention it in your invitation.
Yes, we personalise every invitation when asking senior people to events. I can often personalise 100 email invitations. We think through what the invitee wants and then explain why we think they should attend. So an invitation might go
– ‘Hi, how is that deal going’ or ‘Congratulations on your results last year, saw it in the paper last week. Really great achievement’. This way you start off with a personal touch and real engagement
– Then go into – ‘I am inviting you to an event that I think will be right up your street. I know you have been targeting the private care market and we are inviting a number of care home owners who could be useful contacts’.
The truth is, an event itself is often only of secondary importance! It is just a route to another goal for those attending.
If you don’t have senior contacts yourself, link up with someone who does. If you are paying a guest speaker, perhaps they could invite ten gold contacts of theirs as part of the package?
Or link up with an organisation who would like to meet your contacts and in turn introduce you to theirs. All of this is about the win:win for everyone.
4. Every detail counts
Most people get to the top of their game by hard work, putting in 10% more than their peers. Nothing is too much hard work – and a theme of the senior people we know is that they have an extraordinary eye for detail (that doesn’t mean they do all the detail themselves, but they know the detail they want!)
Typos and spelling mistakes really matter. An invitation to ‘Mr Jane Brown’ can lose you a guest before you have started.
And you need to put your head in your guest’s head. If you were racing to an event from a busy day, what would help you to get there on time and enjoy the event?
– Clear timings – when it starts and finishes, what will happen in between
– Where it is – don’t assume any knowledge. Include postcodes for sat nav, map and directions, parking details, public transport. And if you know taxis never know your building, tell them what to say to the taxi
– Send out a guest list in advance, highlight who they might want to meet and how you will facilitate that on the evening eg ‘I have sat you next to John Smith and Eleanor Gatsby – hopefully that will help get your discussions going!’
5. Be ruthless with timings
The CBI regularly holds private dinners for chief executives. They start at 6pm for 6.30pm and finish at 9.30pm. People often drive an hour or two to attend – but they know everything will go exactly to schedule and they can get back home when they plan to.
Make sure someone is in charge of timings – and sticks to them.
6. Give guests a role
There is nothing more engaging than to feel we’ve made a contribution; that our experience has value.
It works really well if you can find a way to consult or draw on guests’ experiences – they feel it was worth turning up; it adds value to your event
7. Events are part of your networking strategy and skills
It is a constant surprise that so many organisations go out to people just when they ‘need’ them. In essence they end up targeting them over and over again – for different events etc – rather than building long term relationships as part of their strategy.
Allocate the relationships to specific people within your organisation – this is very personal. Databases and CRM only help manage information; relationships are personal and built by individuals.
A good networker will build the relationship by
– Constantly thinking what could help that individual – an introduction; a newspaper article with useful information; an idea for their business
– Staying in touch beyond the basic business. If you know they are negotiating a merger and are stressed, an odd call or quick email to be supportive. A hand written note to say well done on a business success
– Pay back. If you are asked to help with an introduction or even sponsoring a skydive, go out of your way to help and deliver support when needed. If they blog or tweet, follow them and leave comments sometimes
8. You can only fail once
As a relationship builds, so trust develops. People come to trust your judgement. If you invite them to an event they trust that it will be good quality, that it will deliver the promise, they will be networking with peers or really interesting people.
But everyone messes up once in a while. Occasionally you may invite someone to an event that bombs. Over a period of time, you can be forgiven once but it will take time to rebuild that trust. Apologise and acknowledge the event was not what you thought or why it didn’t work for them – recognise what their view will have been.
You can only fail once, hence why we won’t put our reputation at risk by inviting people to the wrong events for them or an event we don’t trust.
9. Invest time in the planning and inviting – not the chasing later
Designing a really good event that will engage, and then personalising invitations, takes time. This can seem daunting to those organising an event. Yet when you look at the overall time investment, it is surely better to invest time upfront so that you get the people you want accepting straight away – and attending. Rather than spending a day ringing people at the last minute to chase replies or not getting the people you really wanted at your event.
Spend time in the right place – upfront. Make an effort to tailor, tailor, tailor. That is how you will get the people you want. And maybe rethink targets. If you only wanted 6 decision-makers to attend – should you be doing an event for 300 people?
10. Thank you counts for everything
If someone has taken time to turn up and support your event, thank them. This is the start of the next stage of your relationship. Stay in touch when you don’t ‘need them’.
So those are our secrets. Does this approach sound complicated – do you get just as much success with volume invitations – and what are your secrets to that working?!
What a generous blog, stuffed full of top tips. You’ve covered everything – I’d emphasise these:
1 be very clear about the objectives for the event. Ensure your team knows these & don’t deviate. Ideally then no one will be surprised
2 Guests and/or participants do indeed love having a role, especially if surprisingly shy or in unfamiliar territory.
3 Always follow through – not only with the essential thanks but a quick (blame-free) “what went well, what did we learn, what can we do better?”