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Marketing Your Association Event Beyond Your Membership Base

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When marketing an association event, the primary audience is the association’s membership. This makes sense as they make up the majority of the attendees and represent the group that the event was developed for. There may be, however, several other groups interested in the event. It is important to determine who these groups are and how they can be reached to in order to increase event attendance.

Who are the Potential Attendees?

Depending on the industry, determining who to market to outside of the association’s membership may take some research, but there are some main areas that can be considered.

  • Allied groups – these are individuals who belong to other associations or professional organizations within the same industry or one that is similar. Allied groups will likely have a comparable education and training program and will specialize in a related field. These groups can be identified by looking at the educational background of an association’s membership and what other professions could have been pursued with that same background. You can also look within your association’s membership base and see if any are dually certified with a similar profession.
  • Competing events – whether it is a direct competitor or simply an event with similar educational content, take a look at who that event is marketing to. New groups may be identified based on that event’s delegate listing and/or targeted attendees.
  • Speaker connections – often times, association event managers will contract professional speakers who have a background different to that of their membership. Speakers may be able to help identify a new target audience as they have likely presented to a range of professionals themselves.

How to Market to Non-Members

Now that target groups have been identified, you will need to determine the best way to reach these individuals. There are both free and costly ways to market to new target groups, so you will have to decide what works best within the association’s event budget.

Free Marketing:

  • Allied group connections – it is possible that your association has already established a relationship with an allied group and their executive. Capitalize on these relationships and ask if they would consider promoting your association event through member communication, whether it be an e-newsletter or targeted email. You could offer the same promotion in return so that the exchange is mutually beneficial.
  • Speaker networks – ask the speakers to share the event information with their personal networks. These groups may not be familiar with your event or association but are familiar with the speaker so it may help form new connections.
  • Social media – request that all confirmed speakers, sponsors and exhibitors of your association event promote it through their own social media platforms. This promotion should not just be done onsite, but leading up to the event as well to drive traffic.

Paid Marketing:

  • Accredited event – in some association events, they can be accredited by the certifying body to that membership group. Allied certifying bodies can be approached to accredit the event using their own learning standards. There is generally a fee attached to the accreditation review and then perhaps an additional fee to have the accredited event displayed in their association’s membership database and/or events calendar.
  • Sponsored email to allied groups – whether the association event has been accredited by an allied group or not, targeted marketing of the event can be distributed to their membership group by means of a sponsored email. This is generally more extensive than what you may get for free from allied group connections and includes more text and graphics. A fair price point would be around $1,000 for this service depending on the size of the membership.
  • Advertisement or sponsorship – likely the most expensive option to market outside of your own association’s membership would be paid advertisement or sponsorship of an outside event or publication. This can range from and in a conference program to a sponsored social night at an allied group’s annual conference. Regardless, it is helping to expose your association and its event to a large number of people at one time in a very visible way.

Is It Worth It?

Once you have determined who your target audience is outside of your association’s membership and the most effective way to reach them, you will have to analyze whether or not it is actually worth pursuing. With free marketing options, the answer is likely yes, however paid marketing opportunities should be analyzed further. If the marketing efforts do not convert into new registrations then it is hard to justify the expense. The marketing expense should at least break even due to new event registrations but ideally will result in a profit.

Continue to focus on catering to your association members when developing events but consider marketing outside of the membership base in order to grow the event’s reach and overall size.

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