Marketing Automation Leads to Record Event Registration

May 23, 2016

Everyone loves a party. Getting together with friends, telling stories, catching up with people you haven’t seen in ages, good food, dancing and just having a good time. Organizing a great event can be incredibly rewarding, but ask anyone that has done it and they will tell you it can also be a trying process. No matter how much time you spend on all of the little details, one of the most stressful aspects of preparing for an event is securing attendees. After all, if no one comes, what are you going to do with all of that dip?

Planning for your organizations annual event is no different. The process starts months in advance and often times it is crucial to be able to estimate the number of attendees well in advance so that many of the event details can be finalized. That is exactly the challenge that the Human Resources Management Association (HRMA) faced as they prepared for their annual event that happens every springtime. After having success with their membership renewal campaigns, they decided this year to structure an automated campaign to facilitate early-bird registration. Having this campaign run in the background allowed their staff to focus on many of the other event details while still being able to monitor event registration. With the campaign running the week of the early bird deadline, more than 60% of the event’s registrations were processed.

I met with Erin Breden, Communications Specialist at HRMA to discuss their annual event and the success they have seen leveraging marketing automation technology.

Chris Scavo, Informz: Tell me more about your annual event and how early bird registration factors in.

Erin Breden, HRMA: Sure. Each Spring HRMA hosts its annual conference, which is a two day event for our members. The annual conference is a large source of non-dues revenue for our association. This, combined with many of the other planning details that need to be addressed early on such as catering, it is vital that we get as many registrations in by the early bird deadline as we can.

This year, it was more significant than ever because we were aware of other conferences not meeting target numbers and the current economic environment has impacted peoples’ spend on attending conferences. We thought it was important to ensure our members were adequately informed and reminded of registration before the deadline. We made the decision to do a blitz which included three emails sent over three days.

CS: When you say other conferences not meeting numbers, are you speaking to other HRMA events?

EB: Most of the Canadian provinces have a Human Resources Association, and with the exception of Ontario, they are all members of the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations. This allows us to have a very good network across the country for our conference manager to reference. Being able to talk with them helped us know what others were facing and aided in planning for our own event.

CS: What motivated you to move to an automated structure? Did your content philosophy change since you would be sending a series of emails dedicated to early bird registration?

EB: We had been using automated campaigns for our membership renewals and seeing success. One of the functionalities that we really liked about it is that you can set it up and let it run. It’s a really busy time, so we wanted to develop the campaign while we had the opportunity to think about it, plan it out and have it ready to go.

With the automated campaign we simplified the content and played off the fact that we were sending several emails. We intentionally kept the campaign simple with one email per day leading up to the early bird deadline. Since we knew the emails were back-to-back we were able to keep the content short and catchy.

CS: Sending one email per day is an unusual structure. Was this the cadence in years past?

EB: No, we definitely have not always done it this way. Previous years we would have the early bird announcement part of a newsletter, so it was part of several different messages leading up to the deadline. Then when we got to the deadline we would send out a last chance email.

We decided purposefully to try something a bit different and to give people a little bit more lead time that particular week. We typically see a spike in registration the week of early bird deadline, but we thought it would be something different to try to do 3 quick emails rather than just our regular email newsletter mention. This allowed us to highlight the conference a bit more from our other content and give people more notice since it started on the Wednesday prior to the deadline instead of just being the day of.

Recipients had been aware of the conference since December through our regular newsletter communications, but these three daily reminders served to spur action. We also didn’t see any negative fallout for the volume and time frame of emails.

CS: That is fascinating and I’m excited to see that this structure worked for you. How were the results of the campaign?

EB: Historically, we see approximately 70% of our annual conference registration come in prior to the early bird deadline. This year we were able to exceed that and set a new personal best, which was very exciting.

CS: Setting a new personal best is always a good thing! Did you have any challenges in moving to an automated campaign structure from the stand-alone philosophy of years past?

EB: No, it was very simple – especially after working through our membership renewal campaigns which are much more complex. I think the thing I have learned with any automated campaign is really just taking the extra second to plan it out helps in the long run. I think the visual component is really helpful in planning the communications.

CS: That is great advice. Do you have other campaigns that you are looking to build out now that this is behind you?

EB: Not at this time, but we have some ideas. We are very new to the automated campaign process and haven’t had time to sit down and think what we are going to use this tool for next. We are thinking we’d like to add an engagement campaign welcoming new members, or a re-engagement campaign but they are still very much in the planning stages.

CS: Those sound great, and I am excited to hear how they progress. Any other advice that you could give for others considering on making the shift over to automated campaigns?

EB: Don’t rush the planning stage. Even in a simple campaign, it’s important to understand each step and the overall approach. We have also found that the first touch point is essential in establishing a readership and have worked to keep content relevant and interesting.