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How NOT to get prospects

(plus 5 ways to actually attract people)

So your in-person event is back on. Great! Now you need attendees. Here’s a list of proven failures that will most definitely NOT attract prospects. Take these tactics off your to-do list. Then implement a few of the surefire strategies listed below to build a high-quality prospect pool and get more people in the door.

FAILURE #1

Have no value proposition or differentiator

If you’re looking to deter prospects or get ignored altogether, having no value proposition is a great start. Afterall, professionals in your space have lots of events to choose from, so they can just choose a different one. Alternately, they might be satisfied with LinkedIn or Google.

FAILURE #2

Send a drip campaign with 5+ emails

Don’t stick with a “spray and pray” e-blast approach. Sending multiple impersonal emails is a proven tactic to take potentially interested people and chase them away.

FAILURE #3

Hire a famous keynote speaker who is irrelevant to your industry

Your association promotes itself as the best place to find industry-specific resources. Don’t hire a big name celebrity as your keynote speaker who knows absolutely nothing about your industry.

FAILURE #4

Use overly complex language nobody can understand

Long paragraphs, long sentences, and long words take lots of time and brain power to decipher. If nobody can understand you, they surely won’t know why or how to register for your event.

FAILURE #5

Create busy visuals nobody can decipher

Your event branding and logo shouldn’t be difficult to read. Using a plethora of colors and fonts adds to the clutter and is guaranteed to turn people away.

FAILURE #6

Use a generic event name that is meaningless to anyone outside your association

Don’t be afraid to use your association’s acronym as your event name. Afterall, if prospects have never heDon’t use your association’s acronym as your event name. Afterall, if prospects have never heard of you before, they won’t be compelled to attend XYZ’s Annual Conference.

FAILURE #7

Wait until the last minute to create your event website

Your event’s website is a central hub that lets people get to know your association, see how they’ll Your event’s website is a central hub that lets people get to know your association, see how they’ll benefit from your event, and actually register. If you leave off the value proposition, agenda, and registration links until a few weeks before your conference you won’t reach attendance goals.

FAILURE #8

Be so exclusive nobody thinks they are allowed to come

Don’t hide the fact that your event is open to the public, including people who are not members of your association. When people don’t feel welcome, they will definitely not investigate further.


5 Ways to Actually Attract Prospects

Aside from doing the opposite of the failures mentioned above, here are five ways to up your event game and attract more prospects.

SUCCESS #1

Tell your story

Your prospect might have no idea who you are or why they should care. You have to convince them to care. You can’t do that with a few dozen impersonal emails. Tell your story quickly and make it easy to take action on it.

SUCCESS #2

Craft a unique value proposition

If you can’t articulate in just a few words why someone should attend your event, you need a new value proposition. Focus on benefits and differentiators. In one sentence, explain why you are worth someone’s money and time away from the office.

SUCCESS #3

Speak like a human

Messaging should be authentic and value based. Write everything at a 7th or 8th Grade level for easy comprehension. Be friendly and inviting. Make sure everything makes sense to someone who has never heard of your association before. 

SUCCESS #4

Be relevant

Take time to curate a truly relevant experience that addresses your audience’s current pain points. Conduct surveys and focus groups. Choose a keynote speaker who knows your industry inside and out.

SUCCESS #5

Keep it simple!

When it comes to your messaging, visuals, agenda, or anything else related to your event, go with the simplest choice. Cut the clutter. Stay on point. Promise select takeaways that matter to the segment of prospect you’re going after.

A good default strategy for event-related prospecting is to think like a prospect. Take some time to consider the types of messages and offers you prefer to receive from other businesses and organizations. Stick with those and leave the rest of the noise behind.

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The age of the hybrid event is here. As associations contemplate returning to in-person gatherings, the advantages of virtual—including serious time and money savings for your members—can’t be ignored. To engage the largest audience in the most personalized way possible, a hybrid event that combines in-person offerings with virtual ones is the way to go.

The hybrid model comes with some challenges, of course, including logistics, technology, engagement, and more. But the juice is worth the squeeze. Following a few best practices will help you navigate this new frontier to maximize the benefits and engage your base for years to come.

What is a hybrid event?

A hybrid event is any in-person event that has some online component. This could include a livestream of the in-person sessions, on-demand content, a gamification component, a remote keynote speaker, a Q&A with both in-person and online audiences, or any number of other possibilities.

There are no rules here and no audience expectations because everything is new. For example, you might discover that your event becomes 80% virtual and only 20% in-person based on your audience preferences.

What are the advantages of a hybrid event?

If your association is like most, you’re eager to replace lost event revenue from 2020 and fuel future growth by retuning to a full-fledged in-person conference and expo. Plenty of your members are chomping at the bit to get out of their homes/offices and connect in person once gain.

However, budget cuts and lingering fears related to COVID-19 mean people won’t be returning to your event in droves just yet. In-person attendance will likely be low for years to come. A virtual event offers an opportunity to serve your base with high-quality content from afar.

A hybrid event is the best of both worlds. It’s a chance to regain the magic of an in-person experience while engaging people virtually—and generating revenue on both fronts. Chances are you invested in virtual event infrastructure in 2020, so the potential for hybrid is already there.

What are some best practices for hybrid events?

1. Simplify your offerings based on your association’s differentiators.

It’s easy for your event to become a three-ring circus of sessions, certifications, whiz bang technology platforms, cocktail hours, rock bands, and more. Some of this was a risk before the pandemic. Now more than ever, your event (and all your association’s offerings) should focus on what you do best. What sets you apart from competitors? What is the highest-value service you provide for your members? What do you offer that people can’t find anywhere else? Highlight these differentiators in your event marketing as well.

2. Understand your audience.

The answers to a few key questions about your members and prospects will guide the decisions you make about your hybrid event—including the size of your venue, registration price, engagement strategies, and the percentage of your event that goes online.

  • Are your members and prospects ready and willing to travel again? 
  • What is the No. 1 reason people attend your event?
  • Why might people NOT attend?
  • Do people place a higher value on your networking or your content?
  • Are people looking for certifications? Can these be delivered online?
  • How important is a hands-on, face-to-face exhibit hall experience?
  • What is the ROI of in-person offerings compared to virtual ones?
  • What does your association offer that can only take place in person?

3. Choose your tech last.

There are hundreds of tech solutions that you could include in your hybrid event. Most of them aren’t actually necessary, and some of them add unneeded complexity and the potential for technical difficulties. After answering all the questions in No. 2 above, choose the tools that will best serve your base. For more insights on technology, have a look at New Tech Won’t Save Your Crappy Marketing.

4. Focus on value.

A big-name speaker fills seats but may not offer insights your audience needs to hear. A well-known entertainer may get rave reviews from attendees without generating enough ROI for your association. Focus on value first. Ask yourself: Does this help people solve their challenges? Does it enable goals? Does it present new possibilities? Does it foster meaningful connections? Is it purposeful? Does it align with our cause? Also consider whether it generates ROI for your association. 

Seize this Huge Opportunity

A hybrid event is a huge opportunity for your association to serve the needs of your members in a curated, personalized way while generating much-needed revenue. Amid today’s challenges, people are tackling more responsibilities than ever. Be part of the solution. Distill your event down to only the most powerful resources and deliver them in a way that honors people’s preferences. Cut everything else.

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If one of the main benefits of your association or your annual conference is “networking” you have a problem. LinkedIn was made for networking. Sure it’s not industry specific and it’s not as personal, but it is free. Nearly every industry is represented there, so there’s bound to be individuals from your sector who are eager to connect and collaborate. There’s probably a special interest group too.

If another big benefit of your association or event is “thought leadership,” guess what? LinkedIn is giving you a run for your money there as well. LinkedIn is loaded with great ideas, insights, strategies, tips and tricks that could apply to your members’ businesses. Again, this content might not be 100% tailored to your specific space, but it’s free and it’s somewhat helpful.

What Am I Paying For?

For both networking and thought leadership, your potential members can invest precisely $0 and get a huge return in the form of somewhat relevant contacts and information. By comparison, your membership dues and event registration fees will seem like a big investment. People will want to know: “What do I get in return for investing so much money?

Quite often, an association will answer this question by saying, “We’re focused exclusively on our sector! We’re unique and customized to our space!” Also quite often, that same association will host a conference featuring big-name experts from other industries. Suddenly your argument of “we’re unique and focused” doesn’t hold up.


People will want to know: “What do I get in return for investing so much money?”


Payton Manning Won’t Cut It Anymore

A celebrity keynote speaker like Payton Manning, Erin Brockovich, or Steve Wozniak draws a crowd. They leave audiences feeling inspired and uplifted and, quite often, entertained. People go back to the office bragging about how they saw an A-lister live in the flesh. They might even have a notepad full of motivational quotes and pithy one-liners to share with their team. They likely also have a mittful of business cards from networking sessions and cocktail receptions.

Prior to 2020, these might have been reasons enough to invest time, money, and travel into your annual event. But they just don’t hold up any more. When faced with health and safety considerations, serious budget constraints, and a dire workforce shortage, your members and prospects are forced to prioritize their time and money. They simply can’t justify expensive entertainment, generic insights, and networking opportunities that they could get elsewhere—for cheap or free. 

Look Back Five Years

Look back at your annual conference agendas for the last five years. How many keynote speakers were from other industries? How many sessions featured presenters from other sectors? If a lot of your content isn’t specific to your industry, you will need a stronger answer to the question “What am I paying for?” If your strongest benefit is networking, then we’re back on LinkedIn where we started.

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6 Ways to Help your Association Thrive

Part 5: Events and Programs

Part 5: Events and Programs

This is the fifth post in our series 6 Ways to Help Your Association Thrive. To get started, establish your cause, sketch out a marketing plan, find or create marketing assets, and build a list of high-quality prospects. Then you’re ready for Part 5: Engagement.

How to Drive Engagement with your Events and Programs

So your marketing efforts paid off and you have a list of high-quality prospects. Now what? How can you turn all that potential into actual outcomes for your association? You need to take deliberate steps to fuel engagement.

What is engagement and why do you need it?

Engagement is an emotional state that leads to a physical action. It’s when people care about your association so much that they feel compelled to attend your events and participate in your programs. But engagement is easier said than done. It’s a noisy world out there and people are busy and distracted. Your association must be so compelling and so valuable that people seek out your resources regardless of whatever else they’re dealing with.

As with prospecting, engagement doesn’t happen overnight. You must first build trust by nurturing your prospects over time with value-added content that solves their problems. An effective workflow might include a digital ad that leads to a landing page where visitors can download a piece of content. Once you capture an email address, you can follow up with an email drip campaign.

Start with free, ungated content

Giving away useful content is a powerful way to establish trust with your prospects. To drive event attendance, consider using one of these proven formats:

  • Behind-the-scenes video of your event setup
  • An interview with a past attendee
  • Case stories that show the ROI of your event
  • Photo collage of last year’s conference
  • FAQ sheet to address common inquiries
  • Article published by one of your speakers
  • Event ROI toolkit

Capture leads with gated content

Eventually you will need to capture an email address so you can follow up with a nurturing email drip campaign. Here too, you should lead with helpful content, not your event or programs. For example, you can offer a tip sheet with key takeaways from your event. At the end of the tip sheet, you can include a call to action. For example: Interested in gaining more insights like these? Attend our annual conference.


Don’t be a time suck

There is a perception across industries that trade associations take up too much time. People believe they must read lengthy content, volunteer for committees, travel, and invest time and money to get the most value from membership. And busy professionals, especially senior executives, just don’t have time for all that.

Because of this perceived burden, many will not even consider engaging with your organization. To combat this, you need to show that your association isn’t a time suck. In fact, you must prove that you can save people time through your resources, connections, events, and other opportunities.


Keep it short and sweet

The first step in saving people time is to keep your communications brief. Here are a few strategies to get you started:
  • Craft emails with two or three yes-or-no questions and a clear call to action button.
  • Create infographics with few words and lots of visuals.
  • Summarize report findings with concise bullet points.
  • Write whitepapers and articles with clear subheadings to help readers skim for key details.
  • Consider checklists and tip sheets instead of lengthier content.
  • Keep videos to 30 seconds or less.

Case Study: Plant tour promotion

Our client, the Manufacturing Leadership Council, offers exclusive plant tours as a member benefit. When traditional emails to promote the tours didn’t perform as well as expected, we switched our strategy. Instead of making a hard sell to sign up for a tour, we offered a useful download on how to improve company culture, which was one of the themes of an upcoming tour. The idea was that once the user downloaded the content, they would see firsthand the value of a plant tour and be inspired to sign up. As a result, the Council’s plant tour emails had the highest open and clickthrough rates of any campaign sent to members this year.


Ready to turn your prospect list into engaged event attendees and program participants? Download this free engagement workflow to get started. It will show you how to get attention, nurture your prospects, and generate actions using digital ads, landing pages, content, and emails.

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Part 4: Prospecting

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Part 3: Marketing Assets

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Part 2: The Plan

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