Planning a convention, trade show or meeting doesn’t have to be painful. In this edition of Alberta Venture’s Meeting and Convention Planning Guide, we pull back the curtain and divulge some industry secrets to ease your worries
It takes a lot of work to get people to show up to an event, and even more to impress them once they arrive. But while events compete not only with other events but with a smorgasbord of at-home entertainment, there’s still one thing event planners can count on: potential attendees care about their businesses. Most entrepreneurs will pass on the opportunity to stay home and watch Netflix for a good networking event. No craftsman will miss the industry trade show whose waiting list he’s been on for three years. The Internet has made the comfort of our homes more appealing to us than ever, but entrepreneurs and businesspeople alike still yearn to get outside.
In fact, trade shows and conventions have followed in some of the Internet’s footsteps. Where companies could once appeal to the vaunted mass market, now they hunt for niches, hoping to be the kings of hyper-specific castles. (If you want to produce mayonnaise, good luck competing with Hellmann’s. Artisanal, locally sourced, dairy-free mayonnaise, however…)
Conventions and trade shows have followed suit: The goal isn’t to put on an event that most people might attend – it’s to host a bash that everyone in the know can’t afford to skip. So, just as digital marketing curates advertisements based on the minutiae of your online life, when it comes to event planning, knowing one’s audience has to be top priority. You might not have the resources Facebook does, but you can still figure out what your audience likes. Actually, you have to.
Pam McCarthy, the owner of Calgary’s Five Star Events, echoes another Internet truism: Content is king. “You have to give people a reason to attend,” she says. “‘If you build it they will come’ doesn’t work in industry trade shows.” In the wedding industry, for example, all the heavy hitters attend the biggest trade shows, which are notoriously difficult to get into. Some businesses will sit on the waiting list for years; many can’t afford them at all. So some go rogue and make their own trade shows, filling up the vendor booths with everyone who couldn’t make it into the main convention. But what’s the value to the customer? “They’re more concerned with selling value to vendors than to ticket holders,” McCarthy says.
Here are some trade tips to help you do the latter, looking at everything from cost-cutting to value-adding. Event planning is never easy, but we can help make it easier. So, without further adieu, let’s get to the main event.