Association meeting planners face many of the same tests as other event coordinators in a rebounding economy, with one major additional challenge: They must attract members who aren’t necessarily required to attend the group’s annual conference and other functions.

Because of this key difference and the challenging financial landscape, it’s now more important than ever to showcase the value an upcoming meeting can provide attendees, well before it even takes place.

Thankfully, association planners have some useful marketing tools on their side—in the form of new database technology and social media. These generally cost-effective tools, combined with more traditional methods, can go a long way in expressing the importance of attending a face-to-face event.

Here is a breakdown of some key attendance-driving factors, with input from association professionals Allison Fitch-Markham, marketing director for the conventions division of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), and Mary Mackay, marketing director for the American Library Association (ALA).

Marketing
The successful marketing of any association meeting comes down to one key factor; explaining the benefit to the attendee of spending the time and money to attend an event–while leaving other important work-related duties behind.

“One big challenge is just stressing the value of face-to-face meetings, particularly in an online-driven generation,” Fitch-Markham says. “We often use data to back up the value of our events.”

During the past five years since the NAR started tracking data, it discovered regular event attendees reported making double the amount of income from real estate when compared to non-attending members of the association. Fitch-Markham also notes that her group actively mines and searches for other information on its members to help with promotion efforts.

“We’re fortunate in that we’re a membership association, so we have a lot of data on our members,” she says. “That sounds kind of creepy, but just by using their membership I.D. number we can mine the database to look for patterns to use in our marketing promotions.”

Sure, data mining sounds great in theory, but what if your group doesn’t have all of the resources of a huge organization like the NAR?

The American Library Association (ALA) is familiar with budget cuts among its members, as many libraries are government-funded and often compete with other digital providers of information for business.

“Budgets are obviously an issue, and many of our members either subsidize or pay for attendance out of their own pockets,” Mary Mackay says. “We are working to help show members why they’ll be more useful to their institution after attending a conference and offer materials on our website to help them put together a strong case for it. Those materials include a budget spreadsheet and feedback from attendees of previous conferences.”