One year ago this week, I was still the Event Marketing Director at Orange, and we were hosting 8,000 of our closest family ministry friends for The Orange Conference 2016. People come from almost every state, about a dozen countries, and numerous denominations to attend this event each year. It's quite the undertaking, and though I worked on other events throughout the year, most of my time was spent on this 12-pound baby (really big, sometimes painful, but worth the labor).
If you aren't familiar with Orange, they create curriculum, resources, and events for church leaders and volunteers. They do a lot of really amazing things, and if I may say, they put on some great events!
As #OC17 starts today, I thought it would make a fantastic marketing case story for us to examine.
TWO SIDE NOTES
- If you'd like to watch the tonight's opening session on the live stream, visit Live.TheOrangeConference.com starting at 6:30 p.m. ET. This year's theme is "For Our Neighbors."
- I'm using the term "case story" because case studies are usually long, boring, and stuffed with stats. I wanted this to be a little less complicated and easy-going, so I'm utilizing that term, though I didn't create it. (I wish I had!)
The major goals for the event are measured in:
- Ticket sales, which include the current event and next year's pre-sales;
- Product sales, which includes books, physical products, digital resources, lifestyle items, etc;
- Social media metrics, which is tracked using a software;
- Attendee satisfaction, which is assessed both through social media, comments the staff receives, and a post-event survey;
- Next steps taken, which can include things such as lead cards filled out, emails given, downloads of the conference app, and things like that. Ideally, this is something you want attendees to do at your event to continue the engagement after it ends.
As you can imagine, an event of this size requires a lot of time and effort to promote. Here are the major ways we did that:
- Internal email list including curriculum partners, previous attendees, and some partner lists
- Mailing list which includes the same as above, plus a purchased list.
- Text system. We were able to send text messages throughout the year to those who opted to receive them.
- Social media, mostly consisting of blog posts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat
- Facebook ads
- Ads on internal sites
- A social media tool kit that our speakers, fans, and attendees could utilize to spread the word for us (which included both images and what to say)
- A signature line in staff emails
- Cross-promoting at other events, both Orange's and events where they had a booth
- Blogger network consisting of bloggers who were Orange fans, across the US
- Advertising on relevant blogs and websites
- Print ads (Yes, those still work too!)
- Press release
- Partner e-blasts
- Google Ads
Yes, there are a boat load of items mentioned above, especially for those of you who are the only employee, or running the show with a small team. But again, all of these things occurred over a year's time. And many of them happened on a regular basis. There wasn't just one ad or one blog post or one mailer.
The pricing for the event was broken into five major deadlines, including the pre-sales on-site at the current event. Prices, of course, increased as the event neared. This brought in early revenue and helped us plan. Additionally, these distinct time frames gave me windows of time in which to promote.
It's also very important to understand how your audience plans to spend their money. For example, we had two major deadlines to focus on: opening day and the February deadline. Opening day, of course, because we had the lowest prices and offered a bonus (early breakout registration) that was very desirable to our attendees. And everyone gets excited during an event launch. The February deadline was incredibly popular because many churches just had their budgets renewed with the calendar year, and we also offered curriculum credits, which enticed current and prospective curriculum partners. So, those two factors meant that I spent most of the marketing budget promoting those two deadlines.
- Every year, attendance for the event increased. We were very blessed in that way. When I started in fall 2010, there had been 4,300 attendees at the previous conference. And in 2016, there were about 7,400 at Orange Conference, and 500 at ReThink Leadership, a simultaneous event for senior pastors across the street. Those senior pastors came across the street for OC main sessions to spend time with their teams.
- With increased attendance, social media reach also increased each year, resulting in about 2 million impressions in 2016.
- Product and ticket sales also increased every year, but I am unable to share those numbers.
- I read through every OC survey that was filled our during my time there. I was, obviously, responsible and accountable for sales in the marketing department, but I really wanted to know what people thought about the event. Did we meet their expectations? How could we improve? What made a difference? Why did they come to our conference over another? Overall, the feedback was incredibly positive. This was our signature event, and we tried to do everything with excellence. Of course, there are always people who didn't enjoy the event or different aspects. That is to be expected. But the key is to have a good filter for yourself when receiving negative comments to decide if it is valid, or if it is out of alignment with the mission. Sometimes it's just based on personal preference.
No matter what size of an organization you're currently at, there are some lessons to be learned:
- I was my own department. But I certainly didn't do everything! Other people took care of the graphics, social media management, logistics, etc. Only myself and I think two others actually worked on the conference year-round, and I was the dedicated person for promoting it. It was an all hands on deck situation as the conference got closer, but when you are well organized, have good systems in place, and have others to support you, it's a testament for what you can accomplish! (It's not too late to spring clean!)
- To plan and execute a successful event you must have a marketing strategy in place. You can't just wing it. For much smaller events, you don't have to work as far in advance, but you still need to understand the ins and outs of how you're event will come together. Effective marketing also helps get people in the doors! The more the merrier, right?
- Outline your goals first and foremost.
- While I listed many tactics above, I'm certainly there are a few you can choose from to start implementing for your next event.
- You might be surprised to learn that our marketing budget didn't dramatically increase even though our attendance did. I was very used to working for small organizations with small budgets, so I utilized as many free avenues as possible. Additionally, we focused on getting people to bring larger teams to OC, rather than finding more churches to come. The latter is a much better way to concentrate your energies.
- If you're event is just getting started, you may not have previous feedback to work with. If that's the case, start by sending a survey to your email list and social media followers to gain insight. You can also try asking people you know who fit your ideal audience.
- Don't skip over the "next steps." You need to know what you want your attendees to do when they leave. You need to decide on how you want them to stay engaged with you after they walk out the doors. Waiting for emails about your event year after year isn't going to cut it.
- Adding "surprise" and "delight" to your marketing efforts is always encouraged. People attended The Orange Conference to learn about family ministry, understand the trends, get information on how to do their jobs better, and connect with others. But they LOVED anytime we were able to surprise and delight them! There is even an entire main session dedicated to fun at OC because the brain gets a little overloaded during all the learnin' that a conference brings. These concepts also help endear you to your attendees.
If you'd like to watch the tonight's opening session on the live stream, visit Live.TheOrangeConference.com starting at 6:30 p.m. ET. This year's theme is "For Our Neighbors."
I love events. I've been planning events since I was in junior high! I guess I was always destined to be a part of them in some way. I get so excited by attending conferences and events, and I enjoyed creating a great environment for others. I'd love to help you with your next event.
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.