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The Insider’s Guide to Event Organizers: 10 Questions You Can’t Afford Not to Ask Yourself

A traditional component of business to business marketing strategy is utilizing conferencing and trade show solutions. Ever an increasingly competitive business, the conferencing and trade show industry has witnessed significant market shifts as demand from attendees, exhibitors, speakers and sponsors have changed with the business climate. Marketing budgets remain closely scrutinized as decision makers need to justify their investments to a higher standard than ever before, which means the pre‐qualification process for an event is more vital than ever.

At any given moment, no less than two dozen event organizers simultaneously compete for your business.  With this volume it’s not uncommon to find yourself unable to fully vet each and every event opportunity that comes your way, and in return, it’s possible that valuable opportunities are being overlooked while poor opportunities may inadvertently be selected.

Evaluating an event opportunity starts with asking the right questions.  There are ten essential questions that every event purchaser should ask every conference or trade show organizer when reviewing an opportunity to participate at any level.   Each of these questions acts as a guidepost in effective qualification.   Naturally, the list of questions you might want to ask doesn’t end at ten; but these ten will help you narrow your event search and potential involvement.  Once you have these answers, any good event account manager should be able to guide you through your additional questions clearly and concisely discussing the marketing capabilities, overall event strategy, and brand development opportunities that may be available to you. 

 1.  How many total attendees do your events average?

This question will help you evaluate the size of the event so you can determine if the opportunity presented is for support of a conference or trade show. Due to the cyclical nature of live events, attendance does vary so it’s important that you ask what the high/low range of attendance has been so you can better assess the risk of an underperforming event.

 2.  How many events do you produce a year?

This question will give you a good sense of the event organizer’s market penetration. The fewer events produced per year generally indicates that the organizer does not consider conferencing a major part of their business. For some purchasers this may not make a difference in their buying strategies but for others, there is a high degree of comfort knowing you are investing in a business whose primary business function is the delivery of the service you’ve procured.

3.  How many of your total attendees are feepaying delegates?

Quite often, event organizers lump all participants as “attendees” – this can include speakers, sponsors, exhibitors, guests, exhibit floor walkers and press. Paying delegates are the highest value prospects because they are investing money in the information presented at an event. Consequently, the greater number of paying attendees will lead to a greater quality of a pre-qualified audience for your needs – even at the sacrifice of quantity – and provide your organization with a better chance of meeting the right decision makers. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is never more apparent than here.

4.  When can you show me a list of attendees?

An event organizer should be able to show you a list of attending companies no less than two days prior to an event in order to substantiate the quality of the attendees. In some cases, and with certain levels of sponsorship, you may have the opportunity to receive an update on registered attendees several weeks prior to the event. The bottom line is that two days prior to a conference, any organizer that doesn’t release some information on the confirmed attendees may not have confidence in their event thus placing your investment in jeopardy.

5.  Does this list include speakers, guests, sponsors, etc.?

Similar to any purchase of significant value, it is important to carefully review what it is you will be investing your dollars in. A sample attendee list, even one from a related event is a great way to get a feel for the expected audience. As the event nears and you receive an attendee list, be sure to find out whom exactly is included. While speakers, guests and even other sponsors can represent strong business development opportunities for your organization, it is important to know where the attendees are coming from so you can plan accordingly, manage internal expectations and have better metrics for measuring your return on investment.

6.  Would you let me speak to a former speaker or attendee?

Similar to a “word of mouth” campaign, a great way to pre‐qualify a conference organizer is to speak with a former or current speaker, attendee or sponsor. This will provide your organization with an opportunity to get a first‐hand account of the event; and the organization you’re about to allocate marketing budget to.

7. How would you define your organization’s reputation?

It is important to determine how an organization defines its reputation. It is especially important to see if their self‐definition matches the definition offered by previous attendees, sponsors & speakers. An organizer should know how it is perceived in the marketplace, for better or for worse and be able to convey this to any potential client honestly and transparently.

8. What is your competitive advantage?

Similar to reputation, a company’s competitive advantage will help an event purchaser clearly define what they can expect from the organizer. This answer will also provide a purchaser with a benchmark for evaluation after the event concludes. For example, if an event organizer is known for attracting press, you will be able to judge your return on investment based on how much press your organization received.

9. How can you help my company with your go to market strategy?

As an event purchaser, it is important to challenge the organizer to provide a comprehensive solution to your business objectives as opposed to having them simply provide a “one size fits all” product. We live in agile times and most solution providers should provide custom solutions tailored to meet your specific needs. The exception to this rule is if you are working with a trade show organizer because the volume of sponsors and exhibitors sometimes prohibit high degrees of customization.

10. Can you explain your process of program development and speaker recruitment?

Program development and speaker recruitment are to an event organizer what research and development is to a pharmaceutical company. The process is as important as the product. Through greater understanding of where content is derived and speakers are recruited from, an event purchaser is provided the opportunity to evaluate the product in its entirety. With greater content and speakers comes a higher quality of attendee. Understand the source of the content and speakers and an event purchaser will be able to better judge the chances of meeting the right audience.

The questions provided above are intended to serve as guidelines for those evaluating event sponsorship and exhibition opportunities. The answers you receive are contingent upon a number of factors including the type of event, the product intelligence of the sales executive and the corporate culture of the organizer. As with the nature of live events, the ability to accurately predict a successful event experience is more art than science however; armed with these ten basic questions, you will be given every possible advantage in making the best decision for your company. 

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About this Author

Head of Sales, U.S.

Ms. Tyler has been with American Conference Institute (ACI) since May 2005. Her responsibilities include managing the U.S. sales team, forging strategic alliances and identifying emerging growth sectors and topics.   

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