By Dallas Ziebell, firstname.lastname@example.org
Marketing Manager, Lessiter Media
This January in St. Louis marked the silver anniversary of Lessiter Media’s National No-Tillage Conference — an educational event for farmers practicing conservational tillage practices that has drawn more than 19,000 in total attendance since 1993. Twenty five years of planning, marketing and executing this and several other annual conferences has produced many valuable lessons and ideas instrumental to the success of our anniversary conference. Here are 6 ideas that you can use in your own milestone event.
#1 Do It Yourself To Increase Your Bottom Line
Every additional dollar spent in one area generally needs to be stretched elsewhere. Adding special banners and signage for your event is hugely expensive when outsourced, but is as important to creating a visual branding experience as anything you’ll do. We found that by investing $5,000 in an Epson Stylus Pro 9890 large format printer and engaging our Art Department to design and print our signage in-house, we were able to tremendously improve the overall visual feel of the event and add far more signage, including two full-color 24x9 feet main stage backdrops, for about half the cost of outsourcing. If you do signage for even a few events or shows each year, your printer purchase will pay for itself in short order. And it can bring new creative opportunities, such as thank you gifts, office artwork, special displays for your retailers or even canvasses and wall art for your own employees.
#2 Start Early, Promote Often, And Don’t Overlook The Low-Hanging Fruit
With an anniversary event and greater budget comes the reasonable expectation that you will have a higher attendance goal, which means that you need to begin your promotional message right away and at every face-to-face encounter. For our paid attendance events, we’ve found that at least 50% of our attendees will return the subsequent year. A successful tactic is to capitalize on the excitement of your current event by offering a deeply discounted “super early bird” price for next year’s event on site. On-site registrations account for 10% or more of our registrations. You want to personally harness the excitement and energy and make it a no-brainer for these “birds in hand” to get on board NOW for your next event. You’ll find this to be a great way to protect your dates and nudge the undecided off of the fence.
#3 Get Personal With Your Marketing Communications
While traditional methods can provide valuable conduits for reaching your target audience, they will feel PART of your event when communicated to in a personalized and meaningful way. That’s why for our 25th anniversary conference (and all of our conferences) we mailed a hand-addressed, wedding-style personal invitation to each of our most loyal customers with a VIP rate. “Hand address each invite?” Absolutely. We’ve tested it and found a 20% lift in response in our paid attendance with hand-addressed vs. labeled invites.
#4 Don’t Underestimate The Value Of Partnerships and Relationships
One way to dramatically improve the efficiency of your marketing efforts is to leverage your relationships. Are your trade association’s members interested in your anniversary event? Suppliers? Lenders? Seek out the leaders and get a conversation going. Offer them a special offer to participate — or better yet, provide them meeting space where they can host their own meetings that’ll draw even greater numbers and excitement to yours. You may also uncover other opportunities. For instance, through this kind of outreach, a county farm bureau promoted our 25th anniversary event to 1,600 of their members through editorial coverage in their quarterly newsletter.
#5 Use A Memory Lane Presentation
In every milestone, there have been numerous presentations or memories from earlier events that are highly relevant to today. For our 25th anniversary conference, we put one of the original presenters back at the podium to revisit his original talk and what he’s learned since. We also knew that 6 attendees never missed an event in 25 years, so we invited them onstage for an insightful and entertaining Q&A panel. Our Founder Frank Lessiter also prepared and delivered a banquet keynote where he covered the 25 Living Legends that ensured the next generation is aware of those whose shoulders they stand upon today.
#6 Think Outside Of The Box To Create A Special Experience
While creating a special anniversary logo and promoting your milestone event as a MUST-ATTEND may provide a little extra promotional ammunition, look deeper for ways to create a unique experience to mark the special occasion. To add an element of excitement to our 25th anniversary conference, we created a special “Walk Through No-Till History” museum-like exhibit that included photography, personal memories, historical timelines, early ad slicks and other content from our archives and printed it on our large format printer. We knew this would deliver a WOW factor, but we had to give thought on how to present the material in a truly special way. Through some creative thinking and evoking the spirit of the enterprising growers who advanced no-till farming by their own resourcefulness and imagination, we built 20 slatted wooden backdrops and frames to display our history exhibit banners. These display boards were arranged in a separate room (44x22 feet) within the Hilton where attendees felt an intimate museum-like experience, and became the centerpieces of a high-quality, well-presented exhibit that was dreamt, curated and built completely in-house at Lessiter Media for a material investment of just $3,000 — a fraction of the cost of outsourcing.
Clean plates don’t lie, so most telling was that at the conclusion of the event every single one of the 100 banners were grabbed up by attendees who wanted to hang a piece of history in their own business, buildings, offices and homes.
Video below: Jeff Lazewski, Manager of Creative and Design Services for Lessiter Media, demonstrates how to assemble a display board for the “Walk Through No-Till History” exhibit.
Pictured below: Epson Stylus Pro 9890 large format printer used to print exhibit banners, conference signage and main stage backdrops.
Pictured below: National No-Tillage Conference attendees take in the “Walk Through No-Till History” exhibit.
Video below: Frank Lessiter, Founder of Lessiter Media, gives a tour of the “Walk Through No-Till History” exhibit.
Six long-time National No-Tillage Conference attendees participate in a Q&A panel, “Reflecting on 25 Years of No-Till Learning.”