How to Maximize Industry Conferences and Events in Support of Your Growth and Distribution Efforts

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Marketers for asset management firms are under continual pressure to increase efficiency of marketing spends and demonstrate ROI for every expense incurred. For those in the start-up and boutique end of the business, this pressure can be stifling. In our work with chief marketing officers, sales and distribution managers and others responsible for business growth at investment management firms, they constantly wrestle with how to capitalize on the opportunities that industry events present.

To help marketers process and plan for future conferences and industry events, here are a few lessons we’ve gleaned over the years from our own experience:

Know the audience. And we mean really know the audience. Before committing to any conference as an attendee, speaker, moderator of a panel or sponsor, you have to know who is going to be there. Conferences can be marketed one way but actually draw a slightly different crowd. Do your homework by checking last year’s hashtag for the event on Twitter and LinkedIn, while making note of who was engaged in the conversation and tapping your network for possible connections with firsthand experience. You can also look to previous sponsors and who they market to for intel on the type of crowd the event typically draws.  

After all, the audience is everything. In our observation, one of the reasons why Morningstar has chosen to wind down its fall ETF conference is because the advisor audience so crucial to those marketing investment products has overwhelmingly chosen their Invest conference held in the spring. It’s about creating a marketplace for ideas and business opportunity.

Focus your efforts. Scour the agenda before the conference and plan how your time will be spent. Make sure your team’s customized agenda features a combination of attending sessions, exhibit hall time and scheduled meetings. You can’t be everywhere at once, so decide what is going to put you in the path of the most meaningful contacts. With a plan and objectives in mind, you can make more informed decisions about what you should expect from the conference and therefore measure its effectiveness after the fact.

Think beyond the conference. While we would stress most conference participation should stem directly from the conference itself, don’t be close minded to the opportunities surrounding the conference. Sometimes (and forgive us in advance conference organizers and marketers) the price tags of even the lowest level sponsorships are overwhelming. As an alternative, there are other ways to leverage having the right audience in the same place at the same time. Think about going outside the four walls of the conference and pulling a promotional stunt along a common path between the conference hall and hotel. Our client Reality Shares did this using street chalk art. Hosting a more casual cocktail hour at a spot that’s unique to the region you are staying is another way to entice folks to stop by your event. Additionally, many conferences take place in major metros, which opens up a reason to reach out to local contacts and set up in-person meetings with non-conference goers.

At the end of each year marketers are tasked with presenting to their executive leaders or boards the conclusive results from the year’s promotion, sponsorship, public relations and advertising efforts. As you reflect on your participation at industry events and look to tabulate its ROI, take time to connect the dots – they can be more abstract than a direct lead from an e-mail blast or television appearance. From our standpoint, we can certainly say our conference presence has helped secure new business and form lasting partnerships with those in the industry who have been critical referral sources.