Event Marketing in the Age of COVID-19: Tips for Association Management Companies

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By now, COVID-19 has touched almost everyone in some way. As an association management company, our team here at Innovatis Group felt the impact in a particularly unique way as we scrambled to postpone and eventually re-imagine the numerous in-person events planned for the many different communities we manage.

Our Senior Marketing Manager Hadleigh Tweedall recently appeared on The Response, a webinar series hosted by Feathr, to share how our team pivoted quickly to meet the shifting needs of community members during a time of great uncertainty.  

As you consider ways to meet the needs of your own community through your marketing or event marketing efforts, we hope the lessons and strategies Hadleigh shared inspire you.

1. Communicate quickly

The best response you can have to any kind of crisis is to communicate to your people right away. It might feel premature, especially if you aren’t sure of the decision you’ll make, but even just a simple message that you’re discussing possible solutions goes a long way. Community members and other key stakeholders like sponsors want to know that you’re aware and planning, even if that plan isn’t finalized. Maintain that communication going forward as changes continue.

2. Be fluid and flexible

Unprecedented times call for teams to be fluid and flexible, often in more ways than anticipated. That’s okay! Since you already have great communication set up with your community, those changes won’t come as a surprise to them. 

Sometimes being fluid and flexible even means shifting team responsibilities. For example, when we transitioned all of our in-person events to virtual, our in-person events team temporarily merged with the virtual events team to work hand-in-hand, share expertise, and plan effectively for taking on an additional 30+ events virtual.

3.  Explore new tools

As the needs of your community shift, so too should the tools. Use this as an opportunity to go beyond your usual vendors and look for other cutting-edge companies who are quickly developing or upgrading their tools to be able to meet the need of the moment. 

In just virtual events alone, you have options beyond Zoom and Google Meet. Spend some time looking into options that equip you to better mirror the in-person experience in the virtual landscape with chat features, gamification, and more. Pay attention to all of the available features that might enable you to create a custom experience that stands apart from what other companies are offering.

4.  Expand your reach

Being confined to our homes has certainly created some restrictions, but it’s also created new opportunities to reach audience segments that have been unreachable before. For example, an event you planned to host in the Northeast region can now be nationwide with invitations for people to take a virtual business trip to your event.

You can even expand your reach when it comes to speakers and sponsors. Were there people who said no to an opportunity because they couldn’t travel to 10 cities in one month? Now they might be able to make several, if not all, of those events in the virtual landscape. As your attendee pool and speaker lineup continue to expand, your sponsor dollars will also increase, enabling you to continue building a more customized and personalized attendee experience.

5. Segment your message

With your reach expanded, you also need to get smarter with your messaging. You have an opportunity to quickly and easily convert new demographics in your expanded audience by segmenting all of your communications—emails, blog posts, and social media posts—so that everything is customized to potential attendees from specific regional areas, topical interests, and more. Why would someone from California want to attend a virtual event that was originally planned for the Northeast region? What about someone who is only interested in one breakout session of your entire event? 

As an example, after we expanded our reach for the VMUG UserCon regional events, we segmented our communications to the point of sending five or six versions of a single email. This ensured that something as simple as a keynote speaker announcement resonated with every segment of our expanded audience. To produce that amount of content, we tapped back into the flexibility of our team (outlined in #2) to shift responsibilities and meet deadlines.

6. Go the extra mile

Being able to respond well to a crisis is what your community expects of you. Do it well, and they’ll be satisfied. Go the extra mile, and they’ll be delighted. So, don’t be afraid to invest in your community beyond just checking the boxes.

What does your community need right now, specific to the moment they’re in, that you might not have planned for this year (or ever!)? What can you create or offer to show members that you really care about their needs and success during the COVID-19 pandemic? For us, that looked like putting some extra dollars into our communities by offering things like professional development content and creating a virtual job board. These were brand new offerings that didn’t necessarily fall in line with the goal of our communities, but they showed that we were aware of the current environment and cared enough to provide a solution.

7. Listen, listen, listen

Last, but very, very far from least is to listen. Every lesson mentioned above can only be successful if it’s informed by your community. It might be tempting in times like these to cater your offerings and events to what sponsors or advertisers want, but the success of your community all comes down to member happiness. This is a lesson all of us in the association management company world know well and it hasn’t changed in the time of COVID-19—listen to the community and then respond accordingly. 

For example, by listening to our communities, we learned of the new needs they were facing due to COVID-19—like professional development to help with job loss—which led to the launch of job boards, new podcasts, and additional video channels to provide content and resources specific to those needs they had shared with us. Your own communities are likely experiencing the same thing—facing new needs as a result of COVID-19 disruptions—and you just might be able to play a role in helping to solve those needs. Listen, and then continue to make the member priority. 

None of us could have predicted the months-long transitions and changes that COVID-19 has brought. If you’ve been having trouble keeping up or knowing how to pivot your overall marketing or event marketing strategy, it’s not too late to try again. As you look ahead to the rest of 2020 and see signs of continued remote work and cancelled events, look also for the opportunity to make a difference in the midst of it all. Your communities are waiting to see how you’ll respond, and you have a unique chance to make a lasting positive impression by continuously improving the member experience. Your actions in the next few weeks and months can go a long way in showing your members just how much you value them and care about their success.