by Andrea Doyle | October 01, 2019

With the marketplace growing each day, Successful Meetings is always exploring strategies to set your events apart from the competition.

This isn't a new topic of discussion. In fact, as far back as June 2012, our print-issue cover stories have been analyzing the tactics to grow a meeting's impact. Then, and still today, some of those include: partnering with your attendees, maximizing face time (especially with advancements in AI, VR and other technology), capitalizing on celebrity tie-ins and embracing the infinite amount of evolving software platforms. There are more. 

Incorporate CSR Initiatives  

Some organizations believe that incorporating a strong corporate social responsibility (CSR) element into a meeting will attract attendees by making them feel more accomplished. For example, Associated Luxury Hotels International, a global sales organization for the meetings and incentive industry, recently incorporated a CSR element into their annual Insurance and Financial Leaders Exchange meeting. ALHI members, supporters and attendees built Charleston, S.C. (the event's host city) inspired clubhouses to motivate the lives of children facing difficult health challenges, providing them spaces to meet, network and learn

"Our goal was to challenge traditional thinking, give back and create open dialogue in a relaxed, comfortable setting," said ALHI executive vice president Ashly Balding. "Our company's values and mission that 'Experience is Everything' were definitely achieved throughout collective effort."

Even more, a recent America's Charities poll of nonprofit organization employers found that 86 percent of respondents said employees expect them to provide community engagement opportunities, 88 percent believe effective employee-engagement programs help attract and retain employees and 77 percent said employee-engagement opportunities are an important millennial recruitment strategy. Bottom line: CSR brings more meaning, value and camaraderie to events.

Create a Theme

The Burba Hotel Network (BHN), a company that produces major hotel investment conferences and operates under Northstar Travel Group, works very hard to come up with a theme or feeling they can use to market the event to potential delegates and sponsors. "We take into account the venue, economy and general sentiment of the previous year's delegates. We survey sponsors and previous attendees to see how they are feeling about the future, since we start planning for events about 10 months out," explains co-founder Bob Hayes.

For a previous Americas Lodging Investment Summit conference in Los Angeles, BHN used the Nokia Theatre numerous times for plenary sessions. This theater is next door to the Staples Center, home of the Lakers basketball team. "The general sentiment of the hotel investment community when planning started was that business was starting to regenerate. We came up with the theme 'Rebound!' and used basketball images for our marketing materials. We always think about what happens if the sentiment changes between the time we start and the beginning of the event. So the exclamation point in Rebound! could have easily been converted to a question mark if need be. We've had to use this technique a few times in the past."

When creating a theme, BHN says they stay true to at least one key business principle: accentuate the positive. "We are firm believers that there are positives in everything, even slow economies, and we do our best to promote the positives and opportunities. Idealistic, perhaps, but we consider ourselves thought leaders who focus on positive thoughts and we want our attendees to do the same. We don't ignore the negative, we just don't accentuate it," enthuses Hayes. 

Catch Attention With a Catchy Name 

Coming up with a pithy conference name can be a challenging but rewarding process. Speaking about events (in general), Dorothy Jones, principal consultant of Deneen & Company, said one of the biggest challenges that meeting planners face is that there are currently four different generations in the workforce. "The dynamics require planners to talk to these four, sprawling attendee groups in very different ways based on their preferences to uncover what will and will not work for the conference." The same can be said for the meeting name. What's clever and engaging for one audience group might be less so for another. When a catchy name works, though, it can add a lot of value. Some tactics include the following examples.

"We try to pick names for our events that lend themselves to acronyms that make sense. In our business, the names of our conferences get very cumbersome," says Hayes. "Take the Americas Lodging Investment Summit, the leading and largest hotel investment conference in the world. BHN chose this name because the acronym is ALIS, pronounced like the name, Alice -- something easy to remember and with appeal." The acronym for its Central America & Tourism Hotel Investment Exchange is CATHIE.  "Our industry is a little male dominated and we're trying to change some perceptions." 

Another eye-catcher: The annual Learnapalooza takes place in Washington, D.C. and focuses on training and education for association employees. Learnapalooza has chosen to take a rather education-heavy event and incorporate a playful tone into its title. This year's official name is 'Learnapalooza XL - Super Hero You'. The event's description says, "We know that we're all capable of being super at our jobs... even if we don't have Black Panther's advanced tech, Captain America's strength, Thor's chiseled good looks or Black Widow's stealth."

Esca Bona is a conference created by Informa's New Hope Network to fill a void in the natural foods conference segment. The term means "good food" in Latin. It's now an adjective used by attendees on a regular basis -- 'Esca Bonacentric education' was also integrated into other New Hope conferences over time.