Practically Giving It Away

For its 18th annual Game Developers Conference, Manhasset, NY-based CMP Media wanted to boost segments of its international attendance. The conference, which draws a global audience from the $10 billion game industry, wasn't attracting as many Japanese attendees in 2004 as its organizers would have liked.

"We thought perhaps the city wasn't a big enough draw," says Lori Silva, CMP's meeting planner for the Game Developers Conferences, who has brought the conference to San Jose for the past four years. "So we met with the CVB and we formulated a plan for them to implement." Working together, Silva and the CVB developed not only a new way to market San Jose as a destination, but a new strategy to attract the specific Japanese demographic Silva was targeting.

The CVB created a list of pertinent Japanese gaming trade publications and sent them a press release promoting the conference and the destination. Then, based on the travel preferences of the targeted demographic, the CVB designed travel and incentive packages that included Bay Area attractions, such as San Francisco and the Napa Valley. "That's the way they like to buy in that market," says San Jose CVB president Dan Fenton, "It's essentially buying the whole week's experience through one phone call." While at presstime it was too early to gauge the success of these efforts, Silva credits the CVB with initiating an innovative course of action. "That marketing idea, pulling together packages, was generated by the CVB," she says.

San Jose isn't the only CVB getting centrally involved in marketing conferences and in preshow attendance building. In a competitive market, many cities have realized that they can better attract planners' attention by offering to get involved with show marketing. So across the country, CVBs are offering an increasingly diverse menu of marketing services, from customized Web sites, e-mail campaigns, and print mailings to more sophisticated market research, telemarketing services, and lead generation. And in many cases, the CVBs provide these services at little or no cost to the meeting planner. Says Annette Price, director of meetings and events at Alpharetta, GA-based Frosty Acres Brands: "They've realized that by responding to demand and making themselves competitive, bureaus can really help planners bring people to the meetings, and encourage both planners and attendees to return in the future."

"We look at the show marketing almost as a joint venture," says San Jose's Fenton. In addition to developing marketing campaigns that target specific audiences, the San Jose CVB also creates press releases, print mail campaigns, and e-mail blasts, sometimes even buying e-mail lists to augment a planner's database at no extra cost. "We try to supplement [the planner's] budget at no charge," Fenton says. "The motive here isn't paid service, it's to create a partnership and drive attendance."

Other cities, such as Chicago, offer to help planners increase the size of their potential audience. In September, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) introduced what it calls the DataChicago II program. Using Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes, location, revenue, and other desired characteristics, the program generates new attendee leads, provides contact information, and cross-references the show's current prospect list to avoid duplicates. Any new prospect names then belong to the show to be used for future marketing.

It's in the Mail
When Mike Starkweather of the Alexandria, VA-based American Subcontractors Association was considering bringing a group of about 120 to San Jose for a leadership forum, he asked that city's CVB to send customized "welcome" e-mails to attendees in advance of the show. "I just asked if they'd do it, and they said yes," he recalls. "It was the first [such e-mail blast] they'd done, but they were willing to adapt, and they did a beautiful job with the visuals." All that Starkweather had to provide was the recipient list. "And they didn't charge, which was another great thing," he says. Starkweather says he received positive attendee feedback about the e-mails and that he was particularly impressed because "in our case we're not going to use every hotel in town, but the bureau was still willing to do it." All he had to do was ask.

"There's no downside to working with the bureau in this," says Dave Paulos, who plans meetings for the Reston, VA-based Graphic Art Show Company and who held the Graph Expo and Converting Expo in Chicago in September 2003. Paulos says the CCTB offers a laundry list of customizable marketing services, from which planners can select three free of charge, and then add on additional services for a fee. But Paulos says it's worth it to pay for those extras. For the 2003 show, Paulos paid the CCTB for telemarketing services and provided its staffers with an advance attendee list. The CCTB then used its DataChicago program to generate additional leads by bouncing selected zip codes off Paulos' list. "We got a fantastic response," Paulos says. "It was nearly 30 percent, which is probably some kind of record." Paulos says he's incorporated CCTB's services into his marketing plan and budget for future shows in Chicago. "We hadn't really put the kind of muscle we needed behind these efforts until we starting working with the CCTB," he says.

All About Town
Some cities, including Chicago and San Diego, offer versions of their own bureaus' Web pages that omit all hotel information, so planners can offer attendees information about the city's attractions without tempting them to book hotel rooms outside the block. The Orlando CVB currently maintains more than 250 customized Web sites for groups with upcoming events in the city. Planners can choose from various modules and templates to design the site and then add their own information and logos, all free of charge.

Some cities, like Phoenix and San Diego, offer marketing services that span all media. The Phoenix CVB offers a menu of services that includes customizable electronic postcards; customized area maps (with group-specific locations marked); welcome banners in the airport, convention center, and throughout the city, as well as specialty items, for a fee, for groups of almost any size. Likewise, the San Diego CVB offers welcome signage at the airport and in 450 downtown storefronts, as well as e-mail blasts, customized delegate Web sites, magazine ads, and newspaper wraps. Recently, for a group of golfers, San Diego's CVB designed a magazine ad and paid for it to run in a magazine of the group's choosing -- all free of charge.

And from the looks of things, customized CVB marketing programs will likely only become more commonplace -- and sophisticated. Some CVBs are already looking at new ways to partner with incoming groups. "When groups joint-venture with us on the marketing, we're willing to take a financial risk with them on attendance," says San Jose's Fenton. In other words, the rental fees planners pay will be determined on a sliding scale, based on the number of attendees who actually show up. To some meeting planners, these evolutions are no surprise. "Given the economy and the nature of our industry right now," says CMP's Silva, "I honestly believe that any CVB would see how they could go above and beyond to keep our business in their city."