Written by Stacy Daeffler Destination Colorado plans several shows and events each year, and the success of these events is directly related to guest turnout. With each event, we excitedly watch RSVP’s pour in while at the same time thinking in the back of our minds, “About a third of these guests are either going to cancel or no-show at the last minute.” The problem is, there isn’t a magic calculator to help us determine exactly how many of our RSVP’s are actually going to attend. All event planners are mindful of their RSVP numbers as they walk through the steps of planning each event, considering headcounts as they outline activities, budget, food and beverage and hospitality, hopeful that their numbers are right on. Headcounts are turned in, monies are committed and the day of your event is here. At the close of registration, you look at your guest list and notice that there is a big chunk of people who haven’t showed up, and it’s not likely that they’re going to. Fortunately, the quality of your attendees is likely to please event participants and sponsors, but the no-show’s have cost you money and frustration. So how do you reign these people in and get them to actually attend? Here is a list of tips that helps us in retaining the RSVP’s so that the most people attend an event or meeting.
Last September, Destination Colorado hosted two road shows in Northern California. We invited over 700 meeting planners and collected over 60 RSVP’s. We were thrilled to have this many RSVP’s, but understood that the no-show rate for events of this nature tends to be high (around 35-50%). With a rather high per-head cost for this event and our requirement to turn in headcounts in advance, we began to brainstorm and utilize the internet for ideas on retaining our RSVP’s. Our efforts resulted in an 81% retention rate! Here’s what we did:
- Utilize Social Media. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms can help draw attention to your event by creating and using hashtags and posts, and some platforms like Facebook offer paid advertising or “boosts.” We utilized Facebook to target meeting planners in Northern California. Facebook allows you to pay to get our event posts in front of a target audience by defining specific parameters like geographic location and interests (i.e. meetings, events, event planning, meeting planner, etc). Not only did this attract “likers” to our page, it also helped boost RSVP’s.
- Personal Invitations. Sure, eBlasts to large databases are the easiest way to invite someone to your event. If you are going to use this method (and we did), try to add a personal touch. Many campaign systems have an option to plug the recipients name into the subject line and/or body of the email. This small piece of information is also less likely to trigger spam filters, helping to ensure your email makes it’s way into the recipients inbox. In addition to the eBlast, go through your database line by line, select some of your VIP invitees and send them a personal email. This is a little time consuming, but worthwhile in terms of getting and retaining RSVP’s. You’ve made a personal connection, and they have your email address so they can keep in touch with you regarding the event.
- Make Them Feel Special. Fortunately, we had funding assistance from the Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) for our California event, which opened up additional dollars for this event. We used these funds to send personalized packages to each RSVP, scheduled to arrive at their home or desk the week of our event. In it we placed a signed letter welcoming them to our event, Colorado themed gift items and a Golden Ticket that they needed to bring with them to our event to be entered into a raffle (see item #4).
- Raffles And Presents. Nothing incentivizes guests like giveaways and door prizes! For this event, we raffled a free trip to Colorado, inclusive of airfare and lodging for two. We let our RSVP’s know in advance that they would need to be present to win (hence the golden ticket). We were also sure to let them know that they’d be receiving plenty of Colorado goodies the day of the event. Gifts should be tasteful and appropriately themed. Ask yourself if your gift is something you would appreciate receiving, or if it would end up in a junk drawer and forgotten.
- Communication Is Key. Make sure your guests have all of the information that they need at their fingertips. Create a web page specifically for your attendees with event details, maps and contact information. Keep in touch via email with event reminders and updates, and be sure they have an email address and phone number for the event coordinator.
- Text Messaging. Several recent studies have shown that text messaging is the most common cell phone activity, with a 98% open rate. (http://www.onereach.com/blog/45-texting-statistics-that-prove-businesses-need-to-start-taking-sms-seriously/). We are currently in a generation where the majority of people prefer to converse via text. A quick google will turn up a list of several companies who offer paid text “blast” services at an affordable rate. Simply upload a list of phone numbers and input your message and return phone number to quickly and easily text event updates, reminders and details to your event attendees. This also ensures they have your number in case they need to reach you (which will likely be in the form of a text message – so provide a cell phone number).