At Last, Penny-Pinching Catches Up with Association Organizers

by Bob James

A telling statistic lies deep within CEIR’s new report, Cost to Attract Attendees.

It could in part explain why association-owned shows have recently seen a falloff in attendance, exhibits and income.

Association organizers, according to the new report, have cut their marketing spend during the past four years.

Associations now spend 20% less on attendee marketing than they did in 2013 (while for-profit organizers spend 7% more).

Wait. It gets worse.

The marketing mix associations use is all wrong.

Association marketers now plow 32% of their money into email; 29% into direct mail; 9% into print ads; 8% into social media; 7% into web ads; and 1% into telemarketing. (The rest of their money is spread in tiny increments across channels like webcasting, search marketing, and text messaging.)

For-profit marketers, on the other hand, spend 7X the amount associations spend on telemarketing.

When asked to rank the channels for their “effectiveness in driving attendance,” marketers in both camps put email at the top of the heap, followed by canvassing other shows, direct mail, and telemarketing.

What are association marketers thinking? (Or what are their agencies thinking?)

Why cut back your marketing spend when your enterprise is tanking? And why invest so measly an amount in the fourth most powerful marketing channel?

I think I know the answer.

Old Think.

Old Think insists associations can count on members’ loyalty.

Old Think says, “Our members simply can’t miss our ‘can’t-miss event of the year.’ How dare they!”

But, as Bob Dylan says, “Things have changed.”

Associations that once could count on members’ loyalty can no longer do so.

Spending less—not more—on marketing, and refusing to use telemarketing—one of the four most effective attendee-marketing tools at your disposal—is, in a word, daft.

It’s time to embrace a little New Think.

Association marketers can begin simply, too.

All they need do is copy for-profit marketers’ spend and marketing mix, both of which are spelled out clearly in CEIR’s new report.

And if they need ammo to hold off the hostile bean-counters, the report provides that as well, in the form of social proof: See, here’s what our successful peers are doing!

Bob James is co-owner of the new event-focused direct marketing agency Bob and David James. He is also managing editor of Event. Opinions are his own. You can reach him at

2 Comments on At Last, Penny-Pinching Catches Up with Association Organizers

  1. Margaret Core // March 12, 2017 at 12:34 pm // Reply

    Good observations….Another observation is that for-profit events have been able to move their timeline up for program and speaker announcements whereas Association’s rely on a committee program development process which has a more traditional event marketing pace than for profit events

  2. Thanks for adding your observation, Margaret. It certainly matches my experiences working with association organizers. My question: is glacial pacing another self-imposed handicap? I think it could be.

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  1. Abandon the ‘Old Think’ in Attendee Marketing – Michael Hart

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