Once the overall conference schedule was set, we were able to set the details of the year’s promotions. From previous surveys, we knew the most common ways conference attendees found out about the event were:
- UWEBC emails
- Word-of-mouth from colleagues
- UWEBC events
So, we focused our resources on the following tactics:
- sending emails to members, partners and subscribers to UWEBC newsletters.
- providing talking points and support materials for the member relations team and practice directors to use at meetings with membership decision-makers, in communications to company champions, and while speaking at member events.
- LinkedIn posts to private UWEBC groups.
Past conference attendees were primarily from member companies, but we also saw attendance from prospective members, smaller Wisconsin companies, and individuals hoping to learn and network. The majority of employees from member companies who participate in UWEBC programming are passionate about UW-Madison and the UWEBC, with many serving in leadership roles.
With this knowledge, we tailored most of our efforts to employees at member companies. Additionally, we relied on influential advocates, such as members of our advisory board and steering committee, company champions (both those that served in a formal champion role and informal friends of the consortium) and executive sponsors.
We also partnered with organizations that target similar audiences, such as the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the UW Office of Business Engagement, UW Center for Professional and Executive Development, Kohl’s Center for Retailing, and UW Engineering Professional Development.
Previous research had shown us that members preferred to hear from the UWEBC via multiple emails. Members told us using email kept their professional communications separate from their personal life, messages in their work mailbox kept them front-of-mind, and multiple sends served as reminders to register for events.
With a 21% unique open rate and a 14.6% unique click-to-open rate on annual conference emails, the numbers supported these claims.
You can check out the annual conference email content and send calendar (Excel file), as well as the annual e-newsletter editorial calendar (Excel file). We used data from our audience-specific reports to optimize send time (e.g., customer service professionals were very eager to open emails on Fridays) and content (collaborating with practice directors and using analytics to guide length, tone and features).
Please click through the gallery below to see a small sample of the messages sent.
Talking Points & Support Materials
To take advantage of each practice director’s clout in their respective practice areas, we relied on these leaders, as well as our member relations team, to promote the conference to members and industry contacts. My team provided:
- email content, creation and sending, as well as segmented contact lists for “pass along” emails to member company executives, champions and friends.
- presentation slides, talking points and scripts for conference promotion at UWEBC events and membership kickoffs.
- promotional flyers and signage for use at events and member company visits.
- messaging to member company champions to use with employees to promote the event and gather bulk registrations.
The conference’s tracks echoed the UWEBC’s four main content areas: customer service, information technology, marketing and supply chain management. Because of this, we engaged with our members based on their job role. They could join UWEBC member groups geared toward the four main focus areas, as well as human relations.
Using a combination of posts from practice directors (who serve as the thought leader and authority for their content area), the events team and the UWEBC marketing team, we kept a steady cadence of post topics, including the annual conference. You can take a peek at the LinkedIn post calendar (Excel file) to get a sense of the year.
In addition to our three main tactics, we also tweeted about the conference, its speakers and sponsors leading up to the event and on the day of the event. With promotion of our #uwebc18 hashtag and account at the event, our impressions, mentions, followers and profile visits all increased.
Look & Feel
I was also responsible for the UWEBC conference’s visual identity. We had several constraints, including:
- The conference website was tied to the UWEBC site, which could not be updated, due to CRM integration.
- UWEBC leadership mandated that the entire conference title, Business Best Practices & Emerging Technologies, be included in all logos and headers.
- The UWEBC needed to call back to UW branding, while still carving out a unique identity.
- The UWEBC was celebrating its 20th anniversary, which needed to be incorporated into any materials. Leadership was enthusiastic about using a badge or ribbon.
- With four diverse tracks, there needed to be a cohesive color story to facilitate way-finding at the crowded event.
Using the UWEBC’s branded paperclip as a jumping off point, I incorporated a red ribbon placed on top of branded headers. It called back to materials members received and alluded to a ribbon or award. It was visible but as a mark that looked like it was clipped or tabbed onto assets, it did not compete for dominance.
For our color palette, we used Badger red, grays and a four-color key to signal to attendees which track they should pay attention to. Customer Service was coded as gold, Information Technology was green, while Marketing used blue and Supply Chain Management claimed purple.
Assets my team provided included:
- conference program
- event website
- Guidebook app
- emails to promote the event, provide logistics, and send post-conference survey and links
- name badges
- presentation templates and loops for keynotes, lunch and all tracks.
- flyers for use before and during the event
- digital and print invitations
You can view a select sample of UWEBC assets, including signage, the program cover, name badges and promotional materials for sponsors in the gallery below, or you can scroll through the entire conference program.
The marketing and communications team was wholly responsible for the UWEBC conference website. We built and styled all pages, sourced and refreshed content, and wrote all resources. The site’s overall structure had to remain the same year to year, but to see the total evolution of the site, you can visit the conference site I inherited (2014) and my last conference site (2019).
One of my key goals each year was to increase conference attendance and registration. My first conference (three months after I started), we had 576 registrants (193 of which were complimentary) and $140,955 in revenue.
In 2018, 833 people registered for a total of $256,430. Additionally, when I left in 2019, both numbers had increased again.
From 2014 to 2018, the number of conference registrants increased by 44.6% and revenue increased 81.9%.
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