Ryan B. Lunsford
Southwestern College, Phoenix, Arizona 85032, firstname.lastname@example.org
Examines the prevalence and perceived effectiveness of prominent event marketing tools applicable to the home education conference and bookfair sector in the United States. The most commonly displayed organizational demographic in the home education conference and bookfair sector was that of a non-profit status. The greatest obstacle facing home education organizations is the availability of financial resources. Less than nine percent of home education conferences and bookfairs were professionally marketed in 2004. The event marketing tools employed in the sector, reported in order of frequency, were the organizational/event website, word-of-mouth communication, and local support group distribution. Of these tools, websites and word-of-mouth were perceived by event directors as being the most effective. Two event attributes reported to have the most influence on event attendance were organizational/event reputation and quality of program/speakers. Despite their nonprofit status, homeschool event sponsors must attract customers and/or funding or risk limiting the accomplishment of their objectives.
Keywords: Effectiveness, home-education, marketing, tools.
Due to the ever-increasing number of homeschoolers in the United States (Ray, 2004, 2008), the need for expanded support services provided by home education organizations is evident. This research was designed to facilitate a better understanding of the current state of event marketing practices utilized by sponsors of home education conferences and bookfairs. The number of families educating their children at home is at an all-time high (Ray, 2004) increasing the relevancy and impact of this research.
This study utilized a researcher-developed self-completion survey as the data collection instrument to examine the prevalence and perceived effectiveness of prominent event marketing tools applicable to the home education conference and bookfair sector in the United States. A study of the event marketing tools within the home education sector was needed to enable event directors to make better strategic and operational decisions involving their respective events.
To this point, there has been a dearth of published research examining the home education conference and bookfair sector and no insight into the types of event marketing tools used in this sector or their corresponding perceived or actualized success rates. Prior to this research, there was no analysis of perceived effectiveness, nor any data on the result of the use of specific event marketing tools. Few, if any, industry specific guidelines or suggestions exist for event directors to reference relative to the market sector or marketing strategies. As a result, this volunteer-based, nonprofit niche market has had to proceed with an ad-hoc approach and has not reaped the benefits of a sector-wide audit of event marketing tools.
Research questions that were addressed in this investigation are:
- What basic organizational demographics are commonly displayed by organizations sponsoring home education conferences and bookfairs?
- What are the greatest obstacles that must be overcome by organizations that sponsor home education conferences and bookfairs?
- What percentage of home education conferences and bookfairs are professionally marketed (implementation of specific/formal marketing plan or use of outside marketing firm/consultant)?
- Which event marketing tools are most commonly used, and which tools are perceived by event directors to be the most effective relative to generating event attendance?
- What event attributes are perceived to attract attendees to home education conferences and bookfairs?
This investigation utilized a researcher-designed, self-completion, survey questionnaire that consisted of six multi-part questions. Specifically, the questionnaire included three five-point Likert-style, multi-part questions and three closed-ended, multi-part, multiple response questions that enabled the investigator to assess and evaluate current sector event marketing practices.
This study included the survey of organizations that sponsored a home education conference and bookfair in 2004. The conferences used for this study occurred in the United States. The criteria used were that the conferences had a self-reported single-day, paid attendance of more than 600 individuals. Therefore, the data collected and analyzed may not be indicative of the entire homeschool conference and bookfair sector.
Question number one explored key demographic and organizational characteristics of each event to determine if an organization has (a) a “non-profit” status, (b) an “Executive Director,” (c) an individual directly responsible for event marketing functions, and (d) a specific, formally written marketing plan. Thirty-two of the thirty-four (94%) events represented in this study reported that they do have a “non-profit status.” The responses provided background information that builds a foundation upon which further questions may be explored. More than 29% (10 of 34) of the participating events reported that have an “Executive Director.” Thirteen of the thirty-four events (38%) represented in this study have an individual directly responsible for event marketing functions. Only two events indicated that they have a specific, formally written marketing plan.
Question two sought to determine the frequency of use of each of the following event marketing tools: Bulk mail out, email, local support group distribution, magazine, newsletter, newspaper, radio, television, targeted mail out, website, and word-of-mouth. A five-point Likert scale offered respondent frequency categories of “Never,” “Rarely,” “Uncertain,” “Often,” and “Always.” Table 1 displays the frequency of use for each of the event marketing tools. Organizational websites are the most frequently employed event marketing tool with 33 of the 34 participating organizations responding with “Always” and the remaining organization with “Often” for a mean of 4.97. Local support group distribution and word-of-mouth communications were the second most frequently employed event marketing tools in the home education conference and bookfair sector. Twenty-eight events reported using both tools “Always” for a mean of 4.82 for word-of-mouth communication and 4.62 for local support group distribution. Television appears to be the least frequently employed event marketing tool with 22 events reporting that they “Never” utilize it.
Question three sought to determine if participating home education organizations engage in any of the following activities: Collect, analyze, and maintain attendance statistics; collect, analyze, and maintain sources of event registrations; conduct marketing research; use “outside” or “professional” marketing consultant; use event surveys. Respondents were asked to mark all that applied and 30 of the 34 (88%) participating events reported that they collect, analyze, and maintain attendance statistics. Twenty-nine percent (10 out of 34) reported that they collect, analyze, and maintain sources of event registrations. Only three of the participation events reported that they conduct market research and only three reported that they use an outside or professional marketing consultant. However, more than half (18 of the 34) use event surveys.
Question four focused on an evaluation of the perceived effectiveness of each of the following event marketing tools: Bulk mail out, email, local support group distribution, magazine, newsletter, newspaper, radio, television, targeted mail out, website, and word-of-mouth. A five-point Likert scale offered the respondent categories of “Very Ineffective,” “Somewhat Ineffective,” “Neutral,” “Somewhat Effective,” and “Very Effective.” Table 2 displays responses relative to the perceived effectiveness of each of the event marketing tools. Organizational websites appear to be the event marketing tool that is perceived to be the most effective with 26 organization (76%) responding with “Very Effective.” Twenty-three responses suggest that word-of-mouth communication is “Very Effective.” The least effective tool appears to be television as the mean score was only 2.74.
Question five researched the level of importance of each of the following event attributes in terms of their perceived influence on event attendance: Organizational/event reputation, quality of program/speakers, children’s/youth program, selection of exhibitors, conference size; religious philosophy, location, event date, and fellowship/encouragement. Table 3 displays the perceived influence on event attendance of each of the event marketing tools. Two event attributes appear to be of primary importance: organizational/event reputation and quality of program/speakers. Both attributes received a mean score of 4.65 from participants. The event attribute that appeared to have the least amount of perceived influence on event attendance is a children’s/youth program, as the mean score was only 2.81.
Question six addressed obstacles facing organizations attempting to successfully market their conference and bookfair. Forced choice was limited to four responses: Limited financial resources, changing marketplace, lack of training/education in event marketing, and inadequate human resources. The greatest obstacle faced by a participating event was limited financial resources (13/34). Nine events reported a lack of training/education in event marketing, seven reported a changing marketplace, and five reported inadequate human resources as the greatest obstacle that must be overcome.
Analysis and Evaluation of Findings
Question one responses indicate that the supposition that the vast majority of organizations sponsoring a home education conference and bookfair were structured as not-for-profit is accurate. In addition, the supposition that the vast majority of organizations sponsoring a home education conference and bookfair were operating without a specific, formally written marketing plan was also overwhelmingly reinforced.
An analysis of the responses to question two highlights the importance of an event or organizational website as 33 participating events reported that their website was “Always” employed as an event marketing tool. This served as a reminder to present accurate, easy-to-navigate content on websites enabling convenient access to current and prospective customers.
Question three responses support the claim that market research is not commonplace in the home education conference and bookfair sector. However, as 30 of the participating events reported that they collect, analyze, and maintain event attendance statistics, it appears that event directors are at minimum open to more formalized marketing management.
Table 1. Frequency of Use Rank of Event Marketing Tools
|Bulk mail out||7||9||0||3||12||3||31||3.13||2||5|
|Targeted mail out||7||4||1||6||13||3||31||3.45||4||5|
Note. Q: How often do you employ each of the following marketing tools for your event? Rate the frequency of use of each of the following tools by placing an “X” in the appropriate box.
Table 2. Perceived Effectiveness Rank of Event Marketing Tools
|Very Ineffective||Somewhat Ineffective||Neutral||Somewhat Effective||Very Effective||N/R||N||Mean||Median||Mode|
|Bulk mail out||3||5||3||6||12||5||29||3.66||4||5|
|Targeted mail out||1||2||7||5||13||6||28||3.96||4||5|
Note. Q: What is your evaluation of the effectiveness of each of the following event marketing tools? Effectiveness is defined as your best estimate of the ability of the tool or activity to reach and attract potential conference attendees. (Mark the appropriate box with an “X.”)
Table 3. Perceived Effectiveness Rank of Event Attributes
|Quality of program/speakers||0||0||1||10||23||0||34||4.65||5||5|
|Children’s/youth program||6||8||6||8||3||3||31||2.81||3||2, 4|
|Selection of exhibitors||0||1||1||18||13||1||33||4.3||4||4|
Note. Q: How important are each of the following event attributes in terms of perceived influence on event attendance? (Mark the appropriate box with an “X.”)
Question four results indicate that two event marketing tools are extremely effective in attracting potential conference attendees. Of the two, the highest rated tool in terms of perceived effectiveness, the organizational or event website, is a controllable variable and its content accuracy and timely, aesthetically pleasing presentation of information should be a primary objective.
As was true for event marketing tools, there appear to be two event attributes that are perceived to be highly correlated with event attendance. The quality of the program/speakers and an organization’s/event’s reputation were clearly reported has having primary influence on event attendance. Although reputations are extremely subjective and often difficult to measure and quantify, basic marketing research could enable event directors to determine what program attributes are desired. Likewise, simple surveying techniques may yield insightful information into categories of and even specific speakers that could positively affect event attendance.
The results of question six suggest that all four obstacles presented to participants are of concern to event directors. Of the four, only one (lack of training/education in event marketing) is a controllable variable. As such, this area could be specifically addressed in an effort to reduce its negative impact on organizations.
The most commonly displayed organizational demographic in the home education conference and bookfair sector was that of a non-profit status. The greatest obstacle facing home education organizations is the availability of financial resources. Less than nine percent of home education conferences and bookfairs were professionally marketed in 2004. The event marketing tools employed in the sector, reported in order of frequency, were the organizational/event website, word-of-mouth communication, and local support group distribution. Of these tools, websites and word-of-mouth were perceived by event directors as being the most effective. Two event attributes reported to have the most influence on event attendance were organizational/event reputation and quality of program/speakers.
Organizations sponsoring a home education conference and bookfair seek to serve their constituents by providing an educational service. Despite their nonprofit status, they must attract customers and/or funding or risk limiting the accomplishment of their objectives. As formal or informal as it might be, some form of marketing occurs at all home education conferences and bookfairs. The purpose of this study was to identify those event marketing tools that were perceived by event directors to be the most effective. The objective was to produce information that would assist home education organizations in the marketing their conference and bookfair. By drawing inferences from the survey responses, recommendations directed at event directors and organizers provide guidelines and assistance.
There is a distinct need for an increase in the quality of services provided by home school support organizations. The successful sponsorship of an annual home education curriculum conference and bookfair is dependent upon specific direction guiding convention leadership. This information is targeted at those responsible for the success of homeschool conferences and bookfairs. Based on this research, the following suggestions may prove helpful in improving the marketing of a home education conference and bookfair.
The first research question addressed by the researcher in this investigation was “What basic organizational demographics are commonly displayed by organizations sponsoring home education conferences and bookfairs? An extremely small percentage of sponsoring organizations conduct market research (9%) while 38% do have an individual directly responsible for event marketing functions. Research question two sought to determine what major obstacles must be overcome by organizations. All four obstacles that were presented to event directors appear to be of concern if organizations are to experience and/or continue marketing success. Responses related to research question three allow the investigator to conclude that less that nine percent of home education conferences and bookfairs are professionally marketing. Websites are the most commonly used event marketing tool, and are perceived by event directors to be the most effective tool in generating event attendance. An organizations/events reputation and the quality of program/speakers are the event attributes perceived to be the most important event attributes at attracting attendees.
As might be expected, there is a strong correlation between the frequency of use and the perceived effectiveness of each of the event marketing tools. It is logical to assume that those marketing tool which are perceived to be the most effective would be the most frequently used and those that are perceived to be relatively ineffective would be rarely used.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of this study is that it will increase awareness and discussion of marketing by home education conference and bookfair directors. Marketing is the two-way exchange process (Kotler & Armstrong, 2006) in which various components of the home school community, attendees, exhibitors, suppliers, support groups, and media, exchange something of value (an attendee pays a registration fee in exchange for admission to a conference and bookfair; at the conference the attendees perceive that their attendance will produce value and benefit for their homeschool in general, and their children, in particular).
Marketing combines the integral ingredients known as the “Four P’s” of Product, Place, Price, and Promotion (Kerin, Hartley, & Rudelius, 2007). The “Product” is the meeting (the homeschool conference & bookfair), the content of the meeting, and the message being conveyed. The “Place” is simply the event site (convention center, church, civic hall, hotel). The “Price” is not only the fee associated with registration (admission to the event), but also includes the effort and time required of a person to attend a specific event. This varies from person to person, as personal life events and other factors such as travel distance, disposable income, current network, and family size are considerations. The “Promotion” is all of the activities undertaken by the organization to inform and urge the target market of potential attendees to know about the event. This includes why they should attend, and the features and attributes of the event. The goal of promotion is to generate interest in an event. Promotion must be the concentration and focus of resources with effective communication being an absolutely essential element to successful promotion. For example, publishing or broadcasting an incorrect date, time, or location can result in the inefficient disbursement of valuable resources to correct an error, rather than proceeding with additional proactive marketing opportunities.
As stakeholders in the success of the organization’s homeschool conference and bookfair, the event leadership must believe that the event is a legitimate product that requires developing, marketing, and selling. To these ends, the director should implement traditional marketing techniques to inform, attract, persuade, sustain, and retain potential customers for the event. Before allocating resources to a particular marketing tool, the director should analyze how it will bring the organization closer to achieving its marketing goals.
Marketing an event has three primary purposes. The first is event notification to prospective attendees in the target market, which is identified during the research stage. This includes the dates, times, location, speakers, exhibitors, and special events. The second is the desire to increase attendance at the event. The third is marketing an event is designed to generate revenue. The result expected is services provided by the sponsoring organization to its constituents continue and increase to meet expanding needs. Since resources for marketing purposes are often limited, it is important to carefully select the tools that will most efficiently reach and influence the target market.
It is recommended that event directors understand basic marketing principles including the marketing mix, segmentation, targeting, positioning, differentiation, and marketing planning as they can be applied to the homeschooling event sector. It is recommended that individuals responsible for the marketing of a home education conference and bookfair work to increase their understanding of event, services, and nonprofit marketing principles as they seek to better understand and meet constituent wants and needs. It is recommended that event directors analyze what event marketing tools and attributes yield that highest level of attendance relative to their cost.
It is recommended that organizations sponsoring a home education conference and bookfair establish organizational and event objectives and develop a specific, formally written marketing plan. The hallmark of a professionally managed and marketed home education event is the planning process. Six critical phases for all successful events include objective development, market research (identification of target market), program design, and planning (including speaker selection), event marketing and coordination, implementation, and evaluation. These core competencies serve as cornerstones for strong, productive, and professional events.
Initial discussions by conference managers regarding marketing a homeschool conference and bookfair must involve the development of objectives for the conference. Organizers must carefully consider the goals, objectives, and desired outcomes the organization wishes to achieve. What is the organization’s general purpose and mission statement? What is the goal of the homeschool conference and bookfair? What knowledge is the organization attempting to impart? What image does the organization seek to portray? How many attendee registrations are needed to financially break-even? What level of exhibitor revenue is needed for organizational activities to not only continue, but also prosper and expand? What goals need to be achieved in order for the organization’s event to be successful?
Over an extended period of time, the organization’s board of directors should study past events, discuss the current situation of the organization, and contemplate future goals to determine the steps to take to accomplish event objectives. Event organizers must set forth written objectives for the conference and bookfair. These written objectives should not be mere general organizational goals. Objectives are specific and measurable. The organization should develop one primary objective. For example, the board should set an achievable attendance total, a net income amount, or an exhibitor satisfaction rate. The board should also develop several secondary objectives, such as the number of general speaking sessions, number of exhibitor workshops, promotion of the “Continuing Forward” theme, or, the featuring of “X” new exhibitors.
Next, organizational leaders should answer several questions based on the primary and secondary objectives for hosting the conference and bookfair. First, “Why” is the organization hosting this event? A list of compelling reasons should confirm the importance and viability of holding the event. Emphasize benefits of attendance. Use a personal approach. For example, “Learn how to …” or “Ensure that you can …” Appeal to the targeted audience’s needs. Define specifically why the organization is hosting the homeschool conference and bookfair? Is the organization just doing it because it has always done it or is the organization truly serving a need? In addition, the conference director and his or her team should examine their personal motives for participating in the event and provide clarification of the reason (s) for volunteering to take on such a monumental task. The rationale for organizational involvement needs to be developed and may be revisited often during the very hectic days of event development.
Second, “Who” refers to the event stakeholders. Who are the event’s exhibitors, suppliers, attendees, speakers, volunteers, committee members, and coordinators? Objectives set forth early should answer all of these questions. For example, the organization needs to invite and attract ten new exhibitors; send a personal invitation to everyone on the up-to-date mailing list; target speakers who hold beliefs similar to the organization’s beliefs, and who exhibit visionary attributes, and seek assistance from friends of the organization. The result will be a highly defined target market.
Third, “When” refers to schedules, special events, timeslots, and days of the week selected. When will the organization hold its event? Or, perhaps, when does the organization not want to hold its event? The organization should be wary of scheduling events over holiday weekends, during inclement seasons, or at times that conflict with other events, such as sporting or social events. These event conflicts may sharply reduce the exposure and attendance for an event and, thus, reduce the event’s overall success. When possible, host the event at the same time every year. In cases where a previous year’s attendee does not receive an invitation or notification about the event, great value can be attached to the fact that the targeted audience’s mind has been “programmed” to think that The ABC Conference & Bookfair is always held the first weekend of July at the XYZ Convention Center.
Fourth, “Where” refers to the location of the event. Where has the event been held in previous years? Was that facility adequate? Why or why not? Evaluate the size, service, and logistical concerns involved, and if possible, maintain a permanent “home” for the event year after year to build consistency and loyalty. Stress the unique features of the venue. For example, refer to the “New Facility,” the “Gorgeous XYZ Convention Center,” the “Newly Renovated Exhibit Hall,” or the “Free Parking!” Stress the convenience and accessibility that is associated with the event facility. For example, “Host Hotel Adjacent to Convention Center,” or “Free Shuttle Service.”
Fifth, “What” refers to development and presentation of the event product. What is the organization’s purpose in sponsoring this event, what message will be conveyed, and what type of event, such as sales, educational, public relations, or training, will be held? The message will be determined by the objectives. Whatever theme the event promotes, the “message” of the event will be derived from that theme. Furthermore, the type of event presented should be based on attendance and financial goals. Is the goal to get as many attendees as possible, or is the event targeting primarily new or potential homeschoolers, local support group leaders, special needs children, public educators, politicians, or the press?
The sixth and final question, “How,” addresses the tactical questions. How will the host organization allocate scarce resources to produce maximum benefits for the stakeholders? How were things done last year? What worked and what did not prove effective? How can the organization’s leadership improve in every area of the event planning, implementation, and evaluation process? Maintaining status quo is not an option. The director should determine responsibilities, contacts and deadlines. Leaders should keep in mind that one of the greatest assets a leader possesses is the ability to delegate.
While answering the Why, Who, When, Where, What, and How questions, the director should remain mindful of the primary and secondary event objectives and maintain congruency throughout. The answers to these important questions will determine program design, which will in large measure, determine the marketing plan. Properly executing the marketing plan determines the success or failure of the homeschool conference and bookfair.
Before a marketing plan is developed and implemented, conference managers should conduct a SWOT Analysis (Perreault & McCarthy, 2005) to help identify internal and external variables that may assist or prevent the event from achieving maximum success.
Internal organizational strengths and weakness are considerations that can often be recognized before the event. Both strengths and weaknesses may be uncovered in a number of ways including board meetings, conference committee sessions, past surveys, or interviews. Furthermore, a full understanding of these considerations may require a review of resources such as financial, external sponsorships/partnerships, which are discussed below, paid staff, volunteers, media relations, site, networking, and political factors. The obvious goal is to convert weaknesses into strengths. For example, too few volunteers can be a costly weakness. To rectify the situation and enhance volunteer recruitment, consider offering volunteers free admission to the event, complimentary recordings of event speaking sessions, or vouchers good for products and services at the conference and bookfair.
External environmental opportunities and threats are key factors for evaluation that often present themselves immediately prior to, during, or after the event. For example, there may be otherwise unforeseen opportunities of benefit to the event and organization without significant investment of resources by the organization. Potential opportunities for the organization may be holidays that include city, state, national, legal, political, site, organization significance; tie-in advertising such as back to school, state fair, and so forth; last minute celebrity appearance such as a movie release or book signing; and promotion by the chamber of commerce or other highly recognizable organizations. Threats are potential occurrences that can prevent the organization from maximizing the success of the event and, in the worse case scenario, can result in the cancellation of the event with all of the ensuing negativism. However, careful consideration, combined with foresight, can assist in identifying areas of potential disaster. Possible threats to consider are inclement weather, facility damage, strikes, political/legislative actions, traffic such as local and regional, crime patterns near event site, violence, insurance/contractual cancellations, terrorism, and demonstrations. Again, the goal for the event director is to identify potential opportunities and threats, be prepared to act quickly to benefit from a new opportunity, and to contain, reduce or ideally, eliminate any threats.
The purpose of the home education conference and bookfair marketing campaign is to ensure that every decision implemented provides greater value for the whole of the overall event. To succeed in this area, the director should link each strategy to an objective. Every advertisement, public relations communication, and topic or speaker selection should accomplish a specific event objective. The organization should not merely run an ad, give an interview, or mail out an invitation without understanding the specific goal it serves to accomplish. The organization should use creativity and innovation to differentiate the event as a unique and valuable investment. By carefully integrating marketing activities, the organization will be able to build a strong, ongoing marketing campaign to effectively promote the event to the targeted audience.
The organization hosting the conference and bookfair is charged with ensuring event attendance. This responsibility is fulfilled through intentional actions resulting in a strategically planned and tactically implemented marketing plan. A marketing plan bears the burden of providing a positive first impression while convincing potential attendees to register and attend the event.
A classic channel for the dissemination of information about the homeschool conference and bookfair is through regional and/or local support groups in the host organization’s coverage area. The recommended process requires that each support group within an event sponsoring organization’s coverage area receive a promotional event package that contains: (a) A cover letter announcing the details of the event and requesting the assistance of the support group in advertising the event, (b) a sample attendee pre-registration invitation, and (c) a form that can be returned to request additional attendee pre-registration invitations. The cover letter should encourage each support group to include a flyer in their monthly newsletter, upload it to their website, place it on their calendar of events, and announce it at their meetings. Consideration might be given to providing a limited number of complimentary admissions into the event for efforts in promoting the event. Timely mailing of these local support group event packets is essential, as they must meet newsletter publication deadlines.
For event-sponsoring organizations that publish a monthly newsletter or magazine, dedicate prime advertisement sections in those publications to the event. Offer a “special” price or some other promotional product (such as a curriculum bag with your organization’s logo) can be given to those who pre-register early through the organization’s newsletter, magazine, or website. The director should arrange opportunities for board members to speak at larger local support group’s monthly meetings and disperse invitations to promote the event. A promotional consideration is “family” or “friends” discounts for those that pre-register at the local support group’s monthly meetings.
The host organization’s website is quickly becoming more important as homeschooling families’ use of the Internet climbs. The listing of the organization’s web address on flyers, in advertisements, and in emails will increase the number of visits to the website. The accuracy and content of the events’ portion of the website is crucial in integrating all stages of the event planning process. The sponsoring organization should include event information on all outgoing emails, in all packages mailed, and in all orders shipped. The director should encourage potential attendees to check back often on the website as speakers, exhibitors, and topics will be added and updated on a regular basis.
The quality of an event’s program and its speakers is the single-most important event attribute. The goal is to design a comprehensive meeting format that is strong, substantial, stirring, stimulating, aligned with organizational and event objectives, and that incorporates the unique character and advantages, which the event offers.
A significant amount of the marketing of a homeschool conference and bookfair is primarily a function of consistently distributing correct information about why, where, and how to register to attend. Moreover, because marketing efforts can only be as successful as the product, emphasis needs to be placed on the development of the event program.
Program design is the structuring, timing, and balancing of an event’s program. This is accomplished through a deliberate, yet delicate, combination of major and sub topics, passive and participative sessions, formal and informal times resulting in professional, educational and interpersonal growth, coupled with networking opportunities for all participants. Good program planning may happen by accident. However, superior program planning is a result of a series of carefully thought-out strategies that consider the objectives of the organization and the needs of the market.
Program design must be consistent with the overall theme and should provide an agenda with time allocated for shopping, workshops, general sessions, entertainment, and encouragement. Additionally, consider using a planning and advisory committee in concert with your conference committee. Typically, such a committee would be composed of the conference director, exhibitor representatives, volunteers, and past conference and bookfair attendees. Representatives from the target group of potential registrants can be described as invited attendees who may or may not attend. Representatives should also be included on this committee, if possible, as they represent the people in the target market. Therefore, representatives can provide insight as to why they may or may not attend.
The portion of program content that has perhaps the greatest influence on marketing efforts is speaker selection. With the advent of the Internet, the event-sponsoring organization must provide the targeted audience with benefits they cannot get elsewhere or would have great difficulty getting elsewhere. The fact is that the majority of the materials sold by exhibitors in the exhibit hall can be purchased online. Many of the resources and instruction available in workshops can also be obtained via online resources. The keynote address and general or featured speaker sessions provide a great benefit and advantage to the event that cannot easily be obtained elsewhere. Selecting the right speakers, panelists, exhibitors, instructors, and other participants for the program is a key element to the success of the home education conference and bookfair. Simple surveys provide valuable insight into speakers that are of interest to prospective event attendees.
For example, many very talented homeschool choirs and bands exist all across the United States and would love the opportunity to perform at specified times throughout the event. In addition to the support that the host organization would be offering to the choir or band, the parents and friends of the choir or band may be motivated to attend the event to view the performance and subsequently stay to shop in the exhibit hall. Moreover, it is not uncommon for best-selling authors to look upon home education conferences and bookfairs very favorably. In exchange for being provided a complementary book-signing table, many authors will attend without requiring an honorarium from the sponsoring organization. Furthermore, as the majority of attendees at a homeschool conference are young mothers, many popular, dynamic Christian female authors and speakers may appeal to young women who may have a deepening curiosity about homeschooling. Well-known pastors are also often happy to speak at home education events. Seminary and university professors are very qualified to speak and teach topics that may encourage more fathers to attend the event. Consider using a local celebrity or radio/television personality with a reputation and views similar to the organization as a speaker at the event. He or she will have name recognition in the area, may offer a prime medium often free because they want to announce “on air” that they will be at the “ABC Homeschool Conference & Bookfair” this Saturday at 1:00 P.M. The celebrity can also create excitement and curiosity because people are inevitably interested in meeting the person they hear daily on the radio or see on television. Whomever the organization chooses to appear at the event, the director should keep in mind that the majority of attendees may very well be new to the home education community and, hence, will not be “impressed” by the same speakers that veteran homeschoolers know and respect. To extend the reach, the director should consider selecting speakers with whom new or prospective home schooling parents can identify.
In reviewing potential speakers (keynote or general session), the director should look first at the event objectives. How does the speaker’s message and reputation relate to the events theme? Will his or her participation in the event stimulate attendance? Will it create excitement among exhibitors, the general public and the media? Is he or she well known and respected? In addition to the standard process of resume evaluation, reference checking, and listening to previous addresses, conference managers should contact other organizations that have featured the speaker(s) under consideration to determine their impressions and opinions of the speaker’s applicability and effectiveness. Balance any negative comments received by investigating the source and etiology of those negative comments. For example, speakers whose message and personality are warmly received by the audience may convey a positive experience. Conversely, speakers whose message and personality are not appropriate, interesting, or timely can have disastrous results for both the conference and the speakers. However, with different audiences, the same speakers’ messages may be well received.
Advertisement copy, regardless of distribution channel, should must provide complete information about the event and be dynamic, specific, and accurate. Furthermore, it must emphasize the personal benefits of attendance. The attendee invitation is the most important advertising vehicle for the event because it is the primary and “official” offer presented to the prospective attendee. All printed materials should include the convention or organizational logo to achieve continuity and should consist of high quality, professionally produced color graphics. Details should always include the name of the event, location, date, time, pre-registration and onsite registration information, exhibitors, an accurate description of products and services available, speaking sessions, host hotel information, and an emergency contact number. The event director should be mindful that print advertising is designed to appeal to women since the vast majority of the decision makers, in regards to attendance in the target market, are mothers.
It is recommended that future research inquiries include (a) an economic analysis of the home education conference and bookfair sector, (b) an assessment of the role of volunteerism in the nonprofit homeschool support group, and (c) an evaluation of the impact of the growth of the Internet on the home education marketplace.
As the education marketplace landscape continues to evolve, increased choice will result in increased competition. Event marketing will become increasingly more important for the success of homeschool support groups as they seek to educate and protect their constituents.
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