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Fri 16 Jan 2009 04:00 AM

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As corporate companies increasingly compete over the same database of decision makers, three experts reveal that the trick to winning delegates is to identify the target, get their attention and think outside the inbox.

As corporate companies increasingly compete over the same database of decision makers, three experts reveal that the trick to winning delegates is to identify the target, get their attention and think outside the inbox.

With more multinational companies stationing their headquarters in the Middle East, the same CEOs and managing directors become hounded with corporate invites. In order to secure a place in the key delegate's diary, host companies must up their game.

"A trend we're seeing is that attendance at corporate events doesn't often hit the mark and they'll only get around 50 to 60% of the expected number of delegates. With venues and catering pre-organised, this can be a costly misjudgement," observes managing director of Meeting Minds Experts Medhat Nassar.

He says that the value corporate meeting planners add to the company starts from them being able to target the right audience, capture them and ensure that they attend conferences and events.

Nassar outlines three crucial factors in winning delegates, with the first - identifying the right audience - causing a major challenge in this part of the world.

"In the transient community we live in, people change their job roles and contact information on average every two years," says Nassar. "They often change jobs within their own organisations too," he adds.

The only way for planners to keep track is to maintain a comprehensive and up-to-date database of clients. However, if spicing up spreadsheets isn't at the top of planners' busy agendas, event companies like Meeting Minds Experts, Congress Solutions International (CSI) and MCI can help - at a cost.

MCI director projects Ajay Bhojwani says that companies that do not have a well-kept database of clients often have to start planning the event around four months earlier to allow time for research and validation of contacts, which consequently results in a hefty bill from the organisers.

Meeting Minds Experts has an in-house database, which can be used as a starting point, but Nassar says it's worth investing in a dedicated data-solutions company to update contacts year round.

So validating information is essential and once companies have an accurate, well-targeted database in place, which takes into account the demographics of the key audience to attract, they're ready to approach delegates - initially via email.

However, regardless of how comprehensive the database is; Nassar says that he wouldn't be comfortable assuming that more than 10 to 20% of the clients listed will attend solely based on an email.

"With business-to-business events you find that all companies are targeting the same database of decision makers. These guys can't attend every function; they just don't have time to, so that's the second major challenge for companies trying to win delegates."Not wanting to give all his secrets away, Nassar explains that he's worked with many companies to identify the right delegates and ensure they attend.

"Being creative in delivering the invitation is crucial," he reveals.

While email is the most practical way to deliver mass invitations and does require some involvement from the receiver, as CSI business development manager Alexandre Lolliot points out, often the delegate participation doesn't go further than the inbox preview and hitting the delete key.

This is where creativity comes in and "we find that in this part of the world the more you're thinking outside the box, the more responses you get from delegates," says Nassar.

In the past Meeting Minds Experts has created successful online interactive teaser quizzes, which engage delegates by asking them relevant questions on the subject matter and only revealing that there's a business trip to Thailand on offer, for example, at the end. This allows the company to guage the delegates' interest.

Offline campaigns can be just as successful. Hiring a celebrity look-alike is sure to grab delegates' attention; imagine Indiana Jones strutting into the office with your safari incentive invitation. Any well-organised promise of adventure that creates a bit of hype in the office is sure to generate a response. Add some mystery and you're onto a winner.

"I once received a room key in a box, along with a classic ‘do not disturb' sign, which doubled up as a car parking and valet ticket, a date and a venue," recalls Nassar. "I certainly marked the event - which turned out to be a hotel launch and complementary stay - in my diary."

Once companies have delegates' attention, getting them to commit to a business trip to Thailand shouldn't be too difficult. However, if it's not feasible to offer complementary flights, there's the task of encouraging clients to part with their hard-earned cash; which means you really have to go for the hard sell, says Bhojwani.

"From a marketing perspective we use direct and indirect channels," he says. "We do use a lot of media and online advertisements, as well as marketing through company partners. It's also important that we liaise not only with the corporate planner, but also with the brand manager to ensure that all the marketing and messaging is consistent with brand image," he adds.

"Some people think that winning delegates is different from selling a car but in fact the marketing tool you are using is very much the same," recognises Lolliot.

According to Lolliot, good marketing of the event depends on excellent communication, targeted print and web advertising and follow-up telephone calls. "If you miss one of the three you will lose a lot of delegates, especially if it's the call as most of the time the deal is done over the phone," he says.

So in short, Lolliot, Bhojwani and Nassar agree that winning delegates involves three essential stages; identifying the right audience, grabbing their attention at the invite stage and creating a well-structured marketing campaign surrounding the event. Following these steps should put companies on target to winning the jackpot in delegates.

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