Introduction

After finishing up six months of managing the marketing for SQLSaturday Orlando I’ve been going back through all my blog posts to outline stuff we (or any other event) can use next year. It’s not a complete project plan, but I hope it gives you some ideas and a structure to start from.  I wish I had time for a true task list! If I really, really condense it, I’d tell you these things:

  • Your success depends on the size/quality of your mailing list. Nothing else comes close to being as productive.
  • Marketing is writing more than just about anything else and writing copy every week is tiring. Learn to write before you take on marketing.
  • If you’re doing seminars (“pre-cons”) use a template that allows you to mention them in every single email
  • Invest time (or money) up front on a good email template and a good flyer
  • Track your progress against previous years and look at the number every week (every day!)
  • Beat the drum slowly, consistently, and go faster as you get closer the event

Early Tasks

There is some work you can get out of the way when (or before) the event site goes live. I believe in opening up registration early, at least 4  months prior. All of these tasks should be done before or within a week after the site goes live:

  • Begin monitoring the event hash tag (and I prefer #sqlsatorlando over #sqlsat318 – ask HQ to configure it for you) on Twitter
  • Get the front page HTML laid out. There isn’t much room to work with and you need the most important parts ‘above the fold’
  • Create (or reuse) and test your email template. We used one with a right hand column that we used for our “calendar” which included our seminars, plus our flyer, and more. This is the vehicle for all that writing you’re going to do – make it look good, and make sure it works at least in Outlook/Gmail and on a couple different phones
  • Create an event flyer. Event name, location, date, URL. Simple, catchy, graphical. This is what you’re going to print and hand out, and what you’ll ask people to forward and/or print at the office.
  • Pull your entire mailing list forward from last year (all previous years). In Orlando that was about 2000 addresses. We did it by adding them with a status of “bulk loaded”. Add to that any net new addresses from your chapter list.
  • If there is a local .Net group open the conversation NOW about having a developer centric track, attending their D-60/D-30 meetings to plug the event, and see if they will do a blast to their list at D-30 just about your event (hint: offer to reciprocate when they do Code Camp)
  • If you’re going to do one or more seminars start talking to the team about picking topics that you can market (which doesn’t mean pick the one with the highest earnings potential) – what audience will you be selling it to with what story? Does the speaker have name recognition and if not, does the abstract/social media presence offset that? If at all possible someone else should own the seminars, but you’re the one that has to drive the message consistently.
  • Set a registration and attendance goal
  • Come up with a way to track registrations vs previous years. If PASS doesn’t field this soon reach out to Kendal Van Dyke for the powershell he used for Orlando.
  • Push your team to lock in the speaker schedule at least 90 days out, and preferably 120. I recommend “releasing” the schedule to the public at D-60, but it’s a big win to let the speakers know they can commit to travel sooner than that, and you can then feature those speakers in your email in the mid-intensity D-120 to D-60 window.
  • Get your sponsor plan to include a plug/push for the sponsor to send a geo-targeted blast at D-30 (which doesn’t mean they will do it) and get your sponsor person telling it to every lead and new sponsor – help us help you by emailing your list once about being at our event.
  • Publish a message calendar to your team (based on tempo zones below and what worked last year). That lets you work ahead a week or two on the writing.

Tempo Zones

How often to message? Never an easy question, but I used this in Orlando and I think it worked, and it generated few complaints. Most people I talked to said the frequency felt right (that’s with the caveat that the content has to be fresh, not a repeat every time).

  • Greater Than D-120. If you’re more than 4 months out you do at most one message to the SQLSat list per month. Mention it via your Chapter list each month and be patient.
  • D-120 to D-60. Here I recommend one email every 2 weeks. You can go a little longer, or drop an extra message in, but it’s early days.
  • D-60 to D-10. I like to see one email a week, and you can skip a week or so if you’re closer to D-60 and it feels like too much.
  • D-10 – D. Pretty much one email a day. Some will be yours, a couple will be sponsor messages

Messages

I tried to tell them three things each time, always putting the most important thing first. I also included the seminars in the right hand column, though sometimes the message would also be about the seminars. We all write differently – mine are probably plain, yours might be more dynamic, do it your way – just make the format and the message understandable. Some tips:

  • Use a long subject line that covers the three things and always starts with “SQLSaturday YourTown – “. The subject line may be all they read (and re-read, if they don’t delete it)
  • Repeat the subject line in your message. It helps you stay structured and it looks nice if they print it
  • Be wary of complex CSS. You need it to render on all devices. I’m not saying you should HTML tables everywhere, but they work!
  • Put images in every message.  It makes it interesting. Also, upload the images to the event site so they are all in once place.  Ideally you have some great photos from the year before you can sprinkle in to make it personal and real.
  • Only link to things you care about. Really care about.
  • Spell check. Twice.
  • Run the early ones through HTMLTidy, will increase the chance it renders ok everywhere
  • I wrote all of mine offline and tested in a browser, then pasted into the emailer.
  • Be sure you know what each list definition really means!
  • A consistent template is good, but it’s okay to evolve.

The messages from the last event and all the other events is viewable via the administrative site. Great place to find/borrow ideas. There’s a “copy message” link that is really handy!

Non-Email Marketing

Google ads are price prohibitive. LinkedIn Ads are affordable, but didn’t generate much for us in Orlando (you might do better, worth trying). Meetup may work for you if you have it for your chapter, they denied setting one up for SQLSat Orlando because it was annual event.  Some things worth trying are:

  • Email every PASS Chapter in the state/some big radius and ask them to plug your event to their list and on their site
  • Ditto for your local .Net chapter and any others you know well enough to ask
  • Ask every speaker to blog/tweet about attending
  • Try to put flyers (and someone to hand them out) at any SQLSaturday in the area that happens before yours does.
  • Visiting chapters in person is a lot more powerful than asking them to mention it during the standard meeting intro

Don’t stop there, but don’t let it take away too much time/money from your email marketing. This is one place where having someone focus just on this would really help.

Seminars

Pick seminars that will benefit your community, but think about the marketing. You need a short, strong title, a clear abstract, and a good bio/photo of the speaker. Ideally the speaker has a blog and is on Twitter, but you can make it work if they don’t. Don’t feel bad about asking for/suggesting tweaks to any of it. Most seminar presenters are techies, not marketing people. Explain what you need changed and why, it’s rarely an issue.

  • Make a flyer for the seminar (if you have multiple seminars its up to you, one that mentions all, or one page per seminar). Create thumbnail (or a bit bigger) to use in email and link to the flyer.
  • We offered speakers a 50% discount if they attended. Not sure it was a marketing win, but it was a win.
  • Ask the seminar presenter to blog/tweet about it on a regular basis
  • Coach the email reader on how to take it to the boss. What’s the value prop? What would a good email request look like?
  • Mention it in every email to the core list
  • Price bumps might work, but it’s not a big win. We did a $20 discount if they registered for 2 days and we did get a lot of those.

Be patient. Much lower/slower numbers on this compared to the main event. Whoever is managing them needs to be watching costs/attendance, you’re just driving the message.

Twitter

We tried hard this past year to make Twitter work. We didn’t have a huge number of registrants opt to have it auto tweet that they registered – those that did we followed and tweeted back a welcome. We wanted the twitter feed on the front page to not look dead, so we tried for one tweet a day from D-120 or so. From D-30 we had multiple tweets per day and the last week we had hourly tweets. I generated them used a hack query to build combinations of messages about speakers, sessions, and sponsors, and then scheduled using Hootsuite ($10/month, you can turn it on and off). We even scheduled 15 minute and 5 minute reminder messages for Saturday. Did it matter? I’m hard pressed to say it did, but it was a seed planted, we’ll have more on Twitter next year and if there is one thing Twitter is good for it’s event news and interaction. Great if you can find someone to own this and just follow along on the calendar.

Photos

You need a few good photos from last year to liven up your messages, and you need a few good photos this year for next year. That’s what you need, ask the team to staff getting it done. It’s a great way to engage volunteers and show sponsors some love/success.

Notes

I’m a huge fan of writing up notes diary fashion. You can get two for one if you share these with the team as part of the weekly call, or you can just put highlights in the status call and write all the details elsewhere. I blogged about it because I can easily point someone else to it and I have the blog up, but you can do a Word doc on DropBox. Just write down what works, ideas, etc, etc. Just writing it has value, but wait until next year when you go back to those notes!

Track Your Progress

I mentioned it earlier, but it’s critical that you track registrations towards your goal on a weekly basis. Minus that you have no sense of what works or doesn’t. You’ll wish for more info, but this is enough.

Wrapping Up

Doing the marketing is a lot of work, but it’s fun and a great learning experience. Stick to the tempo/calendar, write clear and concise messages, and don’t let up – keep pushing the message. As my friend Steve Jones reminds me, people don’t read every email you send them. I hope these help you and your team, and please do comment or email if you have questions, or ideas to share!