Inner Circle

Audience Acquisition  

Adapting Your Attendee Acquisition Strategy

by Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes


Over the last two years, the priorities, values and behaviors of our audiences have shifted. As such, event marketers must lean into new strategies for growing events and meeting attendees’ needs.


The Data
Since the start of the pandemic, Freeman has studied how attendee sentiments have shifted. Their attendee profile conducted in October 2021 polled over 5,400 respondents across widespread industries. There were several key findings from this research:

  • Point 1: Delta shook attendee confidence. A July poll cited 86% attendee confidence in returning to live events, compared to 65% who said they would return in the October poll. While these polls occurred before the appearance of the omicron variant, it’s reasonable to guess that has impacted attendee confidence as well. It’s important to look at those who have attended live events since COVID-19 — their outlook is positive and we can learn from them.
  • Point 2: Attention spans are dropping. While the beginning of the pandemic saw a huge boost for online events, attention spans are decreasing and attendees are spending less time engaged with virtual platforms.
  • Point 3: Weekends are for winding down. Attendee priorities have shifted, with attendees leaning toward an event schedule that takes place in the middle of the week rather than on the weekends. Attendees also prefer shorter events, with two to three days being ideal.
  • Point 4: No one will attend a “hybrid” event. Attendees will engage either virtually or in person — and attendee preferences shift depending on their medium. In-person attendees prioritize exhibits and networking while virtual attendees prioritize education sessions and keynotes.


The Strategy
What does this mean for your event marketing strategy? We’ve learned so much in the last year from hypothesis and testing, and it’s apparent that both virtual and in-person customer engagement touch points are growing in importance. Rather than building engagement around one single point in time, the event should be part of a yearlong engagement strategy with content and virtual experiences extending the conversation.

Integrated events then become dynamic, high-quality engagements optimized for both the in-person and virtual audiences. “A great example of this is sporting events,” said Ken Holsinger, senior vice president of strategy at Freeman. “You have a very different experience depending on whether you have courtside seats or you’re watching a broadcast at home. The energy, the experience and the business model are different.” This means building a new attendee journey map with paths tailored to what type of engagement attendees prefer, and the first step is gathering your audience to begin their journey.


The Acquisition
Shifting your focus to what your audience needs are year-round is the most important step you can take in your audience acquisition strategy. Frame what sets your brand or event apart from others to really drive home that fear of missing out. Look at your email lists to see who is actually active, and try not to rely just on push emails to create engagement. And when it comes to engaging new potential customers, your time and their time is precious — so how do you navigate marketing to them without wasting time?

“It is important to understand your customer goals and priorities based on their role and function. This will help guide you to the messaging needed to compel them to convert and engage,” said Erin Lee, vice president of digital strategy at mdg. A message grid can assist in mapping out segments and their ideal customer journeys.

When it comes to evolving your attendee acquisition strategy, there are four ideal places to start:

  • Registration & Data Audit: What are the key segments you want to engage at the company and individual level? Are there untapped markets and gaps in your data you haven’t considered?
  • Messaging & Personas: Copy focused on health, safety and 2019 projections won’t sell tickets to today’s customer. Motivate your audience with intention throughout the campaign to show and compel them why they need to attend your event.
  • Marketing Automation Strategy: Utilize this strategy to save time for your customers, streamline onboarding and meet customers where they are and when they are ready.
  • International Considerations: Start early and be intentional with international audiences, since they will need additional time for planning around travel and visas.
  • A Performance Model: Plot goals based on interactions across channels with the aim of moving prospects from awareness to consideration to conversion, which can help you reach new audiences, educate them and grow your event registration.


A version of this article originally appeared in PCMA Convene.