You’ve set the date for your largest annual conference but have yet to choose a city. Or maybe you’ve chosen the locale but don’t know where to start when selecting a venue. So where does the search begin? Planners know that destination marketing organizations and convention and visitors bureaus offer a wealth of information for waffling planners, but knowing exactly what they offer and how to work with them ultimately helps you make the most of these resources. Some well-branded cities have amazing marketing campaigns and instantly recognizable slogans; others aren’t so well known but boast internal marketing teams of graphic design, video production and social media professionals. Here’s how to tap into a destination’s success and piggyback off its marketing prowess in order to create greater visibility for and increased attendance at your next event.
1. Shop around. When searching for the next big host city for, say, an annual convention, keep in mind that you, the planner, are the customer. “If a CVB doesn’t do things on your terms, you don’t have to go to that destination,” stresses Michael Krouse, president and CEO of the Ontario (Calif.) CVB. If your expectations aren’t being met, take your business elsewhere. It also helps to know how the bureau is organized. Are they funded through a portion of the hotel room tax? If so, the hotels are their partners and stakeholders.
2. Delegate. Tough economic times have left many organizations with less planning staff and fewer resources. CVBs and DMOs can compensate for some of that by doing a lot of the groundwork during the research stages of event planning. If you set parameters and communicate needs early on, most are happy to run reports and provide lists of options for accommodations and event space. The national sales rep for your preferred hotel chain can tell you what’s relevant to her company or property, while CVBs and DMOs can provide a wider source of information on hotels, venues, restaurants, shows and attractions within their cities. “We can save planners time, and in some cases, we can help them from a budget standpoint,” says Amy Riley, senior director of convention sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. “We know what’s happening because we’re out there experiencing it and we’ve established relationships with hotel partners to get things done faster.”
Additional CVB services such as Passkey housing and budget-friendly transportation can help planners, especially those working alone or with little help. In Ontario, the CVB offers added support in the form of pre- and post-convention meetings that get all of the community members on board with plans. Each marketing organization is different in what it can offer.
3. Collaborate. Some DMOs employ their own communications teams consisting of professionals in graphic design, video production and social media; others contract with outside public relations firms to promote events via press releases and media outreach. In Las Vegas, Riley and her team partner with hotels on branding and assist with advertising (to a degree), press releases for groups commemorating milestones and anniversaries, and promotional collateral. In Southern California, Krouse and his colleagues increase attendance with services and products like landing pages and links from their website, physical banners around the city, speech arrangements from the mayor or city council members, and “show your badge and save” programs that offer attendees discounts at area attractions. They will even, when possible, help planners get hard-to-book speakers. “If you were with the American Heart Association and you had a doctor in our market who was amazing but you were having difficulty getting, we would have the connection to get you that speaker,” says Krouse. The Ontario CVB also works with an outside PR firm to give events media exposure through local, trade and national press.
4. Don’t put it in writing. Before one gets too cozy in the collaborative process, a legal caveat: Some things are better left off the page; for example, trademarked city slogans like “What happens in Vegas.” Using a written variation of this in marketing materials (for a Vegas-based event, perhaps) could violate copyright laws. If you must play off of a city’s quirky tagline, it’s better to do so in verbal remarks only.
5. Convention confidential? Just say so. If your event must be kept under wraps during the early planning stages, it’s up to you to explicitly communicate this need. “It’s often a misperception that the bureau is going to take the information you give us and send it out to 20 hotels and you’re going to get 20 phone calls,” says Krouse. “It does not have to be that way, and it’s up to the customer to ensure that the CVB understands that.”
CVBs and DMOs are often trusted partners for meeting planners, and their resources extend well beyond their spreadsheets listing local hotels and meeting venues. The next time you’re in the early stages of planning, do your research to find out exactly what the destination marketing teams in the cities you’re considering can do for you. You might be surprised.