How To Market a Conference: Event Planning Timeline Template and Checklist
Conferences are the No. 1 way to generate the best leads, drive sales, and position your company as an industry leader. These benefits make conferences a popular growth tool for organizations across all industries.
To maximize the potential of your next conference, you need to get the word out early and attract attendees well before the big day approaches — which is precisely where marketing comes into play. Simply put, having a proper conference marketing strategy is essential for achieving your goals and ensuring a positive and impactful event for all attendees.
Curious about how to market a virtual conference or in-person event? Keep reading to explore a conference marketing and planning timeline template, a comprehensive event checklist, and actionable tips for promoting conferences efficiently and effectively.
Conference Marketing and Planning Timeline
Planning an event is no small undertaking. Whether you’re organizing a virtual or in-person conference, you need to account for every last detail — from arranging invites and preparing food to outlining safety protocols and procedures. Miss an important detail, and you could jeopardize the entire event and risk upsetting clients, vendors, sponsors, speakers, and other attendees.
To avoid that fate, it pays to start preparing well in advance. Trying to figure out where to begin? This guide should give you a great head start.
6-12 Months Before the Conference
- Develop a conference theme and message.
- Set the date, time, and location of the conference.
- Establish a budget and set goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Build out a go-to-market (GTM) and sales enablement strategy.
- Create a list of potential speakers and presenters and begin outreach.
- Launch a call for papers or proposals for presentations.
- Develop a website for the conference and include registration.
- Start a “save the date” campaign on social media and through email marketing.
4-6 Months Before the Conference
- Finalize the list of speakers and presenters.
- Confirm the schedule of presentations and events.
- Finalize sponsorships and partnerships.
- Develop a marketing campaign to promote the conference.
- Send out press releases and media pitches.
- Promote the conference through paid digital and print media.
- Continue promoting the conference on social media and through email marketing campaigns.
2-4 Months Before the Conference
- Continue marketing and promotion efforts.
- Provide registrants and potential attendees with information about the venue, accommodations, and transportation.
- Help on-the-fence folks by giving them tools to justify their event attendance.
- Finalize logistics such as catering, AV equipment, and transportation.
- Develop materials for attendees, such as conference programs and welcome packets.
1 Month Before the Conference
- Finalize all logistics and details.
- Send out a reminder to attendees and presenters.
- Promote the conference on social media and through email marketing campaigns.
- Confirm attendance with sponsors and partners.
- Ensure your event technology partners are available for day-of event support.
- Conduct a final run-through of presentations and events.
The Week of the Event
- Send two or three reminders and include any last-minute promotions or giveaways.
- Encourage speakers, sponsors, and partners to share marketing materials on social media.
24 Hours After the Event
- Send out a follow-up email to attendees and participants thanking them for their time.
- Send out a survey to collect feedback, using that data to improve your next event.
- Start adding any on-demand content to your event website.
72 Hours After the Event — and Beyond
- Meet with your sales and marketing teams as soon as possible to analyze the event, discuss actionable items like lead nurturing, and share feedback from attendees and clients.
- Begin reviewing survey feedback.
- Start repurposing event content for use throughout the year — think podcasts, blog articles, videos, webinars, and more.
- Update your website with next year’s event date (if available).
Just because your conference is over doesn’t mean it’s really over. Here are “8 Ways To Repurpose Event Content and Level Up Your Content Strategy.”
Photo by RF._.studio
Conference Marketing and Planning Checklist
Companies tend to have different ideas and strategies for advertising a conference. That being the case, you’ll want to round up your team and create policies catering to your needs, goals, and preferences.
With this in mind, here’s a general conference marketing checklist that you can use to guide your conference planning initiatives:
- Define marketing goals and KPIs. Building an event that simultaneously achieves your business goals and caters to your attendees is crucial. Be sure to pinpoint your target audience and acquisition strategy.
- Choose a date for your event. Avoid dates that conflict with other industry events, holidays, and elections.
- Develop an event theme. Ensure that your theme aligns with your event’s goals and business objectives and offers an enticing reason to attend.
- Set a budget for your conference. Get buy-in from key stakeholders and clarify any must-haves, nice-to-haves, and budget items you’re passing on this year.
- Prioritize ADA compliance. Outline a plan to achieve Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance for your event — like hiring an interpreter, picking a venue with accessible bathrooms, building wheelchair ramps, and offering special parking to folks who need it.
- Secure event management and planning software. For example, suppose you’re planning an in-person conference. In that case, find event software that offers an event app, registration, onsite check-in, a website builder, high-tech event wearables, and more.
- Choose an event location and venue. In today’s economy, it’s vital to consider second-tier cities and outside-the-box event venues.
- Put together your event team. Consider hiring an event production team to streamline conference logistics, including food and beverages, staffing, stage setup, audio, signage, and security.
- Create internal Slack (or other chat) channels. Use these channels to communicate about the planning process and keep everyone on the same page. If needed, create channels to engage with your partners and sponsors.
- Secure speakers for your conference. Contact industry leaders and demonstrated thought leaders, but consider opening a call for speakers or seeking out lesser-known subject matter experts to ensure you’re building a diverse speaker lineup.
- Craft a run of show. Whether your conference is in-person or virtual, start building a detailed run of show that includes everything from speaker test runs to breakout rooms.
- Build a sponsorship program. Budgeting for events is one of the biggest challenges for event organizers, so it’s important to find sponsors and ensure their business goals align with yours.
- Build a website for your conference. Be sure to include vital event details, registration, an agenda, speaker information, sponsors, and materials to help attendees justify their registration to key stakeholders.
- Create all marketing materials. Ensure you have all of your email communications, social posts, paid ads, design assets, and materials for your speakers and sponsors to share.
- Gather GTM materials. Empower your sales and marketing teams by creating custom sales enablement and GTM materials.
- Don’t forget your contingency plan. Flexibility is the name of the game, so be sure you’ve put together a thorough contingency plan if registration isn’t what you expect, there’s an unexpected crisis, the venue closes shop, or a speaker backs out at the last minute.
Want more guidance? Check out our article, “Master Conference Planning With These Pre-event Checklist Templates.”
Tips for How To Market a Conference
Creating a conference is only half the battle. For the best results, you must also convince people to take time out of their busy schedules and money out of their tight budgets to attend. This achievement requires careful orchestration, clear communication, and some marketing savviness.
Using these conference promotion tips, you can transform your next event from an ordinary conference into a can’t-miss experience.
1. Map Your Content Strategy
The best conferences use high-quality content to demonstrate value and guide the attendee journey. As such, it helps to form a robust content marketing strategy ahead of your event. As you develop your strategy, map out various items like press releases, blog posts, videos, email campaigns, surveys, podcasts, and graphics.
2. Build a Strong Website and Event App
Your event website and app should be visually appealing yet easy to read and navigate. The website also needs to be mobile-friendly for people using smartphones or tablets. Unless you’re keen on devoting many internal resources to building an event website from scratch, consider using an event platform with a built-in website builder.
Ensure your website and app feature key information: dates, times, location, venue details, agenda, speaker information, sponsor information, content to help justify attendance, networking information, past event highlights or sizzle reels, social sharing, and so on.
3. Make It Easy to Register
Making the most of your next event is only possible when your registration process is straightforward. The easier you make it to register, the less likely it is you’ll turn someone away who doesn’t want to go through a complex process. For the best results, ensure attendees can register in multiple ways, including online, by phone, or via a mobile application.
Also, be sure you’re offering personalized registration journeys catered to your audience segments. For example, if you’re expecting folks from specific geographies or departments such as sales, marketing, and the C-suite, be sure your registration is customized to those audiences.
4. Use Paid Advertising To Promote Your Event
One of the best ways to promote your event is to set up paid advertising campaigns on social media channels, websites, and search engines. Paid advertising is a great way to engage unique visitors and expand your reach.
Pro tip: If you don’t want to spin your wheels on writing copy, use generative AI tools such as ChatGPT or Bard to help you scale your paid promotion for your event. Here’s an example of what you can expect from these types of tools:
5. Pick the Right Social Channels
Social media is a useful way to connect with audiences and generate interest. However, you first need to understand where your customers are active on social media — and where they lack a presence. If your customers live on Instagram and LinkedIn, you probably don’t need to promote on Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t overlook event listing websites or directories. Here on the Bizzabo blog, we have quite a few directories of events that you can add your conference to:
- Women-in-Tech Events and Conferences
- Education Events and Conferences
- Marketing Events and Conferences
- Technology Events and Conferences
- Top Event Agencies in the USA and Canada
- FinTech Events and Conferences
- Blockchain and Finance Events and Conferences
- Event Planning Conferences
Want to add your conference? Submit your event.
6. Offer Incentives
Don’t overlook the importance of incentives and discounts, which can help convince attendees to sign up. For example, you may want to offer early-bird or military discounts, complimentary food and beverage tickets, group discounts, transportation discounts, and special access to products or services.
We also highly recommend turning your registrants and speakers into event evangelists. Provide them with materials for sharing on social and incentivize them to share. For example, for every 10 registrants an attendee brings in, you can offer a gift card or VIP experience at the event.
7. Make Sustainability a Top Priority
According to Statista research, more than half of consumers in Western economies check a brands’ sustainability practices before buying a service or product. In light of this, it’s necessary to prioritize sustainability across all touchpoints — from the swag and food you offer to the waste removal options you provide.
If you’re weaving sustainability into your conference, we have a checklist for that: ”The Ultimate Sustainable Event Planning Checklist”
8. Coordinate Outside Activities
The best conferences offer much more than exhibit floors and breakout rooms. They also include parties, happy hours, and entertainment options. Consider hosting breakfasts and other networking opportunities. While you’re at it, promote smaller events that sponsors may offer. To drive awareness, distribute a special conference promotion email at least one month before the event and encourage attendees to RSVP.
9. Analyze Data To Guide Your Future Marketing Decisions
One of the best things you can do to improve your marketing efforts is to collect in-event data, like registrations and check-ins, and review the results during and after the event. This kind of feedback will illuminate what’s working and what isn’t. Armed with that information, you can figure out how to patch up areas of weakness and make your next event the best one yet.
Build a Memorable Conference Without the Stress
As you can see, planning a conference can be a full-time job. It’s especially difficult for marketing teams with limited budgets and staffing shortages. Luckily, we’ve built a special guide that will help you plan your conference without the hassle or stress. Download our free guide now and learn more about how choosing second-tier cities, unique venues, and using generative AI can help you do more with less.