Archive for the 'Marketing' Category


A look back at 2015


IHS group

From left to right: Jenny Hill, Aaron Wolowiec and Cally Hill

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time for us at Event Garde to reflect on the many things for which we’re thankful.

From education to content creation, we’ve had a successful year and have experienced tremendous growth.

And we owe much of that to you. Thank you for trusting us to help you learn, network and transfer differently. (See more on this below).

This year end report is just a smattering of the successes we’ve achieved. It’s hard to quantify those day-to-day “ah-ha” moments, but we hope you enjoy this glance at our 2015.

We look forward to spending 2016 with you, and can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Here’s a look at 2015:

communication_strategy_01Marketing and Communications

In September, Event Garde held a marketing and communications retreat in which we discussed our communications strategy and marketing goals. With so many moving parts and pieces throughout the last year, it was time to reflect on our brand.

So we asked ourselves: What have we become? How are we different from our competitors?

Thus the birth of our new tagline: Learn. Network. Transfer.

Learn – We are educators and we are educated. As responsible contributors to our industry, we participate in professional development while also planning it.

Network – We plan events and programs with an emphasis on providing networking environments and opportunities for program attendees and participants. And individually, we belong to networks and organizations that enhance our personal and professional goals.

Transfer – We realize the needs and wants of an industry that experiences ups and downs and use our collective and individual experiences and knowledge to foster performance improvement.

As for personality, here’s a list of words we think describes us:

  • Authentic
  • Capacity-building
  • Client-oriented
  • Detailed
  • Knowledge-seeking
  • Leading-edge
  • Tenacious

Next month, we’ll be discussing how to implement our marketing and communications plan. So stay tuned.

airplane wing

A view from one of Aaron’s many flights

Speaking engagements

This year, Aaron spent many hours on an airplane for speaking engagements. From Atlanta to Florida to Michigan, Aaron spoke at 25 events on a range of topics. Audience size varied from three to 144, but in total, Aaron spoke to more than 1,200 people. Some of the topics: learning/how the brain learns; how to improve conferences and events; and membership.

And here’s what some people had to say:

“Aaron is knowledgeable and engaging.”

“This is the first webinar I actually paid attention to throughout the whole hour.”

“Very engaging, personable, knowledgeable, understood his market, well prepared, very good at herding cats, great content, well-presented. Kept us engaged and moving.”

EG relay for life team

The Event Garde Relay for Life team

Professional development and community engagement

As stated above, we’re lifelong learners, so the staff of Event Garde attended 28 professional development sessions this year, with topics ranging from instructional design to volunteer training to conference presentations.

At the same time, we value the communities in which we live, work and play. And we understand the importance of giving back. So again this year, Event Garde sponsored a Relay for Life team, walking 24 hours around the track at East Lansing High School in recognition of those fighting cancer, in honor of those who’ve triumphed and in remembrance of those who’ve lost their battles.


In 2015, Event Garde produced 50 blog posts. Kristen Parker contributed most of the content, but Aaron wrote posts at the beginning of each month and each month we featured guest bloggers.

On average, blog posts received about 220 views and the site averaged about 200 visitors per month. Topics of the posts varied, but the most popular seemed to be those focused on hotels – rates and room blocks, specifically.

In addition, Event Garde published a newsletter each month, with an average open rate of 600. As an education resource, each newsletter included links to stories or blog posts we found inspiring and informative. In addition, we featured “bright ideas,” in each newsletter and, of course, an Event Garde-ian of the Month.

Throughout the year, niche media publications re-printed blog posts from Kristen and Aaron, quoted Aaron as expert or included written pieces by Aaron. Key media hits include Michigan Meetings + Events, Naylor Publications, Associations Now, Biz Bash, MSAE Association Impact and TSAE Association News.

Here’s a look at some of the media hits:

Meetings and Conventions

Pure Reinvention podcast

Associations Now

Michigan Meetings & Events

new house

Aaron’s new home and Event Garde’s new headquarters

New headquarters
And finally… Event Garde got a new headquarters this year!

Aaron bought a new house in Kalamazoo, which will serve as Event Garde’s new home.


New report: Association marketing has a ways to go

marketing-mix-priceMarketing is much more difficult than most people think. It requires creativity, strategic planning, vision and data analysis.

Marketers have a vast skill set, and that’s why they should have a seat at the decision-making table.

That’s according to a new benchmarking study on association marketing by Demand Metric and HighRoad Solution.

The State of Association Marketing,” unveiled this week during ASAE’s annual conference in Detroit, summarizes the marketing efforts of 373 survey respondents, mostly comprising membership associations.

Key findings:

  • 73 percent of survey respondents rate their overall association marketing as somewhat or very effective.
  • Marketing communications was the most prevalent marketing capability in associations surveyed, provided by 70 percent of marketing functions to their associations.
  • Only 25 percent of study participants report members perceive their marketing communications as always relevant and professional.
  • Membership retention saw the largest year-to-year increase, offered by 47 percent of association marketing departments in 2014 compared to 62 percent in 2015.
  • Event marketing was identified by 78 percent of respondents as the most effective marketing tactic.
  • Associations are embracing marketing analytics more closely, with the percentage reporting no usage of analytics dropping from 13 percent in 2014 to 9 percent in 2015.
  • The budget line item most frequently found in association marketing budgets is for print, found in 46 percent of association budgets. Print, however, ranks eighth in terms of effectiveness.
  • More staff and more funding rank first and second as the resources that would most help improve marketing effectiveness. However, neither staffing nor funding correlated to greater marketing effectiveness in the analysis of the study’s data.
  • Survey respondents identified internal meetings as consuming the most time.

“The baseline study sadly pointed out how far behind associations are in areas such as digital advertising and marketing automation,” said Suzanne Carawan, chief marketing officer for HighRoad Solution. “As you will see in this year’s report, we’re making progress, but there is a lot more work to do before we can bridge the gap between corporations and associations.”

A few things to consider. (My two cents here.)

contentmarketingWhile it makes sense to have the marketing director handle the main marketing duties – banner ads, social media ads, marketing material, website marketing, etc. – it’s also beneficial to have marketers contribute to membership retention efforts. After all, it’s a marketer’s job to explain why membership is valuable, and this means keeping members from losing interest – enter the skill set I referenced above.

In addition, according to the survey, strategic planning wasn’t a top priority for associations. That’s a problem.

As someone who’s learned to blend public relations and marketing, I can vouch for the fact that marketing can’t exist without strategy. A marketing plan isn’t a strategic plan. Instead, marketing should be part of the strategic plan, with clearly defined messaging, tactics and audiences. Marketing should support the association’s strategic vision; not compete with it.

Marketing communications is perhaps the most effective piece of the marketing puzzle –provided there’s good content. Effective, meaningful, useful content.

According to the report, print is still an effective marketing vehicle among associations. But I’d argue that association marketers should consider the power of digital marketing. LinkedIn and Facebook marketing campaigns can yield huge rewards.

Tell us…what role does your marketing staff play in your organization? What works best for you?


20 reasons to book within the official group block

PS_Hotel_KingRoom_newWith unprecedented access to vacation rentals through websites like airbnb and VRBO, as well as the availability of discount hotel stays through websites like Priceline and Orbitz, it’s no wonder organizations are having difficulty filling their group room blocks during in-person meetings, conventions and exhibitions.

A quick survey of industry professionals via ASAE’s Collaborate turned up the following 20 reasons (in no particular order) for booking within the official group block. Consider customizing this list and sharing it with your members and attendees via marketing materials (e.g., brochure, website and social media) prior to your next big event.

  1. Official hotels are inspected by the organization prior to your arrival.
  2. Greater informal networking opportunities exist in hotels within the group block (as this is where a majority of attendees are staying and frequenting).
  3. It will take you less time to travel from the meeting to your hotel room, making it easier for you to adjourn to your room to nap or work during down time.
  4. The important announcements and information the organization may need to share with attendees when they check-in are provided only at those hotels within the group block.
  5. Any room drops arranged by the organization or its exhibitors are only available to those staying at hotels within the group block.
  6. The organization is able to conduct high-quality meetings at desirable sites for a reasonable registration fee because a significant block of hotel rooms is reserved for meeting attendees.
  7. Friendly booking terms (e.g., no full pre-payment) are negotiated as part of the organization’s hotel contract.
  8. Meeting attendees receive a reduced rate (negotiated by the organization) for their sleeping rooms.
  9. Low group rates are guaranteed prior to the established cut-off date and are usually extended three days pre- and post-event.
  10. Attendees receive the negotiated benefits and amenities contracted for the group room block (e.g., fitness center or bottled water).
  11. Reservations within the group block are protected from hotel relocation (also known as walking).
  12. Complimentary shuttle service may be provided (e.g., to/from the airport, conference center or local attractions).
  13. The size of the official room block determines priority status for function space. By booking rooms outside the block, the organization may not get its preferred dates/function space on a first option basis.
  14. green_moneyIn exchange for filling the required number of sleeping rooms, the organization is permitted to use the hotel’s meeting space at no/reduced cost.
  15. The organization is penalized financially for not filling a minimum number of contracted sleeping rooms.
  16. Securing a smaller room block makes it more difficult for the organization to gain favorable hotel services, concessions and function space both this year and in future years at new/different properties.
  17. The hotel provides certain concessions to the organization based on filling the group room block (which help to offset registration rates).
  18. Helping the organization meet its room block obligation allows the event to earn reductions toward the overall master bill (e.g., comp rooms, commissions or rebates.)
  19. Future housing and registration rates can remain low when a majority of attendees book within the official group block.
  20. Booking within the group block is the right thing to do both to support the organization and to ensure the event remains financially viable.

Tell us in the comments what other reasons for booking within the official group block you would add to this list.


The public is listening and associations are spending

bigstock-Public-Relations-Concept-in-th-17050577As a public relations professional, imagine my excitement when I stumbled across a new report that found associations are spending an unprecedented amount of money to sway public opinion.

No, I’m not excited that associations are shelling out big bucks, but it’s validation.

It’s true that we’re spin doctors, but we’re there when you need us. It’s our job to help you sort through the clutter of public confusion, misinformation and media madness.

Last month, the Center for Public Integrity released a report on the PR spending of Washington, D.C.-based trade associations.

“It’s been well-publicized how much industry spends on lobbying the government, but little is known about how much money goes toward influencing the public,” the center says. “In an effort to find out more, Center for Public Integrity reporters examined the tax returns for trade associations that spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2012. The IRS requires the groups to report their top five contractors.”

The report found that from 2008 to 2012, 144 trade groups spent $1.2 billion – 37 percent of the total amount spent on contracts – on PR and marketing. By industry sector, energy and natural resources associations were the big spenders. Business associations came in second, spending more than $200 million on public relations, marketing and ad services. And, perhaps of special interest to our readers: The food and beverage association ranked No. 4 in PR spending.

At one time, associations earmarked thousands of dollars for lobbyists. But that’s slowly shrinking, thanks to the advent of social media, blogs and citizen journalism. Whereas lobbying engages policy makers, public relations engages a public platform devoid of class, gender, race and socioeconomic divisions.

So why the shift to public relations?

“They certainly want to influence the general public because the general public will then influence the politicians, the lawmakers or the regulators in that particular industry,” said Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief of trade magazine PR Week.

154067314-about-us1And it seems Edelman is thriving. The nation’s largest public relations firm, which employs 5,000 people, netted the most revenue. According to the report, associations paid Edelman nearly $350 million, with the American Petroleum Institute carrying most of the load.

It’s important to note that the report measured only the most politically active associations in Washington, D.C., so some key players could have been left out of the analysis.

However, “the contractor information provides an inside look at the way trade associations use PR and advertising to ply the American mind,” the Center for Public Integrity says. “Trade groups determined to fight regulations and boost profits of their members have spent heavily to influence how the public perceives policies that affect everything from the air we breathe to the beverages we drink.”

A word of caution: Transparency is important. If you budget for public relations efforts, make sure your members know where your association stands.

So, all this said….what do we do?

prtopnewsimageEssentially, PR pros are message makers. In a sticky situation, it’s our job to help clients maintain their integrity. But we’re also storytellers. Earned media (or non-paid media coverage) is key to reputation building, especially in a market in which PR pros outnumber journalists.

Is your association setting a trend? Does your association have an awesome success story to share, i.e. outreach or community service? Do you have a member organization that’s doing something incredible? That’s where PR can help. For starters, check out Public Relations Society of America, which includes a directory of PR firms and service providers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to reach out to me at


Bonus content: Event Garde e-news – March edition

Q & A with Peggy Hoffman, President, Mariner Management and Marketing

 A tribute to the Academy Awards!

Peggy Hoffman

Peggy Hoffman, president of Mariner Management and Marketing, LLC

Q: If you had to walk the Red Carpet, what would your dress look like?
A: I’m a classic type and my best features are my legs and arms. So my selection would be either a classically sexy black dress, either short or long, with two side slits. Add an interesting off-the-shoulder sweetheart neckline to show off an incredible onyx, ruby and diamond necklace.

Q: The award for the “Best ____ ” goes to Peggy Hoffman.
A: Wow, this one is tough because I’m not generally going for one best thing but a best package. I’d like to shine as a friend, listener, supporter. The best compliment I ever got was my son saying to another,  “My mom is strong.”

Q: In your thank you speech, whom would you thank, and why?
A: The list is long – really – because I’ve gained so much from so many different people, largely because people see me in so many different lights. The list would start with two people: my husband, Peter, and my Mom, Louise. It would definitely include my three sons and two dance mentors, two athletic mentors, two awesome friends and two sisters. (Wow! Sounds like I’m filling an ark!)

Q: Now, let’s pretend you were at the awards show in Hollywood. Which actor or actress would you most like to meet that night?
A: There isn’t one who comes immediately to mind and that’s largely because I have this nagging doubt that none would live up to my opinion of them as an artist. But, I’d like to think that Carol Burnett might come close – so let’s say Carol.

Q: Favorite movie (regardless of whether it won on Oscar), and why?
A: So I’m approaching this question based on whether I can watch it over and over again … you know, when you’re on the treadmill and it’s the movie playing on AMC or the free movie channel. The answer then is a tie between “Italian Job” (a 2003 heist film directed by Gary Gray and starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham and Edward Norton) and “True Lies” (1994 action film directed by James Cameron starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis). For the record, neither are Oscar-worthy, but hey, they make being on the treadmill a delight!

meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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