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Help, Our Public Seminar Response Rate Is Too Low! (Part I: Ten Commandments For Increasing It).

You're promoting a 3-day, $2,000 public seminar and you're looking for about 20 attendees. How many invitations do you send out?

If this were a wedding, you'd look for about a 70% acceptance rate, so you'd send out 30 invitations in order to net the 20 you need. Then you'd order enough cake for 25 just in case Aunt Tillie and her invalid sisters decide to attend.

However, believe it or not, some pretty seasoned seminar promoters typically send out 2000 pieces of promotional mail just to get one acceptance. That's a response rate of .05%. So to get a full room of 20, they need to flood the local post office with 40,000 pieces of mail.

Can you improve on those odds? You bet. But you have to have the right stuff going for you -- primarily a topic that's as hot as five alarm chili and a high profile audience that's frenzied with fear, uncertainty and doubt.

Specifically, here are 10 criteria that make for full seminar rooms with minimal promotion efforts:

  1. It's a latest rage topic, and people are dying to know more about it.

  2. Being in the know offers exciting possibilities in terms of individual achievement and enterprise success.

  3. Not knowing may be tantamount to career or organization suicide.

  4. The learning results in job-relevant skills that are immediately applicable. It's not theoretical or academic.

  5. The learning supports a tool, technology or methodology than an organization has invested substantially in.

  6. The learning addresses a key population engaged in critical work that directly benefits an organization's products, customers, profitability or competitive edge.

  7. You're the first to offer this vital knowledge, and no learning alternatives exist.

  8. You are an unimpeachable source for the knowledge, both well known and highly trusted by the target audience.

  9. There is a sizeable market for the learning, and candidates are easily identified via traditional promotional channels.

  10. You and your organization have the experience and skills to plan, promote and provide a superior public seminar offering.

Put it all together and you could be looking at a response rate as high as 5% -- fully 100x the 1/2000 acceptance rate many promoters settle for. And we've seen it happen when a high tech company suddenly obsoletes its own software with a substantial version change then rushes out a seminar to help frantic customers cope. Especially when the technology provider is the one and only source for the essential upgrade training.

More realistically, you aren't going to be able to load all of the dice in your favor -- but you can still influence the shake of things.

Consider the following:

  • You are promoting a time-worn seminar on "The Principles of Supervision" and you want to make it more topical. So your revise your title to become "Supervising the Telecommuting Work Force."

  • You offer authorized training on one of the popular technology certification strings -- but so does everybody else. So you differentiate yourself from your competition with "At our Boot Camp, if you don't pass you don't pay!"

  • You've got a great idea for a course on new wireless technologies, but you're an unknown in the field. So you partner with a leading telecom magazine or trade association that offers the name recognition, credibility and clout you need.

See what you can do to make your offerings a perfect 10. But don't take success for granted -- even if you do succeed. Because high public seminar promotion response rates can be fleeting and difficult to sustain.

Some years ago we promoted a Zero Base Budgeting event in DC immediately after ardent ZBB advocate Jimmy Carter had been elected. What a bonanza! Hundreds of panicked congressmen, bureaucrats, lobbyists and Pentagon types in full braid swarmed the Beltway toward our meeting site and lined our pockets with cash.

Six months later, ZBB was old news, competitors had peed in the soup, and it was clear to the Washington establishment that it was going to be business as usual. A subsequent event was only sparsely attended.

Smart public seminar companies have what it takes to succeed even when response rates trail off. Stay tuned for the next issue of Training Business E-Visory for Part II to see why.

Questions you may have:

Q: What's with this one acceptance out of 2000 pieces mailed? I thought 2% was the typical direct mail response rate.

A: There is no such thing as a "typical mail response rate." It all boils down to how much can you afford to spend to acquire an inquiry or an order. The more you can afford to spend, the lower response rate you can settle for.

Q: What's all this direct mail stuff? Isn't the Web making direct mail obsolete?

A: Direct mail is an intrusive medium that confronts a prospect and commands action -- even if that action is to toss it out. Web promotion will not be noticed unless the prospect takes the initiative to punch in the URL. For the immediate future, savvy seminar marketers will need to use both channels in order to optimize their business results.

Q: How about e-mail promotion? What kind of response rates should we expect there? Will e-mail eventually knock snail mail out of the box?

A: Because of the issues of spam and confidentiality, many list owners will not release their customers' e-mail contact information (even though they are delighted to rent their mailing address!). Other list owners require stringent opt-in requirements that significantly limit the available e-mail promotion universe. E-mail contact information that is available is typically highly expensive and suspect as to quality. So, for the time being, e-mail promotion is most viable as a way of promoting to your own customer base. E-mail that is hot linked to a Web site would seem to combine the intrusiveness and completeness of superior direct mail promotion. But we still wouldn't advise abandoning direct mail by a long shot.

Q: How about professional certification? Won't that help improve promotion response to our seminar offerings.

A: In general, yes -- especially if certification is required to maintain professional standing, e.g. in the accounting and nursing fields. We would include this under Commandment II.

Q: Most of your 10 Commandments seem to bear upon the topic of the seminar and the target audience. Can't superior promotion also make a difference?

A: Having the right title, offer and audience can make a difference of as much as 100x in your seminar response rate. Rarely will your promotion copy and graphics make any more than a 2x difference.

Q: We're not in the public seminar business, and don't plan to be. Do your 10 Commandments apply to other education and training business segments?

A: For offers requiring initiative on the part of the learner, for sure. Less so for corporate mandated staples like supervision training, sexual harassment training, safety training, etc.

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