Boosting Seminar Attendance
Five key factors that could increase the success of your continuing education seminar.
The entire dental industry is going through a tremendous metamorphosis—technology is continuing its rapid pace of development; offshoring is creating new challenges; and mergers and acquisitions continue to impact the dental industry and profession. In the midst of it all, dental laboratories are scrambling to get noticed. And the struggling economy has affected one of their fundamental marketing strategies—hosting seminars for dental clients and prospects.
Although continuing education seminars are necessary for dentists to attend, they are becoming more difficult to fill. Many dentists have tightened their corporate purse strings for travel and entertainment. Seminar attendance is no exception when it comes to budgeting in this economy. However, there are a few key factors that may affect seminar attendance, including planning, topic choice, event timing, promotional marketing, and competition from manufacturers.
1. Proper Planning
Planning a successful seminar entails some strategic thinking and research on your part. You will need to start by establishing a solid and realistic budget. Many laboratory owners say that they do not believe in holding a seminar to make a profit, and the author agrees. It is nice to make some money, but that should not be the main reason to provide a seminar. Profits come later, after you have held the event, followed up with attendees, and done everything you can to convert prospective customers into good clients. Existing customers who attend should take away valuable information on how to help their practice become more efficient, operate more profitably, or work with new technology to aid them in providing better service to their patients.
2. Topic and/or Speaker Selection
Consider conducting an informal survey with some of your key clients on their areas of interest. Consult with your manufacturer representatives on speakers who are "hot" and the topics that seem to draw best. Remember, this is not about what you think, it is about what you know. You should rely on some research to help you garner and expand this knowledge. You want to provide value to the attendees so you need to offer a seminar speaker with the appropriate expertise who has a topic that meets the needs and wants of your attendees.
3. Event Timing
What days seem to work best in your area—weekends, middle of the week, evenings, or mornings? Event timing will depend on the type of seminar, the amount of time that the presenter needs, and the research results of your informal client surveys.
CE credits or the number of hours to be provided will also dictate the scheduling and timing of your seminar. Keep in mind that if CE hours/credits are provided, make sure to state how many credits will be provided and under which sanctioning body, such as the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology (NBC), the AGD Program Approval for Continuing Education (PACE), or the ADA Continuing Education Recognition Program (ADA CERP).
4. Event Promotion
If your seminar is going to be a large event and you have a well-known speaker, you should plan on at least a 4-month promotional schedule once you have laid out your budget, set a date, and secured a venue. Smaller seminars may not need as much lead time, but you should still follow a well thought-out schedule. The following is an example of a brief promotional schedule of required materials:
Invitation Mailing #1 – Mail at least 10 to 12 weeks prior to seminar
Invitation Mailing #2 – Mail approximately 8 to 9 weeks prior to seminar
Invitation Mailing #3 – Mail 4 weeks prior to the seminar
You might also want to consider invitations for delivery personnel to hand out and for sales or customer service personnel to send to their new contacts. Statement stuffers, case stuffers, or notices of seminar information printed on invoices can also be helpful. Finally, use the web—offering online registration and sending E-blast invitations to your customer list could attract more attendees.
Remember, if you have a number of staff on the phone daily with your customers, they can be invaluable to your seminar marketing efforts. Every staff member who comes into contact with customers or client prospects on the phone or in person should have all of the information regarding the seminar at their fingertips.
Your mailing list is critical. Make sure yours is as extensive and up to date as possible. If you do not have one, there are a number of dental magazine publishers that offer this service or you can check with mailing list providers.
5. Manufacturer Competition
Manufacturers present many seminars, and you should be careful not to schedule yours too closely to those they are offering. Check dental publication calendars, the Internet, and also discuss with your manufacturer sales representatives to get a timeline of industry events. There are a number of manufacturers that will help you, and some may even co-sponsor your event.
If you follow some simple guidelines and do your homework, you will certainly increase your likelihood of success and meeting your seminar objectives.
About the Author
Bill Neal, CDT, is president of AMG Creative, Inc. in Fort Collins, Colorado.