SAVE TIME AND MONEY WITH ONLINE REGISTRATION
By Dawn Erickson
Save time. Save money. Of all the businesses and services that make this promise, perhaps the one that means the most to meeting planners is the online registration service.
Planning a meeting or event used to consist of hours, days, weeks and months of mailings, telephone calls, spreadsheets, follow-up, payment collection and processing, and many other tasks that only an event planner can know.
Online registration has simplified the organizational process for event planners and meeting attendees as well. It stores all the meeting details on the Web, allows for customized e-mail invitations and correspondence, tracks attendees’ reservations and travel arrangements, takes payments, and is ready at any moment to produce up-to-the-minute status reports. Some services go beyond meeting registration to allow surveys of attendees before and after the event. Some even offer the opportunity to store past events and call up their historical details for comparing to later events.
For example, the six-year-old company Cvent, based in McLean, Virginia, handles more than 50,000 events per year through its online registration service. With more than 5,000 event and marketing professional customers, Cvent and other online registration services have found a ready market for the convenience offered by their product.
Sandra Wright of the National Corn Growers Association, headquartered in St. Louis, has been involved in organizing the annual Corn Utilization and Technology Conference since 1998. “We used to need two full-time people to keep up with the details and registration,” she said. “Since we began using Cvent in 2002, one person can handle it.”
Among the most useful software features are the pre-conference and post-conference surveys, according to Wright. “We can find out why some invitees are not coming,” she said. “And we can survey different types of attendees such as exhibitors, students, and members of the association to find out how to make the next conference more useful to them.”
“Cvent’s product has brought the event planner’s 60-hour work week down to 40 hours, like it should be,” said Eric Eden, Cvent’s director of marketing.
“It’s so convenient to have all the event information, from the invitation to the final report, in one location,” said Cvent customer Maggie Eubanks, chapter administrator for Meeting Professionals International – St. Louis. “It’s a great process for registration. Once you get the hang of the system, everything is right there. We can track all types of information and statistics for reports.”
Cvent is one of dozens of online registration companies. As Cvent emphasizes its product’s usefulness to event and marketing professionals, other companies emphasize service to other types of organizations. For instance, Count Me In directs its product toward political campaigns, youth activities, sports teams, museums and non-profit organizations as well as corporations. It can be used as a volunteer recruitment device and a fund-raising method. Another example is 123Signup, which emphasizes its product for event and member-organization marketing and directory management for member organizations. Although each business’ promotional material may be angled slightly toward different types of users, most offer similar Web-based software and capabilities.
While the end result to the user is indeed time and money saved, online registration services are not free. The savings stem from streamlining and automating the registration process and from the replacement of costly printed materials with e-mail correspondence. Pre-and post-event surveys, data access and detailed instant reports replace research and analysis services that may have been outsourced to a consultant. Cvent, for example, charges from $3 to $15 per registration. Count Me In charges transaction fees from $2.50 to $4.95 when a registration, membership or donation occurs. Most online registration companies base fees on the services chosen by each customer. With meeting attendance or organization membership ranging from 250 people to 250,000, costs can run to six figures for the largest customers. Smaller groups can also find an online registration service to meet their tightly budgeted needs.
A great advantage of online registration is its Web-based software, which allows access from anywhere at any time. Event planners can update their meeting plans and instantly obtain the latest attendance information, attendees can change their personal travel arrangements, hotels can access information about incoming groups, and corporate travelers can gain up-to-the-minute information because the software is not installed on a desktop. Online registration companies can also update and improve their software programs instantly.
Online registration is adaptable to a wide range of uses. In addition to the detailed itinerary management necessary to event planning, the service is adaptable to all types of membership forms, from soccer team sign-ups to museum sponsorships. It can also be used for online balloting and its fee collection capability makes it useful for gathering donations for limitless causes.
Companies that offer such broad-reaching marketing tools to their customers must have expert marketing programs of their own. Cvent, for example, conducts a national seminar tour of 100 cities several times each year to maintain frequent contact with customers and prospective clients. Cvent, as well as other online registration companies, offers online demonstrations of software on its Web site several times each week. Cvent also is a frequent educational presenter at industry events.
The all-encompassing nature of online registration software is best summed up as a list of the chores it performs for its customers. Cvent’s “Secrets of Successful Event Marketing & Management” takes the event planning process from beginning to end with downloadable advice on:
• Effective and economical invitations,
• Customized communications to invitees,
• Comprehensive campaign management with “real time” data reporting,
• Creating an effective event Web site,
• Gathering information about each attendee’s expectations and needs,
• Collecting payments online,
• Replacing time-consuming chores with technological tools,
• Managing logistics, agenda and details,
• Effective post-event follow-up, and
• Post-event data analysis to maximize success and identify areas for improvement.
Downloadable tips on building e-mail databases, e-mail marketing techniques and other topics are available at Cvent’s Web site as well as other online registration Web sites.
“With the right technology, event planners can automate and streamline their meetings and events,” Eden said. “With the right tools to plan and manage their events, they can increase attendance and reduce costs.”
(Dawn Erickson is a contributor from Branson, MO)