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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order

Selling the Seminar
By Alan Rosenspan

Last month, we talked about putting together a successful seminar. This article will be about how to successfully promote it.

Your seminar is all wrapped up and ready to roll.

You and your team have put together a powerful agenda, scheduled desirable venues*, and arranged for provocative, informative speakers.

Now all you need is an audience.

How can you get people interested in your seminar, and willing to invest their time and money to attend? (Even if it's a free seminar, people still may have to pay for travel and accommodations)

It all starts with the Seminar Invitation - and timing can be everything.

* Las Vegas is the most popular convention city in the world. I just did a seminar in Madrid and it was absolutely beautiful.

When should you send your invitation?

Has this ever happened to you? You get a direct mail piece about an event you'd love to attend - but unfortunately, it's on Tuesday. This Tuesday.

What I recommend is to send your initial seminar mailing piece from 4 to 6 weeks before the first event.

This will give most people enough time to plan to attend, but not too much time so that your seminar seems like it's too far off to think about.

If you're not ready to send a complete package, you might want to consider a "Save the Date!" postcard or mailing that alerts your prospects to the fact that more seminar information will be coming shortly.

Plus mailing early gives you an opportunity to send follow-up packages that say, "Better hurry - a limited number of seats are still available."

What should you your invitation include?

Your seminar mailing has to do an important job. It not only has to announce the seminar, but it also has to address every possible question that a prospective attendee will ask.

These include all of the following questions. Underneath each one, I've put what the prospect will be thinking, and what you need to overcome. If you don't, you risk losing a prospective attendee.

• What company is presenting the seminar, and why?

"I'm sure you'd like me to buy your products - but that's not the point of the seminar, is it? Also, what credibility do you have in presenting this topic? Who are you guys anyway?"

• Who will actually be speaking at the seminar?

"Does the person have any credentials? Have I ever heard of him or her? Does it sound like it would be interesting?

• Who should attend?

"Did I get this mailing by accident or was it meant for me? Am I going to feel out of place if I attend? Will I understand what's being presented?"

• What can I expect to learn?

"Um...I need to convince my boss to send me. What do I tell her? Do I really have the time to spare? Will I learn anything important - anything I can use?

• How will I benefit from attending?

"Not just my company - me. How will I benefit? What's the big picture benefit, and what are all the little ways I'll benefit? Please give me some specifics."

• How else will I benefit?

"I'm almost convinced - but tell me more. Will I get a certificate, have a chance to network, gain educational credits?"

• What will I take away with me?

"Will I receive a workbook? How many pages? Is there anything free - like a sample?

And most importantly:

"What can I bring back with me to share with other people who could not attend?"

There are two reasons this last point is so critical.

The first is that most people who are attending do not, or cannot make their purchasing decision at the seminar. They must consult their manager, their co-workers or even their spouse.

You must provide them with the tools they need to return to their home or office, and persuade others of what they have learned.

The second reason is that most people do not, or cannot make a decision right away (although there are ways to accelerate this, which we will discuss).

You must provide them with a strong reminder when they are back from the seminar.

And, of course, there are some purely tactical questions you must answer:

"Where do I go, how much do I pay, how do I dress, when do I show up, what happens if I don't like it, what happens if I cancel, and what meals and snacks will be included?"

What about versioning?

One of the most successful techniques that I have ever applied to seminar mailings is versioning the message.

And there are some very simple, cost-effective ways to do it.

One way is to keep the same invitation piece, the same reply card - and then version the letter based on who it is directed to.

For example, you could version the letter to:

1. People that have attended previous seminars. Believe it or not, these people are the most likely to attend again. And that's not even the most important reason to re-invite them.

The message here is: we know you're interested in our topic. Now we have new information to share with you.

Your could also invite them to bring an associate, a colleague or even a team. And that's why this group is so important.

This re-invitation will enable them to bring others in their company who are interested, and key decision-makers, and may even accelerate the sale.

2. People that registered, but didn't attend. As many as 50% may not show up if it's a free seminar; a smaller percentage than that if they've paid. But they could be a major opportunity for you.

    The message to this group is: You were interested enough to register once; it's okay that you missed it; but you don't want to miss this new one - it's even more important.

3. People that have previously expressed interest in your company or products. The message is: now you can see how it all fits together.

Versioning the letter is, of course, the least expensive way to do different versions, and may even be the most effective. My advice is to version the very first few paragraphs, so the reader instantly knows that it is directed to them.

You may also consider versioning the outer envelope.

The all-important brochure or invitation piece

In most direct mail packages, it is the letter that is the most important part. Research has shown that it can account for 65-75% of your total response.

Seminar packages may be the single exception.

The invitation piece that describes the seminar and the benefits of attending may be more important, since it is the one part of the package that most people will save and refer to.

It is also the part that they are likely to pass on to their boss or colleagues to get approval.

My recommendation is to make this piece as informative and persuasive as possible. Include all the benefits and importantly, the specifics.

For example, if I'm going to learn how to use your new software, tell me that I'll learn 52 Shortcuts, 101 Secrets, 3 easy techniques that will save me 2 hours every day.

You probably want to include the agenda in this piece, as well as testimonials from people who have attended before (if possible) and also a photograph of what you'll be handing out.

This is also the place to re-iterate your money-back guarantee, if you have one.

The last suggestion I have for seminar brochures is that you may want to include a photograph of happy people attending the seminar. The reason why is that it suggests that the seminar is enjoyable as well as informative - and that can be important.

In fact, there is a well-known seminar insert on Negotiation that you often see in airline magazines. For many years, their control headline was "In business, you don't get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate."

Their new insert has a man laughing, with the headline "Actual photo of a man sharpening his negotiation skills."

Other seminar suggestions

Here are a few other tips on promoting a successful seminar.

1. Make sure they know it's a seminar. The cover of your brochure should have prominent dates and venues. You want people to instantly understand that they are being asked to attend a seminar, not purchase a product or send for more information.

2. Consider an invitation format. It's been iMarket's control for over four years, beating out some very creative packages. Also consider writing 'Invitation" or "You're invited…" on the outer envelope.

    iMarket has tested dozens of packages against this control, including a brilliant one that had this outside headline, "He's your most valuable customer. What should you do with him?" The visual was a man's head.
    The inside showed several photographs of the same man's head placed on several sheep. The headline said, "Clone him!"
    We loved the creative. We adored the idea. We tested it against our simple invitation format - the boring old "You're invited…" won hands down.

3. Don't assume people won't travel. When you're putting together a seminar series, some companies assume that people will only be interested in seminars that are in the same cities.

    It's not necessarily so - make sure you include the entire list of seminars in the mailing. Many people will choose to attend in another city at a date that's more convenient for them.

4. Never offer to "send the seminar" to them.

    It's a thorny problem. What do you do about people who can't attend your seminar (they have a conflict, or they're just not interested enough yet) but still represent good prospects for your company?
    On your reply card, you could give them a choice: "No, I can't attend. But please send me your free information kit."
    The danger is that a significant number of people will choose the kit, and not the seminar - because it requires less of a commitment. And the better the offer, the more likely they are to make that choice.
    The solution is to make a second offer - but be careful. You might consider: "No, I can't attend, but please let me know when your next seminar is scheduled."

5. Your follow-up confirmation process may be even more important than your initial invitation.

    Once someone registers, you need to confirm ASAP, in writing. And then send them something that will get them even more excited about attending.
    You might also want to consider: a telemarketing "reminder" two days before; a fax confirmation; an e-mail acknowledgment; maybe even a personal message from the presenter.
    While these are all expensive - remember that you are only using them against a highly targeted group: those people who have agreed to attend. Each dollar you spend to ensure that they do so is an excellent investment.

    You might also invite your registrants to submit questions in advance. It gets them thinking, allows you to address their specific issues at the seminar itself, and makes it seem more personal and valuable.


After it's all over

Whew! The seminar is finally over, and most people seemed happy with the results. Your sales people have some excellent leads. You might even have made a few sales.

Are you finished? Absolutely not - you're just getting started!

Many companies stop marketing to seminar attendees who haven 't purchased. Their reasoning is: "If they didn't buy right after the seminar, they're never going to buy."

Nothing could be further from the truth. It may not have been the right time. They may not have had an immediate need. Other things might have come up and interfered.

The point is -- if someone has voted with their time and money to attend your seminar, they will remain the single best prospects for your product and service for many months.

Go get 'em!

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