Here are several reasons why conference e-mail dailies are well worth the effort.
By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter
A recent query to the Association Media & Publishing e-mail discussion list asked about the value of conference daily newsletters. Over the years, I've been involved with conference daily newsletters for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and several other organizations. Nowadays, most have gone to electronic rather than print. The technology may have changed, but the value of such projects remains intact (and the rush of doing these projects is almost as wild as in the days before e-mail and electronic publishing).
I created and wrote an onsite conference daily newsletter for an association last summer that went out by e-mail once a day using Constant Contact. Each issue had highlights of the coming day's events (especially any schedule changes), very brief recaps of major sessions from the previous day with photos, a couple of short interviews with exhibitors on the value of the event for them, and a promo for this year's conference. It was timed to reach participants' inboxes early enough each morning (around 6 a.m.) so they could see it before starting their day. It was a big hit, and the plan is to do it again this year.
Some of it was written ahead of time, such as names of award recipients, but most was done onsite. We planned content in advance through a couple of teleconferences and had a short planning meeting every morning. We had a four-person team: me, doing the writing; a photographer; a tech person for formatting/production and dissemination; and the editor, who proofread before it went out (in addition to having a number of other responsibilities at the conference). The photographer and I were freelancers; the editor and tech person were staffers.
E-letters make it easy to distribute the dailies to attendees and all members, as well as media, supporters and other audiences. This one went to conference participants and other members and supporters simultaneously, with the goal of informing participants about sessions they might have missed and motivating non-attenders to come to next year's event. Both goals were met and then some, with participants saying they loved the newsletterand non-attenders saying how much the newsletter made them realize what they had missed.
One possibility is to distribute it daily only to attenders during the event and then send the collection of dailies to non-attenders later as one piece. That would enhance the benefit for participants and still give non-attenders a sense of what they missed – and ideally, motivate them to attend the next year.
In terms of content, the trick is to provide enough highlights to both inform and intrigue—to say something substantive about a session, but make it clear that hearing the whole thing in person would be even more beneficial. You don't want to give so much depth that anyone thinks they can get the benefit of the conference just from getting the newsletter.
Sending out a conference e-letter each day of the event seems to work. People really want the information, and the e-mail format means they can set it aside to read at their leisure or easily delete it if they feel overwhelmed. At a lot of conferences these days, participants are using Twitter all day long to share opinions and updates, so one e-letter a day would be no big deal. If it's done right, it should stand out and ask for attention.
To ensure that a conference daily gets read, regardless of whether it’s an e-letter or a Web-based version, mention the daily as part of every conference message and perhaps on a ticker at the website. Start announcing the daily before the conference and continue through the event, especially if doing this for the first time. Every major session should start with a reminder that the website or participants’ inbox has conference coverage.
An electronic conference daily has the same benefits as a paper daily: It gives members valuable, timely info; makes exhibitors/advertisers more visible and thus happy; and makes the association look up-to-date technologically. And the costs are relatively minor: a distribution program (which can be expensed across the whole year if it's used for other important messages and events) and the staff or freelance time to create it.
No equipment, paper, printing, dissemination costs ... but I have to admit that I sometimes still miss those 24-hour-days, midnight runs to the printshop, and 5 am journeys throughout the hotel to slip a printed conference daily under everyone's door.
Ruth E. "I can write about anything!”™ Thaler-Carter is an award-winning freelance writer/editor.