NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Leave enlightened or get your money back.
That's what the Association of National Advertisers is offering those attending its "Brand Building in Tough Times & Beyond" conference in New York on May 13. The conference guarantees attendees will leave with "at least a dozen brand-building ideas and inspirational tactics for how to engage consumers" or they'll get a refund.
The offer is unusual, perhaps even unprecedented, say meeting experts. But, then again, an advertising association should have a leg up when thinking about creative ways to market itself.
"Like everybody, meeting attendees are watching their budgets, so this is an enticing offer," said Rayna Katz, executive editor at MeetingNews magazine. "This is a good way to spark interest in the meeting. I just hope it's not something that would become expensive for the association."
Specifics still undetermined
Bill Duggan, exec VP at the ANA, said he doesn't expect people to be "pulling a fast one." But few specifics have been ironed out as to how ANA would actually go about refunding registration fees. Mr. Duggan said refunds will be handled on a case-by-case basis, though he's fairly confident it won't be an issue. Still, he says the May 13 event will serve as a test. If the money-back guarantee is successful in attracting attendees and doesn't lead to a rash of refunds, it could be rolled out at other ANA events.
"This is just meant to provide people considering the conference one more piece of ammunition to get approval [from their boss]," he said. "It's a tactic that other marketers have used to back up when they think they have a good product."
Even with a good product, meeting planners are having trouble attracting attendees in this environment. Meeting Professionals International projects attendance at association meetings will be down by 15% this year, due to corporate budget cuts and high travel costs.
"This is a very bold move, and I give them kudos," said Katie Callahan-Giobbi, chief business architect at Meeting Professionals International. "This is definitely new. So, maybe they're going to start a trend. ... With the economic times we're in right now, there are a lot of different, creative things happening. Even on the association side, planners are having to deal with doing more for less."
Indeed, Mr. Duggan said the guarantee is just one of several initiatives to attract attendance in a tough economy. Prices have also been lowered by hundreds of dollars. This year's member rates are $395 per person or $595 for three attendees from the same company. Mr. Duggan expects about 200 people will attend the event, putting it on par with last year -- though with drastically lower registration fees, it won't be nearly as profitable.
"We've adjusted our profitability expectations. Part of our strategy this year for conferences is to maximize member attendance and overall satisfaction," said Mr. Duggan. "It's not a year where we're expecting robust profitability on conferences."