Planning Your Association’s Big Event? Invite Content Marketing

Events are a big deal for associations. Here’s how to sustain an event-aligned content strategy long after everyone goes home.

You don’t need to be a football fan to be one of the 200 million people who tune into the Super Bowl. Way before the big event, we all get sucked into those human interest stories about the players (even the ones that don’t involve Taylor Swift). By game day, you’re fully invested. Then there’s the actual event, accompanied by the must-see ads and halftime entertainment extravaganza — all fueling a frenzy of in-the-moment action on social feeds. And afterward? There are the hardcore analysis pieces breaking down the action and the feature stories detailing the massive victory (or humbling defeat).

Point is: Super Bowl organizers clearly know how to capitalize on content to build buzz before, during and after an event. And that offers up a big lesson for associations.

Nearly all associations have their own Super Bowl — the big event that often serves as the ultimate connection point with members. More than 9 in 10 associations ranked conferences, trade shows and face-to-face events as a top member engagement tool, according to Association Adviser’s 2023 Association Benchmarking Report. With the right planning, an omnichannel content marketing blitz can help you make the most of your event — and not just while it’s happening. Here’s what that might look like:

Before: Create FOMO.

This is the time to position your event as a must-attend affair. And one of the best ways to do that is with an all-star lineup. To keep things fresh, associations need to be constantly on the lookout for the talent and topics that will resonate most. That’s where having an always-on content program can help. As you scout for new voices, invite your best podcast guests to be part of a panel discussion. Recruit the magazine columnists, bloggers and sources who piqued the most interest or offered a different POV.

In 2022, for example, we interviewed musician and artist Beatie Wolfe for Project Management Institute’s Future 50 campaign highlighting up-and-coming project leaders. The resulting profile helped forge a connection that led to Wolfe taking the stage as a speaker at the association’s annual conference months later. The takeaway: Your day-to-day content efforts can strengthen your event planning.

Once you’ve got your lineup in place, give your audience a sneak peek of your speakers — and their smart ideas — with journalism-driven content sprinkled across your channels. Think beyond the typical headshot and presentation title. A Q&A or an in-depth dive into a topic with quotes from multiple speakers can help generate excitement (and curiosity) about the experts — and your event.

Associations can also create content that helps people plan for the conference in practical ways. Case in point: You might develop an article featuring previous attendees giving their expert advice on how to network at the event. You could create a social slideshow on how to set work boundaries while OOO or a quiz that helps people choose sessions that align with their interests. Whether attendees are first-timers or conference veterans, that kind of how-to content helps them navigate your association’s events — and have the best possible experience.

During: Build thought leadership cred.

You know how news sites and channels provide wall-to-wall coverage of political conventions? Associations can do the same during their events — using a content blitz to keep attendees engaged. Bonus: It can also seed a little envy among those who couldn’t attend.

What can take your event coverage plan to the next level?

Tap real-time social storytelling. Using your social channels to report on speakers’ insights and hot takes as they’re unleashed gives followers a taste of all the thought leadership goodness happening. Engaging on social also paves the way for attendees to repost and share their own thoughts. (And in a virtuous circle of content, taking a moment to capture thoughts and reactions from attendees can fuel future storytelling endeavors.)

Amplify your podcast with a live audience. You’ll have no shortage of experts on-site to interview for your association’s podcast. And with a little advance planning, you can transform that live recording into its own must-see event. Set up a dedicated space where people can watch and listen as a way to market your podcast — and perhaps attract guests or drum up topic ideas for future episodes.

Push out previews and roundups. For its annual trade show, the Consumer Technology Association publishes CES Daily — a massive print and digital book that highlights the top speakers, trends and products for the show’s 130,000-plus attendees. One recent edition was 82 pages, complete with ads. If your association lacks the resources to go that big, just scale back accordingly. A morning blast delivered via email, social or an event hub gives attendees — and those at home — an opportunity to quickly review what’s coming up and anything they might have missed.

After: Take a step back … then look ahead.

Your association’s events are bound to have some hits — and some misses. So take time to dive into what you should replicate and what needs an overhaul.

And it doesn’t end there. Here’s how you can sustain an event-aligned content strategy long after everyone goes home:

Publish an ICYMI roundup. In the days following the event, kick off an omnichannel blitz to share highlights and hammer home particular themes. This can be drawn from a mix of curated content and big-picture takeaways captured from speaker and attendee interviews conducted during the event or through follow-up outreach. Just also make sure to remind people when and where your association’s next major event will be.

Turn new connections into new content. Association members network at events. Association content teams can do the same to build connections with potential sources and subject matter experts. Follow up with people in the weeks after the event to determine whose experience might fit with your future content priorities. Are they working on interesting initiatives or reaching notable career milestones that your association could highlight through content?

Start brainstorming for next year’s event. Your event planning and content marketing teams should mix and mingle on the regular. Hold monthly check-ins to determine which themes are being penciled in for your upcoming conference — and which content topics are bubbling up and gaining traction. That kind of collaboration not only fosters alignment but helps spark new ideas.

Events are a big deal for associations. And it’s not just the Super Bowl that can score with content.