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Market Gains

By Selena Fragassi


When it comes to a great reputation, a venue's work is not done with the accommodations or the catering or even when the meeting or event wraps. There's a great deal of attention paid to the work done outside of just the execution; we salute these four venues that have put in the extra work to also create user-friendly websites, engaging social media, and unique print ads and marketing collateral. Here's the best we've seen this year.

Best Marketing Collateral
Winner: Simmons College (Boston, MA)

Simmons College is not a traditional venue-and the conferences and special events department knew that their promotional collateral couldn't be ordinary either. "I wanted to develop a marketing piece that was different, not a bi-fold brochure, or a packet that had loose pages that would fall out," says Nikki Vanderpol, director, conferences and special events. "I wanted to produce a piece that delivered the pertinent information in an easy-to-read, clear, concise format." To do so, Vanderpol and a colleague came up with the idea to create a set of bright flash cards on heavy card stock that were held together by a ball-and-chain key ring, along with her business card as the perfect finishing touch.

"I believe that when a potential client is shopping around for a venue they are seeking out one that they can trust to execute all components of the event," adds Vanderpol. "With this in mind, I wanted the content of the piece to focus on four main messages." Each card features information on those individual points, including information about the college's over-the-top customer service and convenient one-stop shop operation as well as their commitment to work ethic. "I want recipients to know that we have knowledge of conference planning, and also relay the message that our staff will take care of them and their guests, from the first point of contact to the final invoicing." The other two cards explain the college's ability to customize services and provide flexibility, and finally, tout the ideal location in Boston with a campus surrounded by Fenway Park, museums, and restaurants, and access to the downtown district.

The other added benefit is that this particular marketing collateral has a longer shelf life. "Our conference business changes over time, and this design allows us to replace one card if needed, without having to reproduce the entire piece." // (617) 521.2158

Best Print Ad
Winner: McNamara Alumni Center (Minneapolis, MN)

Talk about a slam-dunk! McNamara Alumni Center's winning print ad grew out of the staff's love of basketball-and humor. "Because the Alumni Center is part of a Division 1 college campus at the University of Minnesota, March Madness is well-known and talked about in this community," says Director of Marketing & Sales Amy T. Leyden of the ad that ran for 30 days in March, right around the time of the popular competition. "And because I'm a huge college basketball fan and our small events team has a good sense of humor, I envisioned a 'McNamara Madness' booking promotion that featured our team in basketball uniforms superimposed upon a background of our gorgeous Memorial Hall."

To make the photo shoot work, Leyden borrowed basketballs and uniforms from the University of Minnesota Gophers men's team. "They agreed to let us remove the jerseys' names and numbers and replace them [respectively] with MCNAMARA and 20%, with the number identifying the ad's promotion for 20 percent off the rental rate when you book a room."

Leyden was not only the creative director for the piece but also the photographer. "Our team members lined up in front of black pipe and drape and gave his or her best 'attitude,'" she recalls. "That was the most fun-with many laughs-primarily because our team is made up of such kind, customer-service-friendly people, so getting them to look tough and intimidating was hard for many of them!"

A graphic designer put the piece together in Photoshop and Leyden wrote coordinating copy that reflected basketball lingo alongside the hashtag MACMAD to inspire social media posts. The ad was posted on the Alumni Center's website and social media pages, and sent electronically to a long client list. "Our clients found this campaign hilarious," admits Leyden. "We received many, many likes on the Facebook post and some clients requested posters for their offices. Best of all, it generated bookings." // (612) 624.9831

Best Website
Winner: Bishop's University Conference Services (Sherbrooke, QB)

In May, Bishop's University Conference Services department met their goal of completing a website upgrade before the kickoff of the new summer conference season. "Our main priority is to stay ahead of the current conference trends, and we like to keep our website maintained accordingly," says Martine Couture, conference coordinator, sales and marketing. Some of the updates included adding catering menus from the venue's three exclusive partners, as well as adding information on a wedding package, holiday menus, and a comprehensive list of A/V equipment and services available on campus through the university's IT department. A revision also included new descriptive text for each of the event types offered. "We wanted these descriptions to highlight the benefits of using our one-stop-shop conference services," adds Couture.

Planners find the website easy to use since it's bilingual (Quebec has a large proportion of both English and French speakers) and because all the necessary components are contained within a section separate from the individual traveler portal, "therefore the information planners find here is very specific to their group market," says Couture. One of the other main benefits is that the website outlines easy steps for organizers that aren't necessarily professional planners. "We provided step-by-step guides for planning an event that are easy to understand and follow a natural flow," says Couture. The path starts at accommodations, then moves to venue choices listed by type of event, then food, amenities, and other activities.

Visuals were also important to the Conference Services department and one of the major upgrades was updating about 95 percent of the photos featured "to give a fresh and modern look to the website," notes Couture. "We wanted the photos to speak for themselves in order to avoid long text." The website also features a virtual venue tour video, created by Unique Venues, "so we could show our clients what their experience will be like," adds Couture. // (819) 822.9651

Best Social Media Presence
Winner: Willowdale Estate (Topsfield, MA)

Gaining followers on social media and keeping them engaged is no easy task nowadays as more and more accounts come online and more people turn to hashtags and retweets as a primary way of communicating. The way that Willowdale continues to make headway is by "focusing on the shared values with our customers," says Sarah Boucher, sr. sales and marketing manager. "We like showcasing exceptional party experiences and event planning inspiration, as well as our excellent catering and historic location. We promote these shared values through video, photos, and text that will be compelling to our target audience of current and potential customers, past clients, neighbors, other event professionals, friends, and family members of our team."

Boucher says that her staff regularly posts on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. "The social channels that drive the most traffic to our website have been Pinterest and Facebook," she says, "and Instagram traffic is growing rapidly and we anticipate that with the added business features this platform will quickly become one of our favorite ways to connect with prospective clients."

In the past year, part of the team's emphasis has also been on high-quality engagement (such as getting more likes, comments, and shares) as well as conversions through social promotions. "We seek out new opportunities for engagement and encourage conversation and participation in the ways that are most natural for the user since each platform is different," adds Boucher.

For example, on Pinterest, she says, "Our goal is to reach our target customer before they even start the search for a venue. We add images that have a mix of helpful keywords related to the image and location keywords in the description to make sure that users who are using the search feature can find our page based on the kind of party they are planning, or the location of the event." On Facebook the idea is to create posts that are likely to encourage comments or shares. "Organic interest on Facebook can have a dramatic impact on brand awareness, referrals, and reaching a target audience without paying for ads. It also helps to encourage other businesses and individuals to connect through tagging our location, writing reviews, and posting photos," says Boucher, noting the team does use targeted ads from time to time based on posts that have already proven to do well. And Instagram, she says, "is the perfect platform for reaching new people and showcasing our best work in a visually compelling way. We've had a lot of success connecting with industry partners, recently engaged couples, and locals through the use of our venue's location tag, relevant hashtags, and through following and building relationships with key influencers in our target audience."

As Willowdale heads into 2018, Boucher says the focus will be on increasing the frequency of posts for Pinterest and Instagram, and also creating video to share on Facebook and more promotional stories for Instagram. "We have also started to use the [social media organizing tool] Buffer this year and we are just loving the schedule feature," she says. "We expect this tool to be a time-saver, but also helpful in analyzing what is working well for us and to cross-post our best content in the coming year." // (978) 887.8211