Event Marketing: Using sales agency agreements to increase attendance at meetings and conferences

Event Registration CurveNo Half-Full Planes

The marginal costs for adding one attendee to an event are usually negligible. Food, if provided, is typically the only cost of consequence. Therefore, additional attendees represent high-profit-margin opportunities. It’s a lot like the airline and cruise ship industries. Filling the last few seats/cabins at any price above the marginal costs is a good idea.

But how can the event organizer discount registration fees for procrastinators without making full-fare customers mad? By using a membership organization as a sales agent. The goal is to leverage their membership list to reach more people and fill the plane before takeoff.

Sales Agency Agreements

The event organizer approaches a membership organization in advance and proposes an SAA (sales agency agreement) under which the membership organization (agent) will be allowed to offer event registration to its members at a discounted price, often 20-30% less than face value. Of course organizations whose members are similar to the event’s target demographic will make the best sales agents.

Membership organizations like SAAs because they represent a low-effort, low-risk way to add value to a membership.


Watch attendee registrations over time. If your attendee marketing works as it should, you will sell out on your own and you will never need the SAA. Therefore, it is important to negotiate a deal that specifies that you have the discretion on when the SAA will be implemented.

If registrations flat-line with no sign of recovery (see weeks 8, 9 and 10 above), implement the SAA. Within a day or two, your sales agent should transmit a message to its members that you helped craft announcing a “specially discounted price” for them. If the SAA is properly structured and executed, it can salvage an event that would otherwise whither on the vine.

Art of the Science

The hardest part is knowing when to pull the trigger on the SAA. You may want to engage an experienced event marketing consultant who can help you decide when to activate your agreement using metrics, and, yes, gut feelings. The goal, of course, is to fill the seats while maximizing revenue.

Collateral benefits

This isn’t only about maximizing registration on one event. An SAA also exposes a new group of people to your organization and its programs. Good things will come from that!

New Thinking

Although sales agents are nothing new – for decades they have represented the primary means by which business has been conducted in insurance, real estate, advertising and manufacturing – SAAs are still uncommon in the event management industry. There is strong evidence, however, that times are changing. Exhibit A is the phenomenal success of EventBrite.com, a web-based sales agent for myriad events. EventBrite charges event organizers 2.5% of a ticket’s value plus 99¢ per ticket (capped at $9.95 per ticket for tickets costing more than $358 each), plus a flat 3% charge for credit card processing. In its third year, EventBrite took in $100M in sales, in its sixth year (2013) it made $1B! Rumors are circulating that it may go public!

2016-10-17T10:29:42+00:00 November 11th, 2015|Business Advice, Newsletter|