Choosing the Right Conference Pricing Strategy

Two smiling women, talking in lobby of conference center during coffee break
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When you’re planning a conference, choosing how much you’re going to charge people to attend is a pivotal decision. If the price is too high then you risk missing your attendance numbers. On the other hand, if you don’t clear enough after costs, then even a small crisis could turn the entire venture into a loss. 

Ultimately, the two most important factors for determining your conference pricing strategy will be the anticipated costs and attendance estimates. Without these projections, it will be difficult to choose a pricing model that best fits your organization and attendees. Give yourself plenty of time to research these two figures before determining your pricing model.

After all the hard work that you put into putting your event together, from pinpointing your target market to customizing your conference to meet their needs, it’s worth studying the different pricing strategies outlined below and choosing one that provides the best solution for your market.

The Retail Approach

The most basic pricing strategy you can use is to calculate expenses, add a profit margin, and then divide the sum by the lowest projected attendance figure. Retail stores have been formulating projections like this for years, but it does require accuracy.

To sketch out a figure, you’d take static costs like venue rental and audio/visual fees that won’t change regardless of how many people attend and weigh them with variables like food and other per-person expenses. This is where your projected minimums are essential because they will ultimately cover your fixed costs.

Market Pricing

When you base your conference fees on the market you are essentially playing with a vision of what people can afford. It is the opposite of the retail approach since it begins by setting the price of admission and then working backward to build the conference within that budget. One thing to keep in mind with market pricing is that it is based on perceived value. In other words, attendees are not going to hand over their money simply because you are having an event. You must provide exceptional value or else you will struggle to sell tickets at any price.

Limited Access Pricing

This is a tiered pricing model that offers more features and benefits to those who pay more. For example, a basic ticket might admit someone to the main general session and breakouts. The next tier would provide all this plus a seat at the keynote luncheon. The VIP ticket would include preferred seating at all events and access to an exclusive break room and post-event networking function. Again, the key to success is creating enough value in each tier to generate sufficient demand.

Incentives and Penalties

You can use incentives and penalties to encourage registration within a specific time period. You have probably seen “early bird” registration offers at many of the events you have attended. The goal of these promotions is to cover all of your fixed costs early so that you aren’t scrambling to raise money near the end. 

Penalties or late registration fees are almost essential if you are serving food because most catering contracts include surcharges for orders placed after the final guarantee date. Make sure to explain this to late registrants, since oftentimes they feel manipulated by penalties when in reality the additional fee is enforced only to cover your costs.

Post-Event Access

Offering online access to a recorded version of your conference sessions is a  popular idea in the internet age, but be aware that this strategy has the potential to affect your marketing efforts. There will be some prospective attendees who won’t feel motivated to attend the live event when they discover that the sessions will be recorded. Not to mention, your organization will also incur expenses for recording equipment, website management, and hosting fees. For these reasons, it is better to limit online access to attendees only or charge a substantial fee for non-participant access.