Melinda Borucki joined Arizona State University as a communications and event manager for the ASU Center for Child Well Being in 2018. Marketing the Children of Incarcerated Parents’ national conference quickly became one of her top priorities.
Having joined a few months after the inaugural 2018 conference, Borucki, a 2018 40 Under 40 honoree, needed to craft a strategy to avoid the dreaded second-year slump.
The conference, held in April, provides a chance for researchers, social workers, childcare advocates, parole officers, and other professionals to hear from the experiences of children of incarcerated parents and to share research, policies and best practices.
Leveraging her background in marketing and audience development, Borucki increased registration for the 2019 event to about 330 attendees, a 27% increase from 2018. Sponsorships and donor commitments also increased 50%, and Borucki was able to cut costs by 30%. The bulk of attendees and sponsors (83% of attendees and 71% of sponsors) were first-timers.
“That can all be attributed to marketing,” Borucki says. “It was a very striated and specific marketing campaign to get them interested.”
Crafting a Tailored Marketing Campaign
Garnering resources for any event materials proved to be a challenge in a marketing environment, she says. “In the private sector, companies know the value of marketing and have that in their budgets,” Borucki says. “In higher education, a lot of people don’t understand the value of marketing since the money spent up front may not be very quantifiable.”
To maximize her resources, Borucki worked to widen her funnel of potential registrants. In the conference’s first year, many attendees worked at other higher education institutions or were researchers, social workers or childcare advocates. For 2019, Borucki also targeted members of faith-based communities, K-12 schools and school counselors and small advocacy groups.
“If you continue to dip into the same pool, you’ll never have any growth. We went wider than that,” Borucki says. “I went on Twitter and websites and handpicked every group I could find.”
Given Arizona’s large Native American population, Borucki also reached out to council members from local indigenous tribes; 11 tribes were represented at the 2019 conference.
Borucki leveraged an email-focused marketing campaign through Salesforce to track who opened and engaged with her emails. When someone clicked on sponsorship information, Borucki followed up with a phone call.
Encouraging businesses to align with a cause involving incarceration can also be difficult, she says, given the negativity of the subject. To combat this, Borucki tailored her messaging to foster emotional connections with each specific audience, such as providing contact on the shame children experience or the lack of time with their families around the holidays. She also emphasized positive outcomes.
Pricing and Cost
To cut 30% of costs from 2018 to 2019, Borucki employed her negotiating skills as an event planner to work with vendors, zeroing in on potential markups built into the costs of items such as parking and audiovisual.
Since much of her audience work in educational, government or not-for-profit settings, Borucki says she’s cognizant that many may not have the budget to attend her conference annually. The timing of the conference has also led to increased transportation and hotel costs.
The conference’s timing in April aligns with both National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Second Chance Month, which highlights issues incarcerated individuals experience while trying to reenter society. However, April is also a popular month for tourism in Arizona. That means out-of-state attendees, who made up 62% of the attendee population in 2019, face increased transportation and hotel costs.
After seeing lower numbers of return attendees in 2019, Borucki is hopeful more of the 2018 group will return in 2020.
Since cost continues to be a pain point highlighted in post-event surveys, Borucki says she is continuing to look for ways to reduce costs to improve attendee registration. She plans to drop pricing through November to promote group rate commitments and encourage potential participants with leftover 2019 funds to register before the end of the year.