It’s one of the most common questions that comes up in event planning: How early should invitations be sent out prior to an event? The answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Appropriate windows of time depend on a multitude of factors. When you send out of your invitations depends on the kind of event you’re planning, your promotional efforts, your registration process, and much more.
Because event planning is such a complex, creative industry, event professionals need to take a lot of their own initiative- and that takes a lot of energy. Event planners are expected to constantly adapt creatively to their attendees’ ever-changing needs. The last thing they need is to waste precious time and energy deliberating over when to send invitations. Mercifully, this is one area in which there are general rules to follow. We’ve got your ultimate guide to sending out your invitations right on time!
How Soon is Too Soon (and How Late is Too Late?)
There is a small percentage of event planners who wait just two weeks before the event to send email invites- but generally speaking, that’s a horrible idea. It goes without saying that people are busy. If your event falls on a weekday, many invitees will have prior obligations, such as work and family life. But since weekends are a time that is usually set aside for social activities, they’re likely to booked for at least one to two weeks in advance. By emailing invitations this early, you’re probably cutting your guest list in half (or at least by a significant amount).
So when do we recommend sending out invitations? A multitude of recent research has consistently shown that sending them too soon also turns some people away. Unless someone is already a loyal customer and fan of your events or has a vested interest in your niche, people are likely to lose track of it the event in the weeks to come. They might even forget all about your invitation. Worse, they may spontaneously RSVP and then find themselves distracted by other upcoming events. When this happens, there’s no surefire way to estimate how many guests you’ll have. Since successful events involve an intensive amount of pre-planning, you can easily see why this might have disastrous repercussions.
So what is an optimum time frame for sending event invitations? Studies show that the majority of event invites are sent out four to six weeks prior to the event. Six months is too long for many events, and two weeks is too soon. However, there are some important exceptions. You definitely want to make note of these. For more formal events, such as weddings and corporate benefits or galas, it’s advisable to send invitations up to two months in advance in advance- some people even go with three months in advance.
Why should you send invitations to formal events sooner? Well, formal events often require a significant amount of travel, which guests need time to plan in advance. There are also higher expenses associated with formal events. Think about it: When attending a wedding, the average guest needs to purchase formalwear, a wedding gift, at least some travel costs. When attending a formal corporate or charitable event, tickets are expensive- not to mention dresses and tuxes, or even business-casual wear. Early invitations are necessary for events in December or those occurring around other major holidays.
Networking events are also considered formal events, regardless of the environment in which they take place. Even if the event is held at a casual location such as a coffee shop or an outdoor space, it’s purpose is to help people form new professional relationships. Attendees need time to research prospective contacts, partners, or mentors. With networking events, the more informed you are about specific people you wish to connect with, the better you’ll be able to relate to them.
It’s also appropriate to send invitations early if your event takes place during a major holiday season or alongside another popular event nearby. Again, events held in December require early invitations. Between family events, company holiday parties, and just enjoying the holiday in their city, many people attend more events. Graduation season is also a time when many people have multiple events and celebrations to attend.
According to the Events Industry’s 2019 Email Benchmarking Report, the average email list varies dramatically from year to year, and sometimes even month to month. This can be due to customer relocation or simply a natural shift of interests in your attendees. That’s why it’s important to always be adding new people to your list. Doing so involves knowing when to send emails and invitations. Yet there are still a surprising number of event planners who aren’t actively engaging with target audiences all year around.
Keeping Up with Your Attendees and Adjusting to Competition
What happens when your mailing list gets significantly smaller and less ticket sales are driven by invitations? Well, there are several reasons this can happen, some of which are part of a natural process. Some causes of decreased RSVPs and decreasing email lists are customer-driven. As the cliché goes, change is the only constant in life. That applies to the event world, too. When people experience life changes, get older, or their interests shift, this influences the events they attend. For example, if your brand sells children’s toys, products, or services, customers will unsubscribe to your email list simply because their children have gotten older. They no longer need your services.
The event planning world is competitive. It’s also a diverse and creative industry in which new trends are constantly replacing old ones. As your industry and customers shift with society toward new needs and interests, it can be challenging to keep up- even with all the data at your fingertips in an age of progressive technology. Sometimes it can’t be helped: Your customers love you, but some of them switch to a competitor who better meets their current needs. Sometimes a new or existing competitor company grows rapidly in popularity, and the hype is enough to convert customers.
People also have changing channel preferences. What do we mean by this? Well, how many times have you heard someone casually say, “I used to use Facebook all the time, but now I like Instagram better” (or something in that vein?) Sometimes users’ focus shifts from social to more professional as their careers advance. In this case, they may prioritize their career and spend more time on LinkedIn than Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. That’s why it’s important to keep track of where your website and/or event page gets the most traffic. Now Google Analytics even has a feature that allows you to track links. This way, you can find out where the people clicked on the link to your event.
Building Customer Relationships Before and After Your Event
Of course, it’s not all about the invitations. As we’re sure you know, it’s also about engaging with attendees via email and social media before and after your event. Let’s say you decide to send out your invites four weeks in advance. Leading up to this time, you should be creating excitement around your event on social media. For promotional ideas (including some awesome experiential tips that go above and beyond), you can refer to some of our recent blog posts on promotional marketing strategies). But to name a few key strategies, try sharing professional-quality videography from past events. If this is your first event, no problem- you can create a “sneak peak” into your event agenda, or share behind-the-scenes videos to pique your audience’s curiosity.
Just remember: before you send your invitations, be careful not to constantly overload your friends and followers’ feeds with event hype. There is so much information overload on the internet- and in daily life- that people tend to brush aside too much advertisement like a pesky fly. Even if your content is genuinely interesting to a lot of people, they will begin to see it as a source of annoyance, and be quick to click it away. The main idea is to connect with and continue to cultivate meaningful relationships with attendees before and after your event.
Once you’ve sent out your invitations, keep in touch with your attendees. The last thing you want is to create a lot of interest and excitement around your event, and then suddenly stop communicating. If you do this, you’ll likely disappear into the overload of social RSVPs, responsibilities, and information that your attendees are already inundated with. So send out regular emails, but don’t do so every single day. Posting on social media is absolutely okay to do on a daily basis. But sending the same link again and again is distracting and quickly loses customer interest.
There’s an easy fix for that. To really amp up your attendees, change up your presentation and share a unique variety of content (on social media and in emails). For example, if you posted videography from past events over the weekend, start off the week with an exclusive interview with one of your speakers. Of course, these aren’t the only options- they’re just a few of many, many possibilities! Again, the important thing is to connect with attendees and build meaningful, long-term relationships with them across multiple platforms.
The Early Bird Gets the Deal
Many event planners wonder whether early bird registration is worth all the work that goes into setting it up (and continually promoting it leading up to your event). Obviously, doing so drives early sales, but it’s disappointing when it lures only a few early birds into action. Ultimately, only you can decide what’s best for your event. But we recommend doing early bird registrations whenever possible. Here’s why:
An early bird discount rewards people for committing to your event in advance. It makes early registrars feel valued, which helps build long-term relationships. There’s also the exclusivity factor; there’s nothing customers love more than feeling like part of a special experience that isn’t available to just everyone. That’s why we recommend going the extra mile and adding an experiential benefit for early birds. For example, when customers sign up early, they not only get a discount, but are also rewarded with an exclusive experience. It could be anything from a free drink for early bird registrars and their guests to a discounted flat ticket price for your next event. (The latter would apply no matter when they sign up for your next event).
It’s a way to keep your guests coming back for more- and get them talking about the unique, amazing deal they got on a future event just by singing up early to one. If you can swing something a little more extravagant, you can give away free products only to early birds. Do you have a newly launched product or one that no one has ever tried before? Offering an exclusive (and Instagrammable) experience for early birds is also a great way to build niche audiences. If you or one of your speakers is an author, you might give away autographed book copies to your very earliest registrars.
Early bird discounts can work in many ways. Some companies make tickets available for only one day in the month before standard invitations will be sent out. With this plan, the discount will only be available on that day. Anyone who waits until the regular registration to buy tickets will miss out on the discount. This strategy works best when you already have an established customer base and widespread interest in your event.
A more universally successful way to go is to offer early bird discounts on a tiered scale. For example, you might separate your early registrars into two or three groups depending on when they register. The “earliest birds” obviously receive the biggest discount, and so on.
There’s only one caveat: Generally, early bird registration is a good idea when your budget allows you to provide excellent value. If you can only afford to give minimal discounts to early bird registrars, it’s better to just skip it. Store the idea away for future events. Event planners never stop building on their success; they’re constantly challenged to adjust in creative ways to their customers’ shifting needs. If you can’t feed the early birds now, you’ll have plenty to treat them with later!