Can You Host a Free Event without Losing Money?

Stacks of CoinsAt the end of June, blogger Jeff Hurt started up a conversation about a decision made by Meeting Professionals International (MPI) to charge for virtual attendance to its World Education Conference in July. Jeff was scratching his head over MPI's $300 fee, especially seeing as how it had not charged for access to the virtual content of its MeetDifferent conference in early 2009.

Responses to Jeff's blog on the topic were varied. According to his twtpoll, 61 percent of respondents said, "MPI provided free access in January, why not WEC?" while 14 percent said, "I love it and can't wait to charge my credit card."

Overall, though, I think most meeting planners can identify with what MPI may have been facing—it all comes down to costs. Planners worry, If I provide virtual content for free, attendees won't see it worthwhile to register for the in-person event. Or perhaps, during a time when attendance is more likely to be lower than normal anyway, planners are looking for alternative methods of revenue.

Whatever the reason, the fact of the matter is that meeting planners need to cover the costs of their events somehow, and it's generally through registration costs. But is that the only way?

In response to the MPI controversy, Julius Solaris at the EventManagerBlog put together a list of 10 alternative business models for events. You may already be using some of them, for example, the always-popular sponsorships. Planning a hybrid conference—a mix of free and paid events—and selling merchandise are among the other options for securing revenue.

Have you even found it necessary to start supplementing registration fees? What creative ways have you gone about it? 
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