“Hey, want an invite to an exclusive conference?”

Imagine you’re a prominent blogger, with lots to say about how blogs are revolutionizing the media. You receive an email inviting you to participate in an exclusive conference about the changing global media landscape, together with another 40 prestigious attendees: famous columnists, editors of major international publications, presidents of major news networks and members of Congress. Wouldn’t you want to rub shoulders with these opinion leaders, and have a crack at shaping their opinions?

According to conference attendee John Palfrey, six prominent bloggers were invited to this conference, yet not one of them gave the organizers the courtesy of a reply, not even just to say “Sorry, I can’t make it.” The organizers were astonished.

I am not privy to any of the facts, but here are some of my assumptions as to what could have gone wrong here:

  • Ineffective handling of email: The conference organizers should be aware that prominent bloggers get deluged with email, most of which they do not answer. (This is understandable, although I can personally attest that there are notable exceptions: both Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble somehow found time to reply to me recently, even though they don’t know me and there was no quid pro quo. Publishing your email address on your blog is a statement, and these guys live up to it.) Some have learned to triage their email ruthlessly, while others let it pile up, leaving many messages to remain forever unread.
  • Ineffective subject line: It’s quite possible that some of the invitees did not notice the invitation at all — maybe the subject line was not crafted in such a way as to make it stand out.
  • Lack of personalization: Did the invitation look like a form letter generated from a database? Maybe the organizers did not make the invitation appear to be personal enough. When trying something like this you should follow the following rule:

Tell each recipient why he was chosen, using information from his background to show that you looked him up, and specifically selected him. If you don’t bother to make it personal, the only reply you deserve to get is an automated one, if at all.

  • Lack of clear call-to-action: Did the invitation specifically ask the recipient to reply, whether or not they were planning to come? Or was it worded such that no reply means “not coming”?
    The following text aims to provoke a response. Can anyone improve on it?

Please reply to this message and let me know whether you’ll be attending or not.

If you cannot attend this year, but would like to be kept on the list for next year, please let me know.

  • Unsuitable communication medium: If you want to reach a public figure who is deluged with email, a good way to personalize the approach is by using the phone. I don’t think the organizers would have had a problem getting the relevant phone numbers, if they had really tried. A phone number is often easier to get than an email address.

Having been on both sides of the equation, I can sadly say that the above example is pretty standard for business communications today. It’s a fact that many successful people can’t handle their email properly, so don’t get insulted when they don’t answer your messages. It’s not personal — it’s how they treat much of their email. If you really want to reach them, try harder and be original.

Related article: Responsiveness enhances your professional reputation

[Thanks to Bag and Baggage for the pointer to John Palfrey’s blog.]

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2 responses to ““Hey, want an invite to an exclusive conference?”

  1. Another possibility is that some conference promoters have taken on the reputation of timeshare salesmen. Sure you can get that “free” 3 day vacation in Florida, but the high-pressure sales pitch you have to endure leads one to swear “never again!”

    It may be that the bloggers in question felt that there was some “catch” to this particular opportunity, and they simply didn’t want to deal some consulting firm’s business development person hounding them for the duration of the conference.

    Given the poor reputation of some conference promoters, even the most reputable organizer needs to realize the skepticism one might have to a single email offering a free pass to participate in an “exclusive” event.

  2. Those are all great points. Every piece of email should be like that!
    I think the call to action is particularly important. Don’t spend paragraphs introducing yourself and giving a full background. Let the addressee know why you sent the email. In this case, the most important info would be the invitation to speak and why the addressee would be a great speaker (sincere compliments only). Then give background on the conference.
    This allows the reader to decide immediately if she wants to read the whole email, instead of having to wade through a dry chunk of PR copy first.

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