A Masterclass in Attendee Acquisition: How MHI Takes the Online Promotion of its Signature Events to a New Level

MHI’s approach to digital marketing serves as a valuable example of how today’s associations can maximize their manpower.

By William Henry, content marketing manager at Feathr

The in-person event is back, and one needs to look no further than MODEX, the largest international supply chain expo held in North or South America, for proof.

In March of this year, MHI produced the highest attended MODEX event to date, hosting 37,047 visitors—20 percent more than in 2018, the last show held before the pandemic.

Perhaps more impressive is that these record-setting numbers were the achievement of a small but mighty four-person marketing department. Morgan Pettrone, marketing communications program manager, MHI, let us in on her team’s secret: A successful online marketing partnership that boosts attendee outreach—not only for MODEX but for ProMat and the association’s annual, members-only conference, as well.

“Working with a comprehensive marketing platform provider expands our capability to be creative and strategic when it comes to attendee acquisition, specifically with digital marketing,” Pettrone said. “It helps us access new audiences and bring them through every stage of the marketing funnel all the way to conversions.”

Pettrone said MHI puts heavy emphasis on retargeting, which empowers marketers to recapture traffic by continuing to engage visitors after they’ve left a website. “We focus on retargeting the audiences that have visited one of our shows’ websites, for example.”

In the past few years, MHI has seen positive results by allocating more of its budget toward these types of digital marketing campaigns, which supplement the association’s traditional marketing efforts.

Digital Marketing Platforms: What to Look For

To generate buzz around its world-class events, MHI sought out a digital platform provider that offered geofencing, an advertising technique that uses global positioning system (GPS) and radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to target mobile users within defined virtual boundaries.

“It’s important to ask your provider if they have geofencing technology because not everyone provides that capability,” Pettrone said. “That’s what drove us to work with our digital marketing partner, Feathr, in the first place.”

Considered a top-of-funnel advertising channel, this technology effectively generates awareness and builds relationships with prospects. According to Feathr, target locations can include the office locations of prospects, competitor venues, university campuses, and convention centers, among other relevant locations.

Pettrone also recommends choosing a digital marketing platform that offers email mapping campaigns. With this feature, marketers can upload target email lists, and platforms like Feathr will link those emails to IP addresses, enabling associations to reach those prospects with display ads.

“That’s another part of our campaign that we’ve found to be successful,” she said. “It’s nice, because you’re not targeting a cold audience; these people have already interacted with you, and you can directly retarget them using that information.”

Other useful functionalities include search keyword campaigns, which display ads to anyone who enters relevant words and phrases into a search engine, and lookalike campaigns, where a platform generates an audience with shared characteristics (such as demographic information, browsing history, or interests) based on an association’s website visitors.

Tools for Exhibitors, Speakers

Pettrone told us that her digital marketing platform also allows MHI to create and share creative materials that event exhibitors can use to promote themselves.

“We also use Feathr Invites, which is a platform for our exhibitors to share promotional materials with their audience,” she said. “Registrations that come out of that are funneled through our marketing campaign, so it supports us, it supports the exhibitor, and helps us reach a broad audience.”

MHI is slowly integrating a similar functionality for speakers into their campaigns. “It’s a great tool for influencer marketing,” Pettrone said. “We have more than 100 seminars with different speakers; providing them the resources to promote their speaking session essentially creates a group of mini influencers who help promote our event.”

Pettrone stressed that when employing multilayered campaigns, the number of conversions linked to each campaign isn’t always the most important factor. “It’s really about the whole picture — the way all the campaigns work together to funnel potential attendees through the marketing funnel,” she said.

Consider Add-on Concierge Services

Some digital marketing platform providers offer hands-on campaign assistance, essentially serving as an extension of an association’s marketing team. Pettrone said MHI leverages Feathr’s Services team, which offers campaign management, creative assistance, and strategic consulting.

“I work with them to set up a campaign plan; I provide branding, assets, messaging, and key design elements,” she said. “Once we get the campaign approved, including the destination URLs, the timing, and the creatives, they take it from there, setting it up in the platform and running it.”

This type of service comes in especially handy for marketing professionals like Pettrone, who wears many hats in her daily marketing job.

“Having Feathr function more as an extension of our internal team has been a great approach for us, because if we’re running 20 campaigns, we’re going to need a little help,” Pettrone said.

The team at Feathr— a marketing platform that helps associations serve up highly-targeted ads based on interests and behaviors — thanks Morgan Pettrone, Marketing Communications Program Manager at MHI, for sharing her expertise and experience working with Feathr. For more information on how associations can increase awareness, grow membership, promote events, and create new revenue, visit

(Handout photo)