Warning: This article contains personal opinions.
In the February 26, 2012 edition of this newsletter, I reported on the successful Who Do You Think You Are? Live! exposition held at the Olympia Centre in London, England. That article is still available at http://goo.gl/Y2wkE. In that article, I wrote, "I don't have the final headcount as I left before the count was made. However, I am guessing it was about the same as last year or maybe a bit less, probably in the range of 12,000 to 14,000 people."
My guess was rather accurate as to numbers, but I was wrong as to the trend. Instead of being a bit less than the previous year, this year's attendance reflected an increase. The show's organizers now report that attendance was 12,798, a 12% increase over the previous year.
This was an excellent showing for any family history conference and especially impressive as it was the first exposition organized by the new owners, Immediate Media Co (formerly BBC Magazines Bristol). BBC Magazines Bristol acquired Who Do You Think You Are? Live! from former owners Brand Events in November 2010. BBC Magazines was bought by a private equity firm last November and combined with Origin Publishing and Magicalia to form a new company, Immediate Media.
Why is this show so successful, even in a small country? I think there are a number of factors, including the following:
Immediate Media's Publishing Director, Andy Healy, states feedback indicated the audience was getting younger and included a healthy level of genealogy beginners.
The show is held over a 3-day weekend. While it starts on a Friday, maximum attendance was on Saturday and Sunday.
The exposition is held in the same location year after year, with many of the same staff members planning and organizing the same tasks each year. This makes for better organization.
England has an excellent public transportation system. Millions of people are within one-day travel of London without needing to use automobiles.
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is publicity. Being affiliated with the popular Who Do You Think You Are? television programme on BBC produces advertising power that is difficult to duplicate otherwise. Several celebrities from the show made presentations at the exposition and talked with attendees. Let's face it, celebrities attract attendees.
If you would like to attend next year's Who Do You Think You Are? Live! exposition held in London, mark your calendar now for 22-24 February 2013.
I believe there are lessons here for conference organizers in the U.S. and elsewhere. While we cannot do much about our poor public transport system, conference organizers can:
- Attract beginners by offering many more introductory courses.
- Hold the conference over a weekend. I am always amazed that U.S. genealogy conference organizers usually ignore the best day of the week to attract the masses: Sundays.
- Hold the conference in the same location year after year, taking advantage of experienced organizers. However, one major differece is Who Do You Think You Are? Live! is managed by a commercial firm with paid employees performing many of the tasks every year. In contrast, most genealogy conferences in the U.S. depend upon unpaid volunteers working for non-profit organizations.
- Publicity is difficult to achieve but, without publicity, you will always draw small crowds. Most of our genealogy conferences are very good at "preaching to the choir" by advertising conferences in genealogy magazines and online publications (including this newsletter) but are poor at getting the word out to beginning genealogists who do not read those publications.
The success of our British cousins is obvious. Genealogy indeed is a very popular personal interest and has the capability of attracting large crowds, if the offerings are attractive. The annual RootsTech conference in Salt Lake City attracts more than 4,000 attendees. I suspect the potential of most genealogy conferences in the U.S. is much higher.
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