According to Dave Lutz, CMP, and managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, it depends.
"After studying 100 or so meetings’ profit-and-loss statements in great detail, I can confirm that this expense line item varies greatly," Lutz says.
"Some organizations spend as little as 2 percent and have a very healthy conference product, while others rack up spending in the 20- to 25-percent range and are on life support."
According to Lutz, you should:
Lutz notes that large conferences with hundreds of speakers typically spend 20-25% of their total budget on marketing.
We have a simpler formula: regardless of your event's budget or size, or whether you have an expo, spend $100 per attendee (give or take a few bucks).
There will be exceptions, of course; times when you must spend more (if you are starting up an event, for example; or targeting C-level attendees only); and times when you can spend less (when, for example, you're running what's essentially an expo, but calling it a conference because that sounds nice).
How did we learn our-rule-of-thumb?
Experience. Tons of it.
And quite a bit of original research, too.
CEIR reports that average attendee-acquisition costs currently range from $14 to $20 per person.
Our own past research, done in the 2000s, showed acquisition costs then ranged from $68 to $80 per person.
An attendee acquisition cost of $100 per person today is just about right.