Recently, the Center for Continuing Medical Education began a study on attendance at CME activities that are offered annually. This study looked initially at five activities that have been offered for at least the last five years. One activity with just a five year history exhibited the dream attendance growth that course directors envision – steadily increasing attendance numbers each year.
In fact all five activities showed similar attendance growth in the first years. Surprisingly, the three activities with longer histories, 7 years, 9 years, and 10 years, all showed attendance declines after year six. The two longest running conferences suggest that their attendance may be plateauing.
While it is too early to draw conclusions and more sampling of other annual activities is needed to postulate causes for these findings, some suppositions can be considered:
- The target population to which these activities are promoted has been totally reached and no longer needs yearly education. This might be considered a “turn-over” phase in the attendance evolution of an annual activity, whereby, targeted individuals are no longer looking for annual education. Instead individuals may participate only every other year, or perhaps every three years.
- Marketing and promotional plans have not kept up with how the targeted populations prefer to learn about educational opportunities. In the past, printed and mailed brochures were the mainstay of marketing efforts. However, mailings eventually were received by an office “gatekeeper” who passed along only those mailers that were known to be of interest to the addressee. Once emailing became a popular marketing tool, the gatekeeper was temporarily removed, only to be re-established when given responsibility for the addressee’s emails as well as the incoming mail.
- Other factors may be affecting attendance, such as content, faculty selection, costs, and activity location. These are all considerations that an individual weighs when deciding to attend an activity. Changing just one may impact attendance.
- Competition cannot be ruled out. There is nothing like success to breed competition.
- Two other considerations that may play a role are: Exhaustion, whereby, the target audience has “maxed out” on the activity; or a “natural” limit in attendance has been reached relative to the size of the target audience.
It is anticipated that definitive conclusions may be offered when more annual activities are studied. More data and an opportunity to discuss marketing methods with course coordinators will also help to focus conclusions.