Is event promotion tricky? The key is to use all the techniques at your disposal. In this post, we'll go over the usual suspects, but you never know when you'll need to reach into your reserves to manifest a miracle.
Just kidding. This is my job. Miracles are not allowed.
This is another lengthy essay here, folks, so read it in bite sized chunks if that suits your fancy better:
TheFilmSchool hosts several events through the year. We promote them all. Some are free events, and others are their bread and butter workshops, where the seats must be sold. Both present their challenges, but there's plenty of cross-over techniques between the two. We'll look at each in turn, but here's a quick checklist of something you'll need for any event:
Facebook event page
The difference between a poor event page on FB and a good one is night and day. The real value of this is using it as a platform to manage RSVP's and create some buzz about the event. A successful event page contains compelling copy, is updated periodically so the eyeballs who have already seen have reason to look at it again, and encourages folks to invite their friends.
Here's a pretty good event page. If I had it to do over again I would have put the sign up link above the fold.
A word of warning about Facebook event pages: you can never trust the RSVP counts. Not everyone who RSVP'd will show up, but some who never did will. My personal algorithm is to double the "maybe's" and halve the "yes's" for a decent attendance estimate. In the end, Facebook will never be enough.
Event page hosted on your site
A landing page that answers these questions:
Here's a decent landing page for a free event. Here's a better one for a sold event.
Every event listing you can scrounge
Event listings should be consistent, with clear directions to a sign up location/landing page.
Your own blog
Prepare content that is tailored for folks interested in your workshop, gather buzz around it, and direct traffic to your event landing page. Like this.
That'll get you going. Rule of thumb here: the earlier you get these going the better. Now let's look at a specific event:
Every first Tuesday of the month, TheFilmSchool hosts a different panel. Attendance is free, topics range from building your personal brand to poetry, and each night is guaranteed to hit a different interest group from the last. There are still some die-hard fans that make it out every month, and with good reason. I make it a point to personally thank these patrons each time, because hell, they make my job easier, and they understand the value of a free event.
Many folks don't. Many folks prefer to stay in unless they have a really good reason to come out. Getting the "irregulars" out is always a challenge.
Your marketing needs to include this, the illusive answer to the ever present question: "Why should I give a %&#@?"
Well, any event should benefit attendees in some way. If it doesn't fit that criteria then it isn't worth the price tag, even if the price is nothing but time. How will your event benefit the community?
In the case of TheFilmSchool, each event answers that question in a different way, so we need to tailor our efforts to suit each case.
For example, next month TheFilmSchool is stepping way out of the mold with a poetry slam. This is the first of this kind of event, so the first step is finding our audience. Who lives in Seattle and loves poetry?
Once you've gathered your lists it is time to get to work. Here's my checklist:
Once again, each target needs something a little different.
Writing programs often have a mailing list, so the easiest course for them is to forward a press release tailored for their students.
Lit magazines might have a mailing list, and might have a Twitter or FB account. I like to provide targets like these with copy they can use to create a tweet or an FB post in seconds, plus a short email they can use for mailing lists.
The above applies to reading spaces, but since they may feel that this event competes with them in some way, your outreach must also include some benefit for them.
Which brings me to the greatest challenge of marketing events: How do you motivate people to talk about your event?
You talk about their events. Use all the tools at your disposal to scratch the backs of other organizations. There is an astonishing amount of pragmatism behind other organizations choice to promote or not promote an event. My solution with TheFilmSchool is to open my arms to promote every film/writing event, and actively encourage our community of film buffs/writers to pass their promotions along to us. It builds credibility for TheFilmSchool as a platform for the arts in Seattle, and builds bridges. That, my friends, is a twofer.
First Tuesday is a free event, and even then it can be tough to get new people out. Let's up the ante and look at what it takes to sell seats at an event.
The screenwriting bootcamp is a three week, ten hour a day intensive course. There's a demand for screenwriting know how in Seattle, no doubt about it, but selling a course that will interfere with getting paychecks is a truly monumental task. Sometimes you just have to pull out all the stops.
Often, TheFilmSchool allows for an early enrollment discount. This isn't a bad idea as long as you have plans to also get an early buzz going. Won't do you any good unless people know about the event early enough.
Additionally, discount are offered to those who have already taken the course. Another great discount to offer is for members of another film organization in town. The supposed competition we've talked about before. If they can offer their members a discount it builds credibility for them and builds bridges at the same time.
Other workshops we've promoted have used eventbrite or brown paper tickets to manage sales. These work well, but for TheFilmSchool we like to host our own ticket management system, similar to this: http://trinitronic.com/wordpress/wordpress-nice-paypal-button
Because TheFilmSchool is all about workshops, the initial investment pays off with each subsequent workshop. One-time event hosters may rather use eventbrite. Like I said, nothing wrong with it, but can get pricey in the long run.
The real challenge with paid events like these is showing the value of signing up as more than the value of, say, taking three weeks off work.
There are enough writers in Seattle for a screenwriting program to be practical, but few enough movie productions to keep it a challenge. As one group that sees the value in the bootcamp graduates, there goes one group that won't need it again. You must keep your finger to the pulse of your audience, and realize that the audience you had yesterday won't be the same as tomorrows.
Fortunately, those that have taken the course are also the most valuable weapon in your arsenal, because they are the source of the most effective and least quantifiable kind of marketing out there: word of mouth.
Word of mouth cuts both ways. Bad reviews over coffee will do more damage than you will ever know about. You can keep bad press off people's lips simply by providing an excellent experience for them.
Which brings us to the meat of the matter: Good marketing requires credibility. Do everything you can to build this, to build trust in your fan base, and deliver what you promise. Nothing I've outlined above will be effective without it.
If you have specific questions about how to get anything in this case study done, leave them in the comments.