There are almost as many ways to promote an event these days as there are events themselves. From trendy social media platforms to more typical forms of online marketing like PPC and email lists, to offline forms of advertising such as direct mail and niche commercials, event planners are rather spoiled for choice. Here are some of the most popular ways to get the word out about an upcoming brand event, and why they are worthwhile for event planners and coordinators:
Taking advantage of the significant reach and relative ease of social media marketing is becoming one of the more standard promotional methods for event marketers, since it is so accessible and relatively quick to implement. And there are lots of unique and fairly low budget ways to get your event and message across on social media:
However, social media users can also be fickle (to say the least) and less likely to be committed to actually attending or participating in an event, making the time and effort involved in an organic social media marketing campaign a moot point.
More typical forms of advertising such as PPC, Facebook ads, Twitter ads, and display ads are almost par for the course but can be quite effective, especially if you can accurately access and target your potential attendees on each platform. Understanding your audience and more importantly, where they go and how they interact online is crucial for running digital ads in any capacity, but particularly in the event industry where timing and location is so important.
What’s more, digital ads can be an equalizer - small businesses and big companies alike are all charged the same amount for their ads (assuming they are targeting the same audience on the same platform). Therefore, they can be a great way for smaller brands to get the word about their events without the cost of a major commercial campaign.
Special pages on your website, banners on the homepage, and mentions on your blog if you have one are all helpful. Having any partners or aligned sites feature your events is nice as well. Even building a microsite on a subdomain or separate domain can be valuable, especially for a recurring event that may warrant its own stand-alone site in general.
As a marketer, your list of email subscribers can be one of the most valuable assets. After all, anyone who opts in to your list is already aware of your brand. Plus, with proper list management, you can track your potential attendees from their initial sign up to when they actually visit your events, and follow up with them afterwards.
Although email marketing lacks the cool factor or visual appeal of social media marketing or other digital trends, there is a reason it has stuck around - it is typically one of the best ways to communicate with your current and prospective clientele. Not only does nearly everyone have an email address, if they sign up for your list, they’ve already indicated interest in your offerings - which is not always the case with less targeted marketing tactics like social media or online advertising.
Direct mail, on-site or in-store signage, outdoor advertising, vehicle wraps, and even local commercials can be quite effective in promoting local events. Ensuring that your mailing list is as accurate as your email list is the first, as well as brainstorming other ways that your audience may come into contact with your business - including at the event(s) itself!
At the end of the day, social media is far from the primary source of marketing options for small businesses, especially for special events or similar marketing activities. However, it most certainly is useful and has a low barrier to entry and a relatively high level of engagement in comparison. That said, it is essential for marketers to keep in mind that social media is hardly a magic bullet; in fact, it is only as intelligent and effective as the human beings who are managing it and crafting the overall brand or event story.
Therefore, trying out other methods of marketing that might be more complex and costly but have an even higher level of engagement since the end user has already opted into receiving marketing messages (such as direct mail, email, or other more traditional means) can be worth the expense and the effort, especially if you are promoting an exclusive and high stakes event.
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.
Whether promoting a concert, charity benefit or art show, posting your event on on-line calendars is an effective and cheap / free way to get the word out.
This is the list I use for all my local events ... the link will take you straight to the event posting page on nearly all of the sites:
- Nate -
p.s. These are all FREE
A few notes: