By P.A. Geddie
Planning and implementing events is a passion of mine that started as a child. My little brother and the other kids in my neighborhood were often the “crowd” for my productions of backyard carnivals, theatrical performances, bug clubs, and sing-a-longs. Early in my adult years I started my own events business and coordinated weddings and festivals of all sizes.
Somewhere along the way, I started doing newsletters to help get the word out about events and as a by-product creating a sense of pride for the companies I worked for as well as my own business. After college with a focus on journalism, I started working for magazines that shared my enthusiasm for promoting particular areas as great places to live and play.
I’m not sure where this desire came from but telling people about fun things to do and seeing a crowd show up makes me happy.
That’s the main reason I started County Line Magazine in 1999. I was hearing about events going on in our small towns but usually after they happened. Organizers complained that nobody showed up. I’d ask how they promoted it and they’d say they told their club members or church people or some other small group — rarely did they say they told people in other towns or across the “county line.”
Even in today’s easy access to social media, I still stumble upon events where hardly anybody shows up — one that comes to mind is an art workshop I happened upon one Saturday in downtown Tyler — they didn’t advertise it, or tell anyone except their members — they thought the members would spread the word. Well, they didn’t. And attendance bombed.
Social media is a good place now to promote events if you are looking for people within a 30-mile radius or so. People believe their friends and their friends’ friends, but beyond that, they need something more substantial to make them actually go. To reach people in other counties, throughout Texas and surrounding states, you need to incorporate some other strategies to get good crowds to your events.
Most magazines, newspapers, television, radio, and internet media welcome simple letters that tell them the who, what, where, when, why, and how of an event. If you have the budget for it, you could consider signing up for a service that keeps up with all the ever-changing details of a media list, provides editors to get your release into media-worthy shape, and sends out press releases for you. TexasPress.com is one with pricing starting at $150 per release and subscription pricing from $100 to $400 per month. I know a tourism coordinator in one of our small towns that was spending about $10,000 per year for a similar service — that’s a big chunk of change for some.
If you’ve got someone on your team that can focus on this for an hour or so each month, you can manage it on your own.
HIGH RESOLUTION PHOTOGRAPHS
Send high resolution photographs to magazines and newspapers of previous year’s event to promote your upcoming event and new ones after the event to get coverage then as well. Include the who, what, where, when, why, and how in a line or two that can work as a caption — be select about who you send it to — competing media outlets will not want to run the same photo so be sure to indicate that you need to know if they are running so you don’t submit it to someone else. And make sure the photos are interesting — if you send boring photos the media will soon lose interest in what you have to submit.
YOURS. Every event should have a way to gather email addresses whether it’s a sign in sheet, a contest, or a sign up form on social media. Keep it going year after year for people interested in your events. Send email blasts out several months in advance and a reminder. Don’t send too many or you’ll lose them.
OTHERS. Many publications like County Line and others do a regular weekly eBlast to let interested subscribers know about events. Contact them to see how your event can be included.
TV and RADIO SHOWS
Approach area TV and radio shows about coming on and talking about your event. Both Dallas and Tyler have morning shows that welcome guests.
With 47 percent of internet users globally using ad-blockers per recent survey (04.01.19 DigitalInformationWorld.com), choose digital advertising wisely. There’s still some benefit just be sure you get what you pay for. Ask for digital ads as a package deal with print or other media for discounted rates that make it worthwhile.
Much more likely to gain attention for your event on the internet is an article. Search engines pick up words from articles, unlike digital ads. It’s a great way to increase exposure to your event. Get with magazines and other media to ask them to do a story — you can use the above press release method then follow up by email or phone call to discuss something unique about your event that makes it story worthy.
County Line has one. Texas Highways has one. Many other magazines, newspapers, and other media have them as well. Make a Calendar Media List for yourself and be sure to get the information up as soon as you can. Some publications use the events in print as well as online. County Line needs at least a two-month notification to be considered for that, Texas Highways needs more like six months. Besides those two magaziens, add your local/regional TV and radio stations and add others as you find them. Here are a few more to get your list going: tourtexas.com, artandseek.org/calendar (arts related), gov.texas..gov/music (music related), texasbob.com, traveltexas.com, tylerpaper.com, east-texas.com, guidelive.com, visitdallas.com, festivalnet.com, fairsandfestivals.net, texasfairsandfestivals.net, texascooppower.com, worldweb.com, eventful.com, and don’t forget eventbrite.com — even if you don’t need to sell tickets, it’s good exposure. (Please let me know if you have other recommendations).
Really good idea to get posters up in your business windows as far in advance as possible. This shares the information with visitors and residents alike who’ll make plans to attend and helps get your community on board.
If you’ve collected snail mail addresses along with your email addresses, you can send out a nice postcard to people who are interested in your events and/or buy a mailing list if you have a particular market you are targeting.
Make sure you have an excellent website presence for your event. If you do not have a site specifically for your event, make sure when people go to your community site, that they can easily get to the event information. Many people, and media as well, lose interest in an event if there’s not a nice website presentation — it lends credibility and makes it easier than social media to get specific information when they need it.
As mentioned above social media is great for attracting crowds in about a 30-mile radius — it’s important to get your locals and surrounding communities involved in your event so be sure to utilize this media. Just don’t put all your eggs in this narrow basket if you want people from further out to come to your event. (I have had ZERO success in promoting events through paid ads on Facebook to a 60-mile plus radius — if someone is doing that successfully, I’d love to hear about it. Not interested in LIKEs, but in ATTENDANCE.)
Be sure to create a Facebook EVENT and have it link to your website. The worst thing you can do to promote an event is to rely on a Facebook page to do it — people will grow frustrated if they have to read through your lengthy news feed to find a morsel of information they need.
Ask your vendors, artists, musicians, any and all involved in the event to post and share on their social media as well as on their websites.
Create a simple 30 second or one-minute video that let’s people know your event is going to be fun. Share on your social sites and ask your media partners to do the same.
Hard to think that people don’t get this but if you don’t include signage where people can see how to get to the event and in prominent traffic areas weeks and even months ahead, you’re missing a big opportunity to generate excitement and attendance.
DURING AND AFTER THE EVENT
Be sure to share photos during and after the event and ask attendees to do so also, perhaps with a dedicated area with a selfie photo opportunity. People will remember the positive energy around the event when the next one rolls around.
We all have so much information coming at us daily. Think creatively about how to boost attendance at your events so you’ll stand out from all the noise.
One of my previous clients was Old San Francisco Steakhouse in San Antonio and I helped promote many special events for them. At one, we were introducing a new drink menu and wanted the media and public to come give them a try. I took a few bottles of the new root beer, placed a tag on them with an invitation and a press release, and had the “Girl in the Swing” deliver them to select media. We got good media coverage and attendance.
Other times, the costumed swing girl and waiter would take trays of the restaurant’s famous cheese downtown with discount dinner cards — worked like a charm. Escorting them on one trip along the Riverwalk I met and invited the visiting General Colin Powell — he wasn’t able to make it during that trip but it never hurts to ask.
Be sure to include in your messaging all the things to do at the event and in your community — what catches one person’s eye may be different than another’s. One family member may enjoy the event activities but can’t get the rest of them to come unless they see something they are interested in as well.
What’s special about your event? What’s not being done anywhere else or very unique to your area? Get creative with ideas to promote that particular activity that will get more attention than things that are not that different than what others are doing.
To get a good crowd at your next event, be sure to focus on a multifaceted marketing plan. Strategically placed paid ads, public relations and email marketing, social media and website are all critical pieces for success. To keep a good crowd coming back, make sure the event creates memorable experiences that leave lasting impressions.