By P.A. Geddie
Promotional strategies for events are primarily designed to build attendance. Done right, they also build good community relations, and have a long-term effect on an organization’s brand.
Once an attendance goal is set, there are four main elements to put into play to gain the best outcome. Every campaign includes: A) Defining the markets, B) Gathering related images and creating messaging, C) Creating promotional materials and using effective communication channels, and D) Evaluation.
Defining targeted markets and collecting contact information is the first step. External markets include the general public, interest groups specific to the event, sponsors, and supporters. Internal markets include staff, volunteers, and others involved in presenting the event and often serve as ambassadors (instructors, artists, authors, actors, musicians, vendors, etc.).
Whether through print, digital, audio, video, or otherwise, attracting the audience that is going to take action involves the brand, the look, the feel, easily obtainable information, and messaging that speaks to the defined markets. This includes presenting the right logo, typeface, colors, words and images consistently.
It is at this stage that a clear description of the event is written and images and information of performers, activities, and other essential elements of the event are gathered. Sometimes an event logo is needed to properly brand the event, while other events may be promoted under an organization’s brand.
Messaging is developed individually for press releases, emails, social posts, invitations, fliers, radio and television scripts, and it works best of all versions are ready for the next stage of an effective event promotions campaign.
C. COMMUNICATION CHANNELS & MATERIALS
Once the basic words and images are ready to go, it’s time to define communication channels and promotional materials.
Traditional channels include newspapers, magazines, radio, television, postal service, signage, telemarketing, billboards, and events. The digital age added websites, email, newsletters, social media, video, ticket distribution, online calendars, texting, and podcasts to the list.
Communications through these channels may include PAID advertising and/or FREE public relations. Other strategies include word of mouth, business partnerships, point of purchase counters, and speeches.
Some effective promotional materials to consider to flow through the communication channels include rack cards, posters, fliers, invitations, programs, ads, press releases, scheduled strategic social posts, presentations, email articles, and advertising specialities. Choosing which of these to use and how many, involves assessing the markets, distribution channels, personnel, and budget.
To reach event goals, a multi-channel communications campaign is needed. They all work together. Rarely is there a successful outcome by using only one communication channel. Each event is unique with some requiring more strategic steps than others.
For a small event where it is expected that local+ 30 mile radius or so attendance will reach the goal, social media in the weeks leading up to the event can work all by itself if managed effectively. The drawback to that is it does nothing to help build the organization’s brand with a larger audience. It’s almost always best to present the messaging through a multi-channeled, long-term approach.
Here are a few important notes on communication channels to consider for every event campaign:
- WEBSITE. This is home base. It has to be informative, attractive, and easy to navigate.
- TRADITIONAL MEDIA. Through print, radio, TV, and their evolved online offerings, traditional media outlets offer a wealth of opportunity for promotions including articles, stories, and online calendars. Press releases is the way to reach these outlets, followed by calls to gauge coverage interest if needed. For paid advertising, research and choose the ones with the best return. The bigger the event, the bigger the budget should be for paid advertising in strategically placed media. Also consider inquiring about donated, sponsored, or barter ads.
- SOCIAL MEDIA. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and other social media outlets offer a broad range of channels for promotions. Most events need their own Facebook EVENT that can be shared as one method of reaching people. Most of the posts will reach a 30-mile radius or so. Social media also has the option of reaching targeted groups with interests that align with an event. Paid ads may be effective to reach larger, interest-specific audiences.
- TICKET DISTRIBUTION. Eventbrite and other ticket distribution companies make the ticket sales process easy and beyond that, they have a built in audience making them a key marketing partner to help get the word out. Minimal fees are paid by attendees, not the event organizers. Most of the ticketing companies will include free events as well, so it’s a good idea to utilize their services to help reach a larger audience no matter the entry fee.
- EMAIL. Email blasts and newsletters need to go out to a database of people who have signed up to get information from the organization. As noted when determining markets, collecting contact information is important and should be done on an ongoing basis.
- TEXTING. SMS Marketing works very much like email marketing. Organizations ask interested people to sign up to receive text messages. They sign up through platforms that the organization pays for like Constant Contact that manage the data. Costs vary depending on the provider, list size, send frequency and message size. SMS campaigns can be more costly than email campaigns or any other marketing strategy without the right approach. GROUP texting is not recommended as it can be irritating for some to get too many alerts.
- PRINTED MATERIALS. Determine how/where they will be effectively distributed before creating and printing. Rack cards, posters, fliers, invitations, tent cards, and programs are all excellent visuals and informative pieces to consider.
- EVENT DAY. On the day of the event, a designated photographer and videographer can help keep the momentum going by sharing images on social media and collecting for the organization’s library for future promotions.
The information noted above on communication channels is geared to external audiences (general public, target markets, etc.). Working with internal markets is equally important as they can be front line ambassadors for the event. Social media, email, texting, and even telephoning are used to communicate marketing needs to staff, volunteers, and others involved in presenting or supporting the event. Email is the main method of communicating with a large group or in a message that is too long for texting. Social media messaging is also used, as well as texting. For a concert for example (or festival, play, art show, etc.), the coordinator will ask the musicians (or vendors, actors, artists, etc.) to be sure the event is on their website and that they are promoting through their email and social bases.
D. EVALUATION. Evaluation should take place throughout the promotional timeframe to gauge ticket sales, attendance, applications, interest, etc. That information helps define what is working and what is not and gives the opportunity to adjust the campaign as needed.
Once the event is over, an overall evaluation helps for planning future events.
Taking the time to be strategic in promoting events can make all the difference in the world in attendance which translates into income for the organization and helps ensure long term success.