For small-staff or volunteer-driven organizations with limited resources, hiring a PR firm or marketing consultant to help with event promotion is out of the question. But if you have ample lead time, effective planning, creativity and of course, willing publicity volunteers or staff, you can promote your event with little or no cost.
The nature of your event, its scope (e.g., local, regional or national) and size, as well as your target audience, are all factors that will impact your publicity plan. However, here are some general ideas for publicizing your event in order to raise awareness, get media coverage and promote event attendance.
Once you’ve reviewed the five publicity options we outline and you determine which combination might best fit your needs, you can create a publicity plan for your event that maps out your chosen publicity tools, material requirements and timelines.
Media releases can be used to gain pre-event publicity in order to drive ticket sales and also encourage the media to attend the event. If possible, you should have a 3-pronged media approach that includes:
- Event Press Release: the purpose of this piece is to get the media interested in your event so they will promote it. This means you need to get all of your event’s details across in an interesting and powerful way. Remember, some media may just take clips from your press release, so be sure it is clear, concise and persuasive.
- Media advisory: this is like an invitation to the media to attend your event. It should contain the usual who, what, when, where and why, as well as additional details that are only relevant to the media (e.g. availability of speakers for interviews; venue details; set-up, etc.).
- Media alert: this is usually sent out the week of or day before the event as a brief reminder about the event – with all of the relevant details (who, what, when, where, why and contact information).
- Backgrounder: This is like a fact sheet that offers all of the pertinent details about your event as well as your organization. The backgrounder would be included in the press kits for the event, and can also be sent along with 1-3 above to provide additional information on your organization and event. If you have a standard boiler plate backgrounder for your organization (e.g., mission/mandate etc.), you can edit this down and include a brief overview of the event, with any pertinent details – e.g., is there a keynote speaker/guest-of-honor/celebrity etc. that you need to identify?
Sending / Posting Your Media Releases:
The method you use to send out your media releases will depend on the scope of your plan as well as your existing media relationships.
- For example, if you have an existing active or up-to-date media email list that you use to regularly and effectively interact with the media – you should continue your successful method.
- If your organization hasn’t done much media relations, you need to identify your media audience – for example:
- Are you looking for local coverage (newspaper, radio, TV)?
- Is your event focused on the environment and therefore you’d want to target the environment editors
- Is it a community event – that might target community newspaper editors; cable stations; political editors, etc
- Would your event appeal to Business Reporters or Lifestyle editors, etc.
- You can use online newswire services to get broad coverage your media release – for example: PR web, PR Newswire etc. Some of these services are free and others have non-profit rates.
- Don’t forget to post your media release on the “news” section of your website
- You should also send your event news release to other organizations that might be able to publicize your event, including local colleges, universities and other non-profits or networking groups that might include a message in their online news or e-newsletters (also see Event Calendars below).
Media Relations Contact & Strategy
If you don’t have a staff person with PR or media relations experience, you might want to see if you can identify one or a group of volunteers with media relations expertise who can help craft the media releases, assist in developing your media list and act as key media contact person.
Media Relations at the Event Site:
In addition, you’ll need to plan out a strategy for handling the media at the event itself. You should consider the following:
- Setting up a Media/Press Table
- Creating Media kits with all of the pertinent information, such as:
- Event program
- Event Press Release
- Speaker bios & photos (if available)
- Having Press tickets and name badges available
- Identifying a contact person who will greet the media and introduce them to the speakers, VIPs, etc. and set-up interview opportunities and photo ops
If you’ve ever been involved in media relations, you’ll know that it is all about effective messaging and follow-up. Once the initial event press release has been sent out, you’ll need to follow-up with the media to find out if they need more information to run a story or if they plan on covering the event. In addition, depending on the media coverage at the event, you may need to follow-up post-event to see if the media requires any additional information, photos, bios, etc.
EMAIL – Event Notices and E-newsletters
Email can be effective to announce the event, provide updates and last minute reminders. If, as noted above, you are using association or membership management software, such as Wild Apricot, you can create automatic email event notices to all or select groups of contacts in your database (e.g., members, supporters, past event guests, etc.). You can send an initial notification, e.g., in advance of the event, then send a second email a few weeks in advance to remind folks to register, then a final reminder email a few days before the event. Your event list can even be published via RSS (really simple syndication) feed so that people receive updates automatically with RSS readers and the event will also be picked up by other web sites automatically.
You should also be sure to create a special announcement or even a special edition of your e-newsletter to circulate ahead of the event. This offers a great chance to include information on presenters, speakers, and details about the event – including photos, visuals – without the 140-character constraints of Twitter and the confines of a Facebook post.
Here are some event publicity social media basics to consider:
- Facebook: If you don’t already have one, consider creating a Facebook page. They are better than groups because you can appear in news feeds every time you update the Page’s status. You can also create a facebook event.
- Twitter: Be sure to create a Twitter hashtag for the event and promote it and ask for retweets of key event information and updates. As noted above, don’t forget to include your hashtag on all event web pages, emails, blogs, etc. to build buzz.
- YouTube: Create and/or edit an existing video or podcast promoting your event and/or your organization and upload this to YouTube or Flickr.
- LinkedIn: You can promote your event to your own LinkedIn network by “sharing” an update with a link to your event page; Facebook event, etc. You can also use the linkedin events application to include your event.
If you want to reap the full benefits of your event and its objectives, you need to do more than simply send out some thank-you notes and host a wrap-up or post-mortem meeting. While you still have the participants’, donors’, volunteers’ and even the media’s attention – you need to use the momentum to undertake some basic post-event publicity and recognition. And to make sure this takes place, it’s important to plan for and assign post-event tasks ahead of the event to ensure they receive the attention they deserve.
People love to see themselves in photos, so be sure to offer captions and identify event attendees or award-winners, etc. Remember you should get permission to use photos and identify those in them in your newsletter or on your website.
Take advantage of additional promotion opportunities: In all cases, make sure the readers or visitors to your website viewing post-event materials have an opportunity to:
- Learn more about the event – especially if it is an annual affair
- Contribute funds – either to the specific event-related cause or your organization in general
- Receive information about upcoming events and/or volunteer!
Using all or a combination of these 5 publicity options – Media Releases, Event Calendars, Website, Email and Social Media – should offer some effective, low-cost publicity for your event. But remember, to achieve high impact, you’ll need to start with a well-thought out strategy, effective planning, ample lead time and a lot of creative effort and follow-up.