It’s hard to convince someone you don’t know to come to an event they’ve never heard of. Would you go to the event if you weren’t running it? We usually go to an event because we hear that it is awesome. You don’t have this credibility the first time you run the event. You need to give them a reason to want to take a risk and come to your event.
A random marketing company doesn’t have that reason – you do. You are the one who is personally invested in the event, so you can be the most convincing to potential customers. Personally I don’t think that hiring a marketing company is a good idea for a first time event. You could have a call with a few different marketers, and ask them what they would recommend doing if you hired them (brainstorm ideas).
At our rodeo, there are a lot of local competitors who usually have to travel far distances to compete in rodeos. The most obvious people to attract would be their friends and family who want to come see them ride. This was probably our biggest draw to the event the first year, and it didn’t cost a penny. Lesson being – find locals to compete or perform at your event and get them to bring their friends and family!
Now, the harder part – how to market to people who don’t have any tie to the event. There are two ways people hear of an event. Either they are looking for you, or you are looking for them.
If they are looking for you, you need to be listed where they are looking. Start by listing your event everywhere that you can for free. Where do you go to look for events that are happening? Lots of local newspapers, radio stations, tourism websites, social media pages, etc. have free local “what’s happening” sections. Write up a 1-page press release of what your event is all about and send it to as many places as you can that might list it or do a free write up about it for you. Submit your event to as many places as you possibly can think of with event listings. This takes some time but is free and directly goes where people are looking for things to do. This can be done early (about 4 months before your event or even more).
The other way to advertise is to find people who might be interested in attending your event if they hear about it. This is where you can spend your advertising budget in a hurry. Figure out who your target market is, and where they are looking. Are posters, flyers and newspaper ads going to reach them, or are online ads through google and social media going to reach them? How can you get creative so they keep seeing and hearing about your event? The more they keep hearing about your event, the more you will stay on their mind, and hopefully they will purchase tickets!
(above – a contest that we ran to get people talking about our event, and promoting it on different platforms)
Most new event advertisers think that if they spend $100 on advertising and then sell $100 worth of tickets they will have a break event event. Umm, no… there are a lot of other expenses to an event! Probably more accurate is needing to sell $1000 of tickets for each $100 spent on advertising.
Another great and free way to market your event is through sponsors. When a company sponsors your event, they are naturally going to feel involved and advertise it for you. For this reason we like to have a tiered sponsorship package, with a very affordable basic sponsorship option for small companies.
At our rodeo, we have about 40 companies who sponsor the event. The majority of them are small local companies who contribute about $300 each to the event. This may not be huge, but it adds up financially and it gets a lot of people involved. They will talk to their friends and customers about the event, put up your posters etc. at their location, and likely will share your social media posts (especially if you ask them to). When they sponsor (even a small amount), they are now invested and want more people to go to the event and see their advertising there.
Spend wisely when it comes to marketing, especially the first year. Find as many free places you can to advertise, and talk to everyone about the event.
Here are some examples of how we market our event:
- word of mouth! Shamelessly promote yourself – tell everyone about your event! If you don’t, who will?
- free event listings on newspapers, tourism guide, local radio stations, and related websites
- press release sent out to local newspapers and magazines
- posters and flyers posted at local sponsors, community boards, libraries, restaurants, variety stores, etc.
- send home flyers with local schools (obviously only if families with children is your target market – call your local school to see what their policy is)
- advertisement in “coffee news”
- make a good website (ensure it works well both on mobile and desktop and has good SEO so people can find it)
- Social media:
- create an event through Facebook and start by sharing and inviting all of your friends
- Instagram account with the event name as user name
- twitter account with the event name
- ads through social media (we use Facebook most)
- social media giveaways (ie. Give away free tickets, people have to share the event to win)
- post interesting content on social media often to keep people interested/ engaged
- Google ads (make sure to register your event as a business through google so you show up on maps)
- commercials on the local radio station for the few weeks leading up to the event (try to get the radio station to be an event sponsor in exchange for some free commercials)
- road signs (like the ones election candidates put up – we get ours through www.signsonthecheap.com) (keep the info minimal – they can’t read it if there is too much info!)
- e-blast (only works once you have collected an email list … it may not be an option for your first year, but keep this in mind, and try to collect people’s email addresses for future events)
- text campaign (we didn’t do this until year 4 when we had a list of previous attendees – if you want more info about this feel free to ask and we can make a post about how we use it)