How to make an impact when marketing your event with advice from Iain Beaumont.
The thing about events is, like most things in life, you can come up with some incredible ideas and plan for some spectacular gatherings, but if no one turns up it becomes a disaster. We can all probably recall a number of events where an audience failed to materialise, or where the public were promised the world but the reality never really matched expectations (Fyre Festival and those rather unscrupulous ‘Winter Wonderland’ events held on an abandoned industrial estate spring to mind).
Not only does this ravage your bottom line, it also knocks a huge hole in your reputation as a great promoter or venue.
In this article we look at the key steps you can take to promote your event successfully and ensure that it delivers in line with the expectations of your audience.
Get off on the right foot
This may sound like I’m preaching to the converted but the one thing you can do which will save you a huge amount of stress, heartache and money is to think about the type of event that you want to run, and when it is most likely to be a roaring success.
For instance, if you are a wedding venue, I would not advocate holding a showcase event to promote yourself on a Saturday in July. Not only are your target audience likely to be otherwise engaged, but it doesn’t reflect well on you if your diary is so empty that you can afford to give up a peak season Saturday to try and get people through the door. Besides, your suppliers (those who would help support you) are likely to be booked up delivering events too.
The same goes for outdoor activities and the British climate – it would take a bold person to hold an open air literary festival in late February…
Know your audience
A key step in identifying how you promote an event is to understand the audience you are trying to target. While this is usually quite a straightforward task, the mediums you choose to promote and market your event can be confusing, and you almost certainly do not want to spend money advertising to a demographic that has no interest in your offering.
One of the simplest methods you can use is to look at how similar events are marketed and the channels that organisers use to promote them. This is an incredibly low-cost research method and will most likely form the basis of any future campaigns.
If you are already well established and are looking at ways to reach a new segment of your target audience, you should use the data/client knowledge that you already have and assess how to develop your existing marketing channels. From this you should be able to understand where your customers hang out, what media they consume (and how they consume it), what their interests are, where in the country they live and how much disposable income they have. By using this information you will be able to really refine how you approach your marketing campaigns.
In 2019, we wanted to specifically target high net worth individuals to promote a luxury, country house venue. Having visited the FT Weekend Festival in London the previous year, we identified the event as a route to market that was incredibly precise and therefore highly targeted. By speaking with the festival team we were able to obtain validated data on their audience segmentation and demographics thus giving us the confidence that a large proportion of the 3,000+ attendees would fall into our ‘typical customer’ profile.
Although the potential ‘reach’ was likely to be much less than we would get with a traditional advert in a magazine or a radio promotion, what we wanted to achieve was high penetration to our exact audience. As a consequence, we took a pitch at the event and were able to directly engage with our target demographic.
What channels are most effective?
Unfortunately there is no universal answer to this question and the advent of digital marketing has further broadened our options when it comes to promoting an event. However, the key question that you need to ask yourself is ‘Where am I most likely to get the best return on my investment?’
I recommend looking at the budget you have allocated to promote a specific or range of events and then determine how you will be able to measure the effectiveness of any marketing that you do. By that I mean being able to drill down into the tangible metrics and make quick changes throughout your campaign.
Social media platforms and newsletters are a great, low-cost medium to start with and you will be able to launch your marketing campaign at very little cost through an organic (non-paid) series of posts/e-shots across your different platforms. Hopefully you will already have established a good, credible following on your preferred channels and therefore already be promoting to your key audience. If you are looking to expand your reach, you may wish to allocate a proportion of your budget to paid advertising in the form of ‘promoted posts’ on the likes of Facebook and Instagram. These are often able to be refined quite accurately so that they appear in front of the users who have an interest in your offering already (e.g. targeting families via Facebook for a children’s festival, or newly engaged couples if you are running a wedding venue).
The great thing about online advertising is that you can measure its effectiveness by reviewing the performance data and tracking clicks through to your website, or even ticket sales.
Print advertising is still very effective although measuring its impact can be much more challenging. To help overcome this, you can use a number of different techniques such as adding distinct promotional/discount codes to adverts run across different publications, a unique telephone number to call (these are very easy to get and incredibly cheap) or a bespoke web address/QR code that audiences can engage with.
Radio advertising should not be ignored and can be very cost effective if you are looking at a large event (e.g. concert) which appeals to a broad audience.
For those wishing to take a very traditional approach, billboards, banners and carefully placed posters can be incredibly powerful, particularly in areas of high footfall when promoting a large-scale event. Powderham Castle did this very effectively by placing a 3x1m banner on an old shipwreck in the Exe Estuary which it owned. While this might not seem particularly special at first, the key to its effectiveness was that it sat facing the main railway line to Exeter. With over 11,500 passengers passing each day, all with their eyes looking out over the estuary, it was viewed an estimated 460,000 times over the course of six weeks. The cost… £150 for the banner, bungees and a couple of hours erecting it.
Make it easy
Your customers’ time will be limited and getting them to engage with your advertising will be a tough job. Once you have piqued their attention, and they are wanting to engage further, ensure that it is a simple, straightforward process.
Your website will almost certainly take the greatest volume of enquires and there you should prep for all eventualities. Ensure that it loads quickly and that navigation is a doddle. Upload your FAQs in advance of launching an event and ensure that people who visit your site can find them easily. If it is for a big event, and where budget allows, you may wish to consider running a short Pay Per Click (PPC) campaign via Google to ensure that they hit the right link to purchase tickets or register for your event.
It goes without saying that customers should have a great experience online whether across a desktop/laptop, tablet or smartphone. If you are unsure how people tend to engage with your site, visit your Google Analytics account and drill into the detail (ask your website designer for details if you’re not sure how to do this).
If you’re selling tickets it makes sense to choose an online ticketing provider that plugs directly into your website so people can purchase without having to leave your site. The same goes for your social media channels (for example, you can sell tickets directly from your Facebook page using Eventbrite or Ticket Tailor).
Keep it honest
Always be honest with what you are offering. If you are running a folk festival with a ‘massive surprise guest performance’ that turns out to be the next village’s morris dancers, you may end up disappointing those fans who were advocates of what you were offering. Not only does this lead to a barrage of complaints that you will need to deal with, your credibility as a promoter, venue or host will be greatly diminished.
I recommend using lots of good visual media across every marketing medium.
Always respond to comments and questions promptly, politely and with sincerity (that goes for message boards where people may be discussing your event, too).
On a final note, there is always going to be competition when it comes to getting people to attend events but those who approach their promotion well, and with gusto, tend to be most successful. Getting your first event off the ground is usually the hardest step but once you’ve built a strong following, and a great reputation, you’ll find that selling out is more of a concern… but we’ll cover that another time!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Iain Beaumont is the founder of Venues and Ventures, a management consultancy specialising in unlocking a venue’s potential across both built and natural environments. As a consultancy focused on heritage venues, private ownership and outdoor space, the aim is always to balance the sensitivities of individual assets and the owner’s needs with the requirement to generate a strong return on investment.
Iain has worked on some of England’s grandest country estates and leading luxury venues including Powderham Castle and Cowdray Estate, refining his eye for spotting new opportunities and helping businesses realise their potential. www.venuesandventures.co.uk