By Linda Sparks
Updated June 2021: This article was written in August 2009 by Linda Sparks, the founder and executive director of the International Association of Event Promoters (IAEP).
In the event industry, we think of public relations mainly as publicity. All too often, event PR efforts amount to acquiring a small local media list and dribbling out the obligatory press releases to announce our event. All the while hoping this minimal effort will generate extreme interest on the part of the media, causing journalists to write about our events profusely, and thereby drive tons of consumer traffic to our event.
The biggest problem with this approach? It is ineffective at both engaging our key publics and driving traffic to our event. The answer is to broaden our perspective on public relations to include audiences beyond the obvious media partners, and communication tactics beyond the press release.
Let's talk about how to strategically expand your PR efforts and at the same time reinforce the appeal of your event by using a simple 5-step process:
1. Identify a list of key audiences for your event publicity. Ask yourself - who has a stake in the success of your event? Who else will help you influence more visitors to engage with or attend your event, if they have the inspiration and information to share? Consider including mainstream media that encompasses your entire geographic target market as well as specialty media that relates to any key attractions you have planned. (e.g. unique classic car exhibit = car collector pubs)
2. Decide what your goals are for interaction (relations) with each unique key audience (key public). What practical role can they play in your promotional outreach? Have you ever heard the phrase, human interest stories? By considering how each of your key publics fit in with your event you are also uncovering new opportunities for PR.
3. Develop a specific plan for communicating routinely with each key audience throughout the 12-month promotion cycle. What is an appropriate level of depth and frequency? What types of information would each group find interesting or relevant?
4. Gather the supporting documents and collaterals (promo tools) you'll need in order to maximize your impact with each key audience. You'll need to fully understand how your key public intends to interact with their downstream contacts. Are they linking folks back to your site, passing specific information along under separate cover, or simply being influenced directly?
5. Implement your plan subject to a detailed timeline throughout the entire event promotion cycle. If one of your key publics has access to a list of ideal targets for your event, then it would be nice to know when they will be routinely communicating with those groups, so that your offers and timely information can be included seamlessly, with no special effort or costs.
To provide a real-life example, let's look at one of my all-time favorite key publics -- event volunteers. These volunteers are a "mission critical" audience in event publicity.
You can gain volunteer participation by their organic promotion of the event among their personal and professional networks. Volunteers make passionate fans. They are often emotionally involved with your subject matter or your charitable causes and are therefore well-positioned to be major influencers for the event. Practical goals for volunteers include:
Build a detailed Plan to provide volunteers with promotional information and specific calls to action on a weekly or monthly basis. For best results, keep this Promo oriented outreach separate from Operation updates. We need everyone involved with your event to accept their personal role in the promotional process.
Create the promo tools in advance specifically for this key audience such as:
Volunteers are typically involved in your event for personal reasons. These reasons can lead to opportunities to tell human interest stories. An event with a broad geographic appeal can use these volunteer human interest stories to garner media coverage in multiple markets. Work to identify a number of volunteers with interesting stories and ties to various media markets.
Time-organize your PR task list and keep implementation on-track. Volunteers can naturally become discouraged when important promo tools are not available when needed. Respect the time and energy of the key audiences your event counts on; this will increase your effectiveness exponentially.