Be the main event – promotion ideas that generate more buzz

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

A good event attracts visitors; a great event draws a crowd.

As a business owner, you’re aiming higher than “good,” but how can you feel confident your event is headed for greatness?

With more places than ever to share your event, guaranteeing big numbers on the day is still no small task. Especially in an age when confirming you’re ‘going’ is just a non-committal click away on a social network.

According to Facebook, 700 million people use the platform to market events every month.

So, how do you stand out and convince people to show up when there’s so much going on?

The following event promotion ideas help you increase awareness and connect with people both online and off ahead of your big day.

Set clear goals, so you know what to beat

Industry events and markets are a great opportunity to:

  • Meet new customers and clients
  • Discover new industry trends
  • Get new ideas for your business
  • Learn from your competitors

While these are all positive outcomes, defining clear goals helps you focus your efforts on what matters most to your business. Whether you’re selling products at a local fair or attracting future clients at a trade show, measuring sales or sign-ups helps you quantify success and value for money.

Ask yourself:

  • How many sales will you need each day to make a profit from the event?
  • How many email signups do you need to get per day?
  • How many new customers would justify the cost of attending?

Only when you’ve established your goals, can you start measuring success. And while reaching your goals feels good, shooting past them feels great.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone receiving your invitation

People aren’t just coming to your event to support you. They’re looking to get something out of it, and it’s your job to let them know what that is.

  • What makes the event unique?
  • Are there products on offer that are unavailable elsewhere?
  • Is it conveniently located?
  • Does it take place in a prestigious building or location?
  • Are there well-known keynote speakers or entertainers?
  • Is there a chance to be the first to experience a new product or service?

Answer people’s “what’s in it for me?” upfront. It makes your event stand out against the others that just list activities, location and date.

Prepare your media early to save time later

We’ve all been there, it’s way past bedtime and you’re searching for a document on your computer that you know you saved somewhere. But where exactly?

An event toolkit or press kit gets everything in place to professionally promote your event. This saves you time searching your desktop, phone and email for scattered bits of information you need to include.

Depending on your business, this could be a folder containing everything from professional photography and product descriptions to a press release or high-resolution logo for merchandise, uniforms or printed event promotions.

An up-to-date description of your business gives you the opportunity to tell your story. Think of this as your who, what, when, where and why. Writing this out, rewriting and editing it down to the most important parts also helps you talk about your business more confidently and concisely.

For Maura McKnight from The Candy Drawer Confectionary, getting her description down on paper made it easier to design her event marketing materials. Maura’s rack cards feature her top-selling products and a short description of her business. On the back side, she highlights a couple of key differentiators that help her stand out: all her products are handmade, and she can take bulk orders.

“Rack cards are our most engaging marketing material – they’re our business in a nutshell.”

Map out your path to a “great” event

Whether you’re still scouting events, or you’ve already signed up, it’s important to know how you’ll go beyond having a “good” time to making a “great” impression on new contacts and customers.

Mapping out everything you need to do ahead of the event into manageable tasks is an effective way to optimize your time. It’s also satisfying ticking these off as the big day approaches.

So, if you’re exhibiting at an industry trade show, this practical checklist has expert advice on what to do before, during and after. Even if you’re attending something smaller like a craft fair or farmers’ market, many of the tips still apply.

You could even break up your tasks into phases:

Six weeks before your event

  • Design and print promotional items.
  • Pitch your press release to publishers and local news channels.
  • Decide on a unique hashtag if you’re hosting your own event.

Four weeks before your event

  • Hang posters around town.
  • Send personalized invitations out in the mail.
  • Make appointments to chat with people at the event.

Two weeks before your event

  • Hand out flyers and other promotional materials to people in your community.
  • Engage people with reminders on social networks and try to offer value like answering questions about logistics.

Go where your customers are

How did you hear about the last event you attended?

Try to think strategically about where you’ll best be able to capture people’s attention.

Depending on your target, your event promotions might involve a mix of Facebook, LinkedIn, an eye-catching poster in the local coffee shop or flyers in busy cafes or receptions.

Once you have a good idea of where your target attendees spend their time online and off, think about how to stand out in that environment.

A video is an effective way to give people a taste of what to expect on the day. But you don’t need to spend all your budget on hiring an expensive videographer. Organizers often share videos of previous editions throughout the year on their social channels. If possible, borrow these to promote the forthcoming occasion and associate yourself with the brand.

Or if you’re a confident wordsmith, approach relevant blogs and offer a guest post. Position yourself as an ambassador for the event and provide a link back to the ticketing site. You could even add a discount code to make it even more appealing.

Take the time to tailor your invitations

Don’t forget traditional mail. The lost art of the personalized invitation creates excitement and makes people feel like you’ve specially selected them – especially when it’s unexpected. Include a hashtag on your invitations to encourage your guests to share online as well as in person.

Investing time and effort to do this in the early stage can pay off in dividends later.

And while on the subject of timeframes…

Factor in flexibility on your promotional materials

People are busy, especially on weekends. So, if you’re organizing special activities, like talks or workshops, timetable them so people know when to arrive.

But there’s one crucial thing to keep in mind. Only mention the activities, speakers or workshops but not the actual time on your printed promotions or signage. You may need to change the running order closer to the event or on the day. Most events include their lineup in advance on posters and flyers and then provide the detailed timetable online, which is easier to edit in the event of cancellations.

Spark conversation using your event hashtag

If you’re hosting your own event, a unique hashtag is a great way to build awareness and make your event stick in people’s minds. Try to keep the hashtag as short as possible, so it’s easy for people to remember and add to their own posts before, during and after your event.

Got a special guest involved?

Ask them to mention the event using the hashtag to build recognition.

You can also tease attendees ahead of the big day by sharing and tagging photos using your hashtag as you prepare your materials, package products and build your stand.

Remember to set up alerts so you can promptly respond to anyone who uses your hashtag in a post or comment.

Create intrigue to get the word out

When Aaron Giles, Marketing Manager of Great Escape Leeds & Sheffield was struggling to build awareness of a new escape activity, he knew he needed to do something that would “get the city talking.”

After a quick brainstorm, Aaron and his team opted for a shock guerilla marketing campaign to create a big impact on a small budget.

“We decided to use dead body chalk stencils, the campaign cost just shy of £400. As we went for awareness, our main measures were social media tags and the classic ‘how did you hear about us?’ The idea quickly became a great success, with our test stencil being tagged on our social media within 15 minutes of us painting it. When we properly launched, our social media platforms were bombarded with pictures taken by people who appreciated the creativity, the stencils became the third best draw of customers, after social and word of mouth and we definitely got the city talking for the right or the wrong reasons… sorry city council.”

Moral of the story: don’t be afraid to try something different (just do it within the law).

Showcase your event in local event calendars

Contact print publications well in advance to stand a chance of featuring. Even if your local activity calendars are online, be aware that publications create their editorial calendar well in advance. So, submit early to improve your chances of publishing your event.

Sites like Meetup and Eventbrite make it easy to create events and offer more communication options than a regular Facebook event.

Again, don’t forget the traditional channels like local newspapers and radio. They often do event roundups and may allow you to plug your event for free.

Incentivize the early birds

To pique people’s curiosity, you could offer something special for the first 100 to sign up to your event. These early sign-ups are important as they encourage others to attend. You could draw them in with reduced tickets or promotional items on arrival. The promise of a goodie bag provides a great opportunity for 100 meaningful, memorable and personal interactions when they pick up their swag at your stand.

If you’re using an online ticketing platform, include a discount code on your printed flyers so you can offer the people you meet face to face an added incentive to sign up.

Give people a reason to share your event

Try to keep the tone you use in the run-up to the event more conversational than promotional. For every promotional post you share, balance it with one or two relevant pieces of content that aren’t a direct link to buy tickets.

Even if you’re exhibiting at an established event, sharing useful information like nearby parking or accommodation recommendations will reflect well on your business and provide people with real value. People may also share your information with their own network.

The difference between experiencing your event and owning it is looking and feeling professional and prepared. Working backward from the date of your event to the present and breaking your goal-oriented tasks out into manageable steps makes this much easier.