The calendar is marked, venue is booked and speaker is confirmed. Now what? Most likely, the planning committee and co-workers are looking at you to help ensure a full house. Just how are you going to ‘put those bums in seats’?

Whether your event is a public workshop, symposium or education expo, it requires marketing and communications planning to ensure attendance.  And in most smaller to medium size organizations, this work often falls outside the typical functional role of a marketing or communications employee. Often fundraising, programs and volunteer staff have an important role to support the marketing and communications of an upcoming event. It is important to manage the promotional activities of the entire team to ensure consistency and integration of everyone’s work.

Some questions to ask to help with promotion:

What is the unique draw of your event?

Knowing your audience and what would appeal to them is critical. Is your organization bringing in a well-known expert or guest speaker who will be of interest to your audience? If you have the opportunity to seek input from past event evaluations – use it! This feedback should not be stuck in a file or on a computer – it is valuable and worth reviewing when planning your event. In today’s digital world, social media or surveys are helpful tools for asking questions to your target audience before you even get started with anything else. And the bonus is that these tools are often free!

Is there a budget for marketing and communications?

Making the best use of any budget that does exist is your responsibility. Educating your senior team about the value of a MarComm budget is always an important role – a good reminder to establish measurement and evaluations for your work! You can showcase the direct correlation between your hard work and the results.

Tip: many non-profit organizations have a pool of passionate volunteers –who come with their own professional skills and background. Ask around to see if anyone has a special skill such as graphic design or public relations. Drawing on these resources can be another cost-effective way of supporting your efforts.

Have you created a marketing or promotions plan?

It’s imperative to understand your organization’s goal for this upcoming event. From here you will determine the best strategy and tactics to help you achieve this goal. Your marketing and communications plan will outline the key deliverables (e.g. collateral material such as posters, public service announcements, etc.) along with coordinated timelines. This will keep you on track!

If you plan to create event posters or postcards, develop a distribution list where you will most likely find your target audience (e.g. for health-related events; community centres, libraries, fitness centres, hospitals or clinics). Most of these locations will display your promotional material at no cost. Keep your creative simple – who, what, when, where, and why. When possible, a professionally designed promotional piece is recommended and should always follow your organization’s brand guidelines. Plan to distribute collateral material such as posters at least two months prior to the event.

Do you have an internal database and communication channels?

If your organization has a database of potential event attendees, schedule an advance email invitation with the event details. Ensure your distribution list includes those who have agreed to receive these types of emails and include your organization’s name in the subject line to avoid looking like spam.

Include event promotion in your organization’s newsletters and websites. Ask your employees to include an email signature to promote the event – every person who receives an email from your staff will see a promotion for the event.

Should you advertise with local media?

Budget or no budget, community radio stations are often willing to talk to your organization about the upcoming event.  No in-house creative writers? No problem. Public service announcements (PSAs) can be written by the station’s creative writers – at no cost. PSAs can be great way to encourage registration for your event and possibly include the talent of your keynote speaker. Ask your speaker to record a radio spot for you – it’s a creative twist on what can sometimes be a generic radio promotion. If you have a fundraising team in your office, call on their skills to request media sponsorship for your event. This will improve opportunities for on-air promotion.

What about earned media?

Think of asking your keynote speaker to submit an op-ed with your community media outlets. Does he or she have something exciting to share at the upcoming event? This is also a great time to take advantage of those media relations skills and relationships you’ve been developing. Find the reporter who covers topics that are linked to your upcoming event. If you’re hosting a fashion show fundraiser, talk to the entertainment or lifestyle reporter or editor. An advance article or interview is great publicity!

To tweet or not to tweet?

This really depends on whether your organization has an established social media platform. Make sure you don’t create a Twitter or Facebook account strictly for the event and then forget about it once the event is complete. This can harm your organization’s reputation.  Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn likely include interactions from those within your target audience. Develop a clear understanding of how you would like to use these platforms to assist with promoting your event.

Assuming your organization is well underway with social media, develop a calendar for posts – send out some teaser messages about what your audience can expect at the event. Get them excited! Think about offering special incentives or give-away contests for registration. Reveal parts of the event agenda as it becomes available.

Is a post-event evaluation important?

Knowing how your event attendees learned about your event will be helpful for future planning. This is also a good reminder to ask attendees how they heard about the event. Keep a record of this information and ensure to follow it as a guide for future event planning.

Remember, events are a great way to raise your organization’s profile, develop new relationships and attract great volunteers. Good luck with your event promotion and planning!

Sherry Calder

Sherry Calder

Senior Manager, Regional Communications at Canadian Diabetes Association
Sherry began her professional career with an Atlantic based ad agency. Her volunteer work with a health charity led to a permanent position over 10 years ago. She’s held positions in fundraising, marketing and is currently a Senior Communications Manager based in Halifax. Outside of the office, Sherry can often be found on a yoga mat or running in her hometown of Dartmouth.
Sherry Calder
Sherry Calder