I get this question a lot, so I figured I would share with everyone. The other day, I received an email that said, “What will be the best way to promote this event since you, of all people, knows best how to start the proceedings and communicate to the proper contacts for this event?” Here is what I answered (slightly edited for public consumption):
What you ask is a really in-depth question, but I will try to answer a bit briefly. We have spent the last several years going out to every event we could and networking, shaking hands, trading business cards and passing out flyers. Some nights we would hit five or more events. Through that we built up our network and name recognition. That is where you start (unless you have a giant marketing budget).
In terms of promoting any individual event, I use all the channels available: website, email, social media, personal connections, physical flyer distribution. There are at least two dozen online calendars in the area and numerous journalists who write about events. For larger events, radio is the first advertising media I choose, followed by print, then television. Billboards are also good. Having an advertising budget or being able to set up media sponsorships is very important for bigger events.
I find it very helpful to hire a professional and experienced PR management team. I think that is key. Hiring a professional PR team can really make the difference in news coverage, they have the connections and reputation with the reporters to make that happen. You will get much more coverage than just trying to reach out yourself. A good one will already know all the channels through which you can promote.
Sponsorship of similar style events is also a really good way to get your name out. That would place your name directly in front of the current attendees. Just make sure you are getting good value for your money when you choose who to sponsor.
We always print up physical flyers. Many people have given up on this form, but I think it is one of the keys to our success over others who have tried similar things and given up. Online stuff is nice, but there is nothing like a good piece of glossy paper in your hand to make the event seem more real.
Also, email advertising is still very powerful. Do not dismiss it in favor of just doing social media. Social media is important and should also be handled by someone trained and experienced in it, but email still have better conversion for events, in most cases.
You know, a lot of it really depends on what you are looking for and what your budget is. Do you have a program outline for the event?
I embellished a bit there, but that is essentially what I told them. Marketing is a big part of business, and this is something people do not always realize. Too many people subscribe to the “build it and they will come” theory and that just does not work. I have been to quite a number of larger events recently that were very lightly attended. Yes, you start with a quality product, but then you have to let the people know it is there. Once you have shown them that you can create something good, they will eventually show up. Eventually. Meaning the other part of the equation is persistance, but we’ll leave that to a future writing.