(I've always wanted to say that)
You absolutely MUST promote your events if you want anyone to show up. Don't assume people know the event is happening or that people will search out your event. Promotion is key to attendance/participation! I get the feeling sometimes that people are misunderstanding what promotion is. No matter how big or small your event is, you need to get the word out. It frustrates me to see an event with tons of potential, but extremely low attendance. This weekend was a good example of that.
My husband and I love to attend sports expos, home shows, and just about any other kind of weekend expo or show that comes along. It's our version of a date night (sad, I know). The South Towne Exposition Center is only 40 minutes away and they have something there at least one or two weekends a month. We heard about a new event this weekend and thought it sounded good. The Men's and Women's Expo was supposed to have fun stuff for guys and gals. We spent $7.00 each just for admission and stayed only about 30 minutes. Attendance was low, the vendors looked annoyed/bored, and it just didn't do anything for me at all.
Where did they go wrong? The biggest thing my hubby noticed was that it didn't deliver as advertised. There were plenty of jewelry, accessories, and chocolate booths for women, but very little to offer the men. The major league soccer team and minor league hockey team each had displays and there was a booth for satellite tv. Even though a few massage and health related booths could have been considered unisex, they tend to appeal more to the women. We had hoped for something for each of us and it wasn't there. If you look at the photos, you'll notice the incredible lack of people there as well as the bare floors that made the event look more like a garage sale than a boutique event.
I'm not just picking on a mostly retail event. I've seen it in events that are fundraisers or just looking to have an audience. My alma mater, Utah Valley University, has a Native American powwow each year and I'm a member of the organizing committee. My job at Heritage keeps me involved in various fundraisers, including a gala and a golf tournament, plus the musical our students put on once or twice each year. Here is my advice:
- Know who you want to connect with. For a play or a sporting event, you want an interested audience. For a golf tournament, you want to reach golfers and those who want to interact with any celebrities who might be there. For the UVU Powwow, we want to reach the Native American community to participate in the powwow plus others who are interested or curious about it to be in the audience and purchase arts, crafts, and food.
- Think of where to connect with those people. For the golf tournament, a poster at local golf courses does more than an ad in the newspaper. With theatrical events, don't forget that colleges, high schools, and even middle schools often require that performing arts students attend a certain number of events. For the powwow, we reach the Native American community by passing out flyers at powwows and posting information on powwow calendars online. The part that usually gets missed is reaching out to Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Mountain Man groups, and others who appreciate the Native American culture.
- Let people know WHY should want to come to your event. Is it a great family activity? Will they learn something? Is it interactive or do they just sit in the audience? Is there something happening at the event that they wouldn't see anywhere else? Even if it's a retail event, let them know why they should shop there - unique vendors, caters to scrapbookers, crafters, men, families, teens, etc. If it's a fundraiser, make sure they understand who will benefit from it and why it's important.
- Make good use of FREE ways to promote. Not all advertising costs money. You can create an event on Facebook and share it with friends. If you don't have a website for the event, create a Facebook fan page or a blog page (Blogger and WordPress are good free blog sites). Get the word out using Twitter. Many newspaper, radio, and television stations have community calendars where your event can be listed for free. The one that I sometimes overlook until the last minute is Email - send an email to everyone you're connected with.
- Get help promoting your event. If your event has a partner or sponsor, they should help spread the word about the event. For the UVU Powwow, we rely on the students to spread the word by putting up posters and handing out fliers. They also spread the word on Facebook and Twitter. It never hurts to try to get local newspapers, radio, and TV stations to run a story or do some sort of live remote. Any publicity is bound to help attendance at the event.
- Don't promise what you can't deliver. Nobody expects you to pull off the event of the year for your first event. Small events are more desirable to some people. You want to be able to grow your event, so you want positive feedback. The Men's & Women's Expo promised some contests - bull riding, soccer kick, hockey shot, and long drive. The times for those competitions wasn't listed and I didn't see any set ups for some of them. The chocolate sampling they listed was just the samples available from vendors. Great shopping....don't even make me go there. I didn't pay to get in just to go shopping! People like me who had bad experiences won't come back next year and will discourage their friends from attending, too. I can't imagine that the vendors will sign up for a booth again next year either.
A word of caution: Before you sign up for a show, expo, boutique, or other event, take time to check them out and see what other people have to say. If they don't promote the event well or deliver on their promises, you're better off not wasting your money on it.
Do you have any advice to offer?