Q+A Tuesday: How Do You Market an Event?

 How to market a creative event, workshop, retreat, or conference

Hi Lauren!

I landed on one of your blog pages as I organize my workshop and noticed you have some really great blogs. Nice job! I did have a question for you, since you seem to be very knowledgable and really put some passion into your work.

My question is, how do you market your workshop event? I am located in SoCal, so there are millions of people around me. But I am just not sure how to exactly go about spreading the word about my workshop (I am pretty new at this, but very passionate about the material I am speaking about and want to share my knowledge).

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Great question!

Marketing one's first event is always really tricky, especially because there seems to be this widespread misconception that if you create an event and make a Meetup.com page for it, the hoards will come out.

This is in my experience, never true. Unless you're Beyonce. And even then, she's got some advertising dollars behind her.

Whenever you're creating an event (or a podcast or a product or a course), marketing should be one of the FIRST things you think about.

The difference with a live event is that, if you can't convince people to show up, you may be financially invested and could suffer a loss. But I don't want that to dissuade you from creating one. You just may have to be a bit more strategic about it then you originally thought.

Fear not, my event-planning friend. Here are the steps that I go through whenever a client approaches me to create an event for them

#1 | Have a very strong message, complete with a one-page summary

This is the most important thing that you do, and you need to be so crystal clear on WHY you're doing this summit, workshop, networking happy hour, that you could talk about it in your sleep.

Your attendees are not going to connect the dots for you. If you want to host a creative conference, you need to know exactly WHY you're hosting a creative conference and WHY your people need to come, so that you can convince them not to buy a ticket to another of the hundreds of events out there.

When I think about messaging, I think about three things:

Overall mission - This is your WHY. It can be something like "To create an atmosphere around learning in the wedding tech industry, and to connect innovative tech startups to the customers that need their products."

It cannot be "To learn alongside likeminded people!"

Because that is too vague and no one will want to come because there are already 500 other events that do that.

Relevant themes - These are the points that you're going to be hitting on over and over again. So, in the creative world, it may be:

+Community building in the digital age

+How technology connects us and shapes the new world of work

+Being a local provider but having a global online presence

+Finding time to balance work and life

Etc.

These themes (once you nail them down) are what each talk, panel, and Q+A session must be addressing. This also will help you reach out to speakers, instead of doing a speaker call (which can be great, but also can create a lot less of a cohesive agenda at your event). 

Length of event - this is important because a 2-hour summit is different than a 2-day summit and the length of an event definitely says something about what the event is going to accomplish. You can't convince people to travel for a 2 hour event (unless, again, you're Beyonce), but 2 days could be enough to garner the attention of some more national clientele and would create a different marketing plan.

The One-Pager

A one-page summary (or a landing page website placeholder) is a good thing to have because when you start reaching out to people, they're going to want to see something that you've already created, rather than waste time helping you figure out your mission.

If you can present a one-page document with the above things (message, themes, target audience, event length/date, maybe even a logo and title of the event, etc.), you're going to get a LOT more buy-in from people, speakers, attendees, and sponsors than you would if you simply cold-pitched without any supporting information.

#2 | Create an invitation list that is AT LEAST 5 times as many as the amount of tickets you need to sell.

Whenever I plan or host an event, I don't even THINK about publicizing it until I have a foundational invitation list.

This is a HUGE component that most creatives seem to miss.

Having TARGETED individuals that you have personal relationships with is going to get you the most momentum and traction in the quickest way possible.

Whenever I create an invitation list, I work with my clients to load up all their professional contacts into a spreadsheet, and then we create a coding system that allows us to see if we want to invite them personally, send out a blast email to them, or have me reach out to them on their behalf.

Either way, this personal outreach is a great way to start building momentum, and offering promotional partnership to some of your biggest fans in exchange for a discounted ticket or an affiliate commission could be another good thing to identify prior to publicizing the event.

PS Your invitation list COULD be your email list, but with any sort of "blast" email list, the conversion rate is somewhere around .05% - 1%. So, if you want 100 people in the room, you'll need 10,000 people on your list if you aren't doing any individual invitation/outreach.

#3 | Create a list of people who you'd like to reach out to when asking for sponsorship

So now that we have our targeted outreach list and our one-pager, we have an IDEA of the people that may be in the room. Now we can start reaching out to sponsors, and list the types of people that may be in the room and tell them exactly why they'd be interested in reaching those people.

Sponsors don't want to have to connect the dots either, but in my experience, if you come to them with a specific sponsor ask ("Will you sponsor the happy hour?" or "Will you sponsor our speaker's lounge") or something, they are MUCH more likely to buy in because you've already done the creative work for them.

Additionally, sponsorship creates authority for an event. Let's say you're doing a creative event and Acuity Scheduling decides they want to sponsor and do a talk regarding time management. Acuity is a big name and even though they likely want to reach your audience anyway, it's a double win for you because your attendees will think your event is legit if you can get a big tech brand like Acuity bought in.

You can read more about sponsorship in last week's post (and subsequent posts that I'm constantly drafting).

#4 | Create a list of people who you'd like to reach out to when asking for speakers

If you haven't realized this already, people LOVE a personal invitation. They want to know that they're special, and that you've done the leg work to invite them to something that's JUST FOR THEM.

Which is why I recommend creating a list of speakers and then asking them to speak on a specific topic. You know what speakers hate? When you reach out and say "We'd love you to speak about your experience as an XYZ."

Doing a little bit of the creative work for your speakers is helpful to kickstart their creative juices, and will get you a YES a lot more often.

#5 | Pulling it all together

So now that you've done all this outreach and mission promoting, THEN you're ready to launch to the public - but hopefully you've already got some speakers, some sponsors, and some close acquaintances that could be attendees identified.

I usually approach marketing an event by combining a personal invitation to important anchor attendees (aka people with big communities that may influence if someone will show up...again, if Beyonce was going to participate in a creative conference, wouldn't you go, even if it was with 5,000 other people?) with a blast Save the Date to my list, and a strong communication reminder schedule (maybe it's 10 emails over the course of 2 months, or a combination of email, personal outreach, and social media).

The very bottom line is that with any public-facing workshop, retreat, or conference, unless you have a marketing team or a board of directors to do the work for you, the MOST time consuming piece of event organizing is the marketing (this is why bands hire promotional companies in the first place).

Your turn! What marketing tricks have you learned in your event-organizing process?

Lauren CaselliComment