Events as Effective Year-Round Marketing

Need to make a big, lasting impact? Throw a party. Last week, I gave a quick presentation at RallyPad about how brands can cascade such events as conferences, workshops, speaker panels, fundraisers, and mixers into an effective marketing and PR strategy throughout the year. I focused on how they could get more coverage, leads, evangelists and investors as well as increase their profile in the community.

Here are the pretty pictures (the formatting looks weird unless you do the slide show) to accompany my text:

Slides for “Events as effective year-round marketing”

I’ve put on and worked with loads of events. Lordy lord – so many events, parties, hack days, stage productions, speaking engagements, competitions, LEGO Mindstorms battles… you get the idea. But I still consider myself primarily a marketer, albeit one who aggressively uses events to get the job done. This is what my thesis comes down to:

Events aren’t just frozen moments in time. Events are repurposable content.

Think of events as a hefty marketing toolkit. Events can be serious PR machines. They generate leads and sales. You can squeeze all sorts of reusable multimedia content out of them. And if you do it right, it’s great brand exposure.

Let’s take what we did for the WeWork Labs SF launch party. For a relatively inexpensive (<$3k) event, we got

  • Write-ups about the party pre-event in two major media outlets
  • 700 RSVPs (read: prospect leads) from advertising on StartupDigest, Eventbrite, Facebook, Meetup.com
  • Converted new members next day (we were kinda… partying that night)
  • Tons of great photos, video, tweets, updates
  • Established ourselves in the community
  • Sponsor was happy

A job very well done, and done with booze, tasty food, and good times had by all.

Of course, the events you run don’t have to be a party. You got all kinds of options, kid.

  • Conferences & Tradeshows
  • Speaker panels
  • Hackathons
  • Sale Events (think Nordstrom’s semi-annual sale)
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • [Fill-in-the-blank] Day
  • Competitions
  • Product launches
  • Events within events (VIP room, etc)
  • Twitter chats
  • Flash mobs and other “stunts”
  • Speed dating (ex: hackers and founders)
  • Workshops
  • Dinners
  • Sports events (and poker)
  • Award ceremonies
  • Anniversaries
  • Screenings & film festivals
  • Tours
  • Drinkups

A few audience members had additional suggestions including “turtle racing”. Apparently he used to organize races… with turtles. God, I want to do that.

Not feeling creative and need a few examples?

McKinley Elementary’s DogFest

I freakin’ love this event. DogFest “is a celebration of dogs and kids benefitting SFUSD McKinley Elementary School, a K-5 public school at Castro and 14th Streets. The festival offers something for dogs, kids, and parents of both breeds.” Plus, they have a famous drag queen as judge, and at least the year I went, had Lemony Snicket (aka, er, actual name Daniel Handler) as MC. Delightful event.

LG’s National Texting Competition

Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Especially at texting. LG started this national competition as part of their efforts to appeal to a younger generation of consumers. And boy did they knock it out of the park.

 

Zynga’s Mafia Wars Has Snoop Blow It Up 
This elaborate livestream event tied right into a Mafia Wars storyline. Great branding with a big boom. Gaudy? Hell yes. But fitting for the audience and effective? Sure.

 

Speaking of which, creative is good, but
Events need to be consistent with the experience users get from your product or service.
Could you imagine the Four Seasons doing a hot dog eating contest? Events don’t give you special dispensation to bend your brand’s story. Consistency is key in all forms of marketing.
 

So, um, we’re kind of on a budget…
Quality events as part of your marketing strategy don’t need to include budget for Snoop Dogg, a large national competition or adorable dogs. Your CFO giving you trouble? No worries. You got options, kid (again).

 

How to make a big lasting impact with events on a (smaller) budget:
  • Apply to speak at a conference/on a workshop panel (some conferences will even provide your hotel for free if you’re a speaker). Being a part of someone else’s event is still brand exposure. Speaking also gives you the chance to become a “thought leader” in your space.
  • Get sponsors. Sponsors can cover the costs of your event. More details on this is outside the purview of this post.
  • Become a sponsor yourself. Meetup sponsorships can be relatively cheap – especially if you’re just covering the cost of a keg or a few bottles of wine/soda.
  • Digital events. Doing a webinar can be very cheap. Or a Twitter chat. Or a Facebook event.
  • Many conferences and tradeshows offer free booths and/or DEEPLY discounted tickets for non-profits. So if you are one, ask!
  • Become an evangelist: Go to every relevant free event you can and chat with people in your community. Face-to-face is very important.
  • Volunteer at events or offer anything you can in exchange for a shout out or ability to hand out stickers etc.

A few things in this list require you to piggyback on other events. It’s perfectly okay to do that as long as you observe one rule: Don’t be a dick. Either join an event in a professional capacity (as a speaker, volunteer, sponsor etc) or don’t do it at all. And if you ignore my advice and still choose to lobby-con or  come up with a PR “stunt,” be a gentleman/lady about it and don’t cause trouble for the event organizer. Be discreet.

Check, check, check it out

Here are two severely abridged checklists for your event strategy.

Checklist pre-event

  • Spreadsheet of upcoming events or ideas. Stay organized and better prepare by having a doc on what events you could participate in or host).
  • Brand consistency check. Remember, Bloomingdale’s doesn’t throw frat-style keggers. Make sure the event is appropriate for your story).
  • Assign a point person. I cannot freakin’ emphasize this enough. Events are hard work. Make sure you have one person in charge or hire a professional event producer. A well-coordinated event is a happy event.
  • Budget. Figure out your must-haves and nice-to-haves well in advance.
  • PR. Figure out how you can get the media interested in this event.
  • Event listings. These are your friend. And most are free or can be bartered. For startup events, for instance, I can’t recommend StartupDigest.com enough.

Checklist post-event

  • Followup with leads. Make sure you contact all those who RSVPed, people you talked to at the event, and anyone who contacted you about it.
  • Repurpose the content. Publish and share the video content, photos, and anything else from the event. For instance, I did a webinar on effective social media for event exhibitors. We recorded it and shared it with our mailing list, on Twitter, on our Facebook fan page, and on LinkedIn.
  • Calculate ROI. Was it worth it? Did you get enough exposure or leads to justify the cost and effort? Some of this unfortunately will be a “gut feeling” because not all marketing benefits can be measured (typical problem).
  • Iterate. Learn what went right and what went wrong and make it better for the next event.

You want resources? Here are your freakin’ resources.

Where do you start? Here:

  • Venues: Eventup (or ask your friendly neighborhood event producer for ideas)
  • Freakin’ Google docs. Obvious. Easy way to coordinate.
  • Banneraholic
  • LTLPrints
  • Eventbrite, Facebook events, Meetup.com, local listings
  • There’s this thing called “social media,” m’kay?
Comments
One Response to “Events as Effective Year-Round Marketing”
  1. dithespy says:

    “Assign a point person. I cannot freakin’ emphasize this enough. Events are hard work. Make sure you have one person in charge or hire a professional event producer. A well-coordinated event is a happy event.”

    True story. My career and I thank you.

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