Whether you are hosting a large-scale international trade show or an executive-level private function, event marketing needs to be an integral part of the demand generation mix. After all, a strategic combination of online and offline marketing is essential to any company’s bottom line.
Marketing is an important element of your overall event plan. According to a recent study by Eventbrite, 40% of respondents said marketing and promotion were their top event management expenses in 2018. Without marketing and promotion, it’s nearly impossible to spread the word about your event.
Because audiences vary, they will find your event in different ways and they’ll respond to a variety of approaches. With this in mind, it’s key to create a marketing plan that includes a mix of approaches, including email campaigns, public relations, social media, paid advertising, and more.
Whether you have a large budget or are working on a limited budget, the most successful event promotion starts early and utilizes multiple channels.
To keep all of your marketing activities organized, it’s important to create a marketing plan that provides a high-level timeline as well as detailed content calendars. In this guide, we’ll provide an overview of marketing tactics and then jump into an example timeline to highlight timing best practices.
Identify Event Goals and Objectives
All good event marketing strategy begins with identifying goals and building specific objectives. In its simplest form that means identifying why you’re having an event. Are you trying to:
- Launch a new product
- Build a loyal customer base or brand ambassadors
- Teach people how to more effectively use your product
- Meet a learning need in your industry
- Create an additional source of revenue
Once you’ve identified the “why” behind your event, you’ll select a few objectives that will help you shape your offerings and how you will market your event. Here are some examples of the types of objectives you may have that are specific to event promotion and not to your event in general:
- Drive X more attendees than last year
- X number of event registrations
- Drive X amount of traffic to the event website
Event Marketing Budget
Budgets are critical to event success and while social media and word of mouth have allowed event planners to stretch their budgets, neither of these marketing components have made event marketing free. It still requires spending and for that, you need a budget. 81% of corporate event planners surveyed said that budgets were a top priority for the coming year with a majority (54%) also stating ROI as a priority.
Start with historical data
How much did you spend last year? Unless your event is drastically changing, you have a good starting point to build from. If this is your first event or it looks different than past years, you’ll want to focus on the next areas.
List out must-haves and luxuries
Website development, paid advertising, email marketing, and printing all fall within the marketing budget. Identify the costs associated with each of your must-haves, if it’s less than your total event marketing budget, you can pull items over from your luxury list.
Understand your audience
While managing your list of must-haves and stretch marketing activities, you should evaluate each activity against your audience. While email campaigns resonate with a certain audience, a focus on social media may be better suited for others.
Choose Marketing and Promotional Tactics
With an understanding of your budget and audience, you can begin to strategize on the tactics you’ll utilize to promote your event. Here, we’ve compiled the tactics event organizers use to reach their audiences.
A tried and true means for connecting with your existing network, you should use email marketing to share information and keep your community updated. But before hitting send on the first email, you should develop a messaging plan so that each email has a unique value proposition.
It’s customary to send a total of about 4-8 emails to a list member who hasn’t yet registered. Remember, each email should have a different message and a different spin on the urgency to “register now”.
Email Marketing Guidelines
- Use an email marketing tool like MailChimp, or send emails through a marketing automation tool like Marketo or Eloqua.
- Keep your subject lines short and to-the-point.
- Include a clear call-to-action in your email. If a recipient wants to register for the event or learn more, she needs to know where to click.
- Provide an unsubscribe link in your emails. It’s a requirement to comply with CAN-SPAM regulations.
- Don’t email too often. Keep it to a couple of emails a week at most.
- Check your email provider’s analytics for bounces and unsubscribes. This will help you determine list quality/ relevance and whether your message is resonating
Creating a stand-out event email campaign
As mentioned above, every email should offer a new value prop for potential attendees. Sending out the same message repeatedly can actually work against your goals. Instead, develop a series of unique answers to the question – so, why should I attend?
Social media drives nearly 25% of views to ticketing pages.
Social media is one of the best ways to spread the word about your upcoming event and encourage registration. Leveraging the most common platforms, you have the ability to reach audiences across multiple demographics. While social media seems like an easy box to check off, to see a return from your social media efforts, you should create a strategy.
Understand your platforms
Each social media platform has a unique set of loyal users and types of content that perform best. Let’s take a look at the top platforms and what they are used for:
- Facebook – You can share event updates, engage followers, and create event pages. You can also target your messaging to specific groups using paid promotion.
- Instagram – Share images and engage your audience. New features enable direct linking to your registration site.
- LinkedIn – Great for B2B and industry networking, this professional social media platform is a good choice for company news and event announcements. No character limit here!
- Twitter – Use posts and an event hashtag to build excitement before and during your event. Connect with the right influencers on Twitter, and your post could go viral.
- Snapchat — Appeal to young audiences by building a presence on Snapchat. Location-based features enable engaging onsite photo sharing.
Social media tips
Pick your platforms
With an understanding of how these platforms can work for your event, choose the platforms that make sense. Once you’ve picked your platforms, it’s time to add them to your content calendar.
Share the right content
Social media scheduling platform, Buffer, studied conversations surrounding events and found that the top strategy is to tease the speaker lineup. In the weeks leading up to your event, highlight the content that will have the biggest draw for audiences. Notable speakers, exciting topics, and highlighting activations are all ways to get audiences excited to attend.
Brand your social media
You want all of your social media channels to reflect your event branding. Replace your background image with event branding and begin using your event hashtag.
Gradually ramp up posts
As you close in on the big day, you should begin posting more frequently. Leverage your platforms to share speaker headshots, session titles, event entertainment, and more.
Encourage others to post
Get your speakers, sponsors, and attendees in on the action. Make it easy by providing example posts.
Example social posts
Attendee example post:
Just registered for #AMAZINGEVENT! Who else is going this year? Hope to connect with your there!
Sponsor example post:
Heading to #AMAZINGEVENT? Catch our team at the show to learn more about how we can help solve your marketing problems. Stop by booth 345 for snacks and marketing tips!
Speaker example post:
Inspiration, ideas, and connections: it doesn’t get better than #AMAZINGEVENT. Hope you’ll be joining me there!
If you don’t already have a blog up and running, now’s your opportunity to get this platform going. From speaker profiles and previews of session content, to logistical information, and then eventually live blogging from the event – your blog is your platform to tell your business’ story in your business’ voice.
Utilize your blog at every stage
- Pre Event. Write short posts to provide a look behind the scenes – share information about the event theme, conduct in-depth profiles of your speakers. While social and email tend to be short-winded, your blog is your opportunity to share more!
- During the Event. Live blog throughout the event – post from sessions, the show floor, and more.
- Post Event. Wrap up the event with a series of summary posts. Share memorable moments, attendee favorites, and photos from your event. Take the opportunity to extend the life of your event and keep the conversation going.
Drive awareness and event credibility with industry press and blog coverage. Give these publications a good story early on, then treat them well at the event (potentially granting free press tickets). You may be able to get more than one story out of the relationship!
Your PR strategy should support overall event goals as well as drive registration.
Be prepared to pitch the press with a strong hook and a concise list of event details.
Creating a hook. Your PR hook is a compelling one-sentence explanation about your event. It’s what makes a story newsworthy. Don’t use the same hook for every publication you approach; it should be tailored to the outlet and the writer.
You should be able to communicate your event’s unique value in this hook. Similar to other platforms you utilize, any pitch should answer the, why should I attend? Question.
Tip! Keep a running list of your favorite industry or local writers. When it comes time to start pitching your event, reach out to those individuals with tailored, personal pitches.
Search Engine Ads
Search engine marketing platforms like Google’s AdWords, are marketplaces where you can pay to have your event advertisements placed at the top of a search results page, as well as on YouTube, mobile apps, and over two million websites.
Social Media Ads
The top social media platforms all offer advertising in the form of paid posts or sponsored content. If you’re not seeing traction with your organic social media posts, you may want to think about advertising on these platforms. And because the platforms offer ads to segmented audiences, you can easily reach your target audience.
Building off your ads, retargeting ads are shown to people who have already visited your event website or ticket sales page as they surf across the web. Retargeting can be done both on social media and on websites, wherever your audience is. For example, let’s assume you’ve invested in Google AdWords ads to promote your event. With retargeting, if someone visited your ticket sales page and then visited other sites that display Google AdWords ads, your ads could be shown to them, which reminds them about your event.
Ads have proven to be one of the most effective ways to increase ticket sales for events. With retargeting, you are communicating with an interested, engaged audience.
Sample Marketing Timeline
Now that we’ve covered common marketing tactics, tools, and platforms, let’s put them into action. When developing a marketing plan for your event, you should map out all of your moving pieces so there are no surprises or fire drills.
We’ve put together a sample timeline based on promotion for a mid-size conference.
5-6 months out
Milestone: Save the Date: Date and Venue Announcement
- Email: Kick off your email campaign with an announcement. Include date and location so your community can begin planning travel.
- Social Media: Announce the event! Introduce your event brand with stand-out graphics and imagery.
- PR: Your event is a big deal, create a press release to publish! Use your press release to reach out to relevant local or industry press.
- Website: Encourage your audience to sign up to be notified when tickets go on sale
4 months out
Milestone: Early bird pricing open
- Email: Create a sense of urgency by introducing a limited-time round of early bird tickets. You may want to keep these limited to your email list or open it up.
- Social Media: If you’re broadcasting early bird pricing to your broader network, share your offer link across your social channels.
3 months out
Milestones: Announce keynote speaker
- Email: You should have a clear idea of who your keynote speakers are. Once you have
- Social Media: Continue posting across your social channels. As speakers and sessions solidify, promote them to drum up excitement.
- PR: As you add speakers to the lineup, you may want to publish another press release. If you have an agency or in-house bandwidth, you should pitch the release to local and industry press.
2 months out:
Milestone: Early bird ticket pricing cutoff
- Email: It’s time to end your early bird ticket sales, give your community one more, limited-time opportunity to purchase tickets at the early bird rate.
- Social media: Engage with registrants on social media! Retweet and share messages from your community.
- Ads: narrow your focus with your ads. Deeper segmentation will ensure you’re reaching the right audience.
1 month out:
Milestone: Tease show content
- Email: Send personalized emails to VIP members of your community to ensure they are aware of the event details.
- Social media: Highlight key topics and learnings. Illustrate the value attendees saw from past events.
2 weeks out:
Milestone: Last call
- Email: you can get a bit more salesy here. Focus on the message “register today” to drive registrations.
- Social media: Continue to promote your sessions, presentation, or performance on your platforms. Link to an agenda or event page for more information.
- Ads: Use geo-targeting to drill down on potential local attendees. At this point it may be too late for attendees to buy flights, so focus on those who are in the region.
1 week out:
Milestone: Don’t forget your attendees
- Email: You should communicate logistical information to attendees a week in advance. Now’s your time to share any information that could reduce stress for both your team and attendees, think: parking details, start time, and final agenda. Have a mobile app? Encourage your audience to download and get familiar with it ahead of the event.
- Social media: Broadcast any last-minute news or action items. Have a mobile app? Encourage registrants to download it ahead of the event.
Milestones: Keynote speakers, product launches, noteworthy speakers, popular booths
- Social: Tweet, post, and share across your social channels to highlight sessions, speakers, and other happenings. Encourage a dialog and continue using your event hashtag.
Milestone: Thanks for attending
- Email: Send thank you email post-event with links to photo galleries, video recordings, or presentations.
- Social: Keep the dialog going by sharing notable quotes and photography from the event.