25 ways to advertise your event for FREE
You've planned your event, the date is set and the next thing you need to do is tell people about it.
Many groups will have had advertising or marketing budget as part of any event, particularly if it is a major one. But how can you get some publicity and get the word out there without spending money - or squeezing as much value from the little money you have?
Even if you do have an advertising budget - no matter what size - you should still be looking for any way to leverage that paid advertising with some free promotion.
Here are some tips - some obvious, some that take a little bit of work - but all that can help to get some more backsides on seats or people through the gate at your next function. These are only the start. You should use this as a base and see how many other ideas you can add to it.
Passing the word
1. Word of Mouth
The first place to start is with your members and supporters. Use your meetings, regular communications and newsletters to let them know about an event and encourage them to tell their friends and friends of friends. Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful selling tools because it also comes with a reliable, credible endorsement.
2. Sell the tickets
Even better, get the people who are spreading the word to carry books of tickets so that the transaction can be completed in one simple operation. If you do this you'll have to make regular checks to see who's sold how many, in order to calculate how many tickets remain and ensure the money comes in.
3. Email bulletin
Make sure you have your members/supporters/business partners on email and send a mass email to let them know about the event (where, when, why, cost, RSVP etc). Not only is this a very cheap form of communication, it ensures people are notified instantly, and that they can easily pass on the message to others they think might be interested. You can issue a reminder but don't misuse this power to badger people continually - that's known as spamming.
4. Let your email market your event.
Add a paragraph to your email signature to let people know about an upcoming event. Try something like:
"And don't forget the Good Cause annual dinner to be held at the Clown Palladium on May 1, featuring Kamahl and Kerri-Ann Kennerley. All proceeds will go towards our new housing program for homeless kids. For tickets or information on donating to this program please call Tina on 9999 999999 or email goodcause@goodcause".
5. Fast forward
In your email to supporters, ask them to send it on to people they think would be interested in your event or to post the information on any site or notice board they think would be appropriate. It's amazing the networks people have that you would never think of or have access to yourself.
Line of sight
For locally-based events, whether a fete or a garage sale - use the old tried and true poster. Copy your event details (preferably on to A3 paper, if your copier runs to it), add colour, and stick up copies wherever regulations allow. (A word of warning here. Many local councils have a zero-tolerance policy on posters on council or public property, declaring even community groups flyers as graffiti so make sure you check first before putting a poster up on public - rather than private - property.) The areas where you have more pedestrians or car stops, the better. It is etiquette in these circumstances to go round after the event and take them down.Again don't forget local business houses to see if you can put something up in the office lunch room.
7. Shop windows
Most local shops will be prepared to display your information in their window if you ask politely. Again, collect them afterwards. Don't forget libraries, office noticeboards, cafes or laundromats - basically anywhere people gather and there is a board or space for information.
Catch the passing trade with a large sign (if you're a prominent local such as a school you can sometimes get a local real estate firm to donate a sign and a signwriter for a few weeks. Otherwise ask your members for a volunteer to put their painting skills to the test). Put it up in a high traffic zone with added balloons and flags. Check with your local council where your signs can go.
For a good cause
9. Other people's space
The general rule is "Why not ask if you can get it for free?" Some advertising agencies will do socially responsible work occasionally. Because the bigger advertising agencies spend so much with media organisations, they can sometimes call on favours for space for something they support. The same with major businesses that advertise - maybe their donation to the cause would be to provide free advertising space.
10. Other people's mail
Why not ask for a free ride? Approach local businesses that do regular mailouts and ask if they would mind dropping in an extra sheet advertising your event. Research on buying patterns has shown that people respond to companies and products that support community causes - make sure the businesses you contact know this. It also provides another option for businesses that are unable to support your group financially.
11. Other people's reading
With enough advance notice, you can chase up the editors of any other newsletters you know that are vaguely linked to your area, or your area of interest. Ask them to include a mention of your event. It could be the school newsletter, local progress association, arts organisations, your peak association's regular communications, or even neighbouring groups whose members would be interested in your event.
12. Local politician's newsletters.
Most pollies put out regular newsletters on what is happening in the electorate (some much more than others). Given you are paying for it, you might as well get a plug. Also see if you can put brochures or flyers up in the politician's office.
13. Local council publications
Most councils now produce very detailed regular bulletins telling residents what is happening in the district. Most have a section on upcoming events. If you are well-organised, you can get your event listed in a publication delivered to every household in the area. But they normally need a long lead-in time.
Feed the News
14. News - Local newspapers
Your local newspaper is always looking for 'news' to fill its pages, so with the right pitch and plenty of time you should be able to get an article in. Work your media list (find out how at the Media, Marketing & Post Centre:ourcommunity.com.au/mmp) and try out stories over the phone to see which gets the best response. Send them a press release as far in advance as possible, with professionally prepared photos and letterhead. Your release should not be written like an advertisement. It must be written concisely, be newsworthy, be of interest to the public, and be informational (not overtly promotional).
15. News - Major papers
The art of getting free advertising is in converting advertising copy into 'news'. To get into the metropolitan papers is much harder than the locals but by no means impossible. If you have a big name involved in your event, try to get them to do some pre-publicity, offer a snippet to the columnists or see if there is any way you can link to other current news. Your question must always be 'What's the hook?' And after that 'What's the story?' And after that 'Where's the picture?' If you get all three right, you'll increase your chance of a run.
16. News - radio.
Send your media release to local radio stations as well - for both news and also for an interview (if they run a magazine or talk program featuring interviews). As with the newspapers, you should not be just looking for one run. Be greedy and aim for multiple appearances but you will need to think of a different story line for each one - or a different timeslot. One popular way of getting your message across is as a talkback caller - just ring in and give details. Most presenters frown on callers using their time for free ads but tend to a lot more sympathetic if callers are plugging a genuine good cause.
17. News - TV
The problem with TV news is that they need footage to illustrate their story and so tend to report on things that have already happened rather than things that you want to happen. Unless you've actually involved the network as a sponsor, you are going to have to work hard to get the cameras involved and that means setting up a "picture opportunity" or TV stunt that is so spectacular, so colourful, so active and so much fun that they can't resist. It is difficult but the results can be well worth trying to come up with an idea. Failing that, invite the TV stations around when the event actually happens - which is of course no good for someone wanting to sell tickets in advance, but might help your chances next year.
18. News - AAPMedianet.
AAP is a news service supplying most of the media organisations in the country. They also run a service called AAPmedianet which enables subscribers who pay a small fee to list all their news releases on their website. The releases don't get distributed (you have to pay extra for that) but you will be amazed at how many people in the industry, how many radio stations and newspapers and how many newsletter editors and online websites, who can't afford to subscribe to the full AAP newswire, rely on this service for content. If you get one interview or one extra visitor it's probably worth the two minutes it takes you to upload it, particularly if you have already paid the subscriber fee. For more details visit www.aapmedianet.com.au
19. Community service ads
Most major newspapers will run community service ads for community groups as "fillers" which are exactly that - they fill space where the advertising doesn't quite fill the allotted space or leaves an unusual shaped hole. The competition for space in major media is quite fierce and rarely do they feature ads that plug a particular event - rather it is the group itself. But if you do ads that point to your website and sitting on the home page is a big reminder of your event, it can't hurt. Most newspapers require the completed, designed ads and they tend to fill space in the back pages of the papers but a free ad is a free ad and every little bit helps.
20. Public Interest - community radio
Most community radio stations are very keen to support local organisations and tend to be under-utilised when people think of local media. To find your nearest station visit the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia's website at www.cbaa.org.au Again there should be two things you should ask.
- if you can come on for an interview
- if they can help you record a free announcement that they can air during the week. Different stations will have different attitudes to this. Some stations will be able to assist you to make your announcement for free, some may charge a small fee to cover their time and costs, others won't have the resources to do it but it's worth asking the question.
Alternatively you could approach the media departments in your local TAFE college or university and suggest they help your cause. You get the ad, they get to produce a real ad. Some secondary schools are also very experienced in media production and could be of assistance.
21. Community Service Announcements on TV
Television networks also provide free airtime for Community Service Announcements but again it can be tough going to try and secure one so you should check before you spend time and money having an ad shot. These can be simple messages read out by TV presenters, or can involve a simple promotional video. Check with the network to find out to whom you should send your announcement and the format that they prefer.Even if your Community Service Announcement is broadcast at odd hours of the night and day and doesn't quite have the ratings of the Oscars night, there will still be people who spot it. Even if they don't turn up at least they know who you are and what you do. Community TV stations are also a good option - they may even shoot the ad for you if you ask them nicely.
22. What's on first
Major papers have 'What's On' sections, either in the body of the paper or in special weekend supplements, or both. This is an often over- looked resource. One small non-profit says
"Getting your event listed in Calendar of Events is the easiest and most effective free advertising you can do. In my estimation if the papers charged the same for a quarter of a page ad and a listing in their Calendar of Events section I would lean to the Calendar of Events. It works!"
The reason is that the people who read these columns are motivated and looking for things to do. As well as local papers, larger Australian cities have weekly freebie newspapers covering art, music, museums, and area events as well as pub bands and movie times. They are also read by people looking for something to do. Their readership is young and hip, or at least younger and hipper, than many of the papers, and if this is the market you want then don't neglect them.
We have already mentioned email but there are some other online opportunities you should be aiming for.
23.Online What's On columns.
There are sites that have general Calendars of Events, just like newspapers; some of these are aimed at particular markets, such as tourists, and some are put up as a public service by municipalities or government agencies. Add all of them to your media list. See our web promotion help sheet for a few of these sites.
24. Chat lists/Blogs
Online chat lists are highly specific, and reach only people who are both tech-savvy and dedicated to the point of fanaticism, but there is a chat group or blog for almost any issue, and if yours is anywhere close to that issue it is well worthwhile putting in a posting. .
Put the details of your event on your website. This has the disadvantage that you are only going to reach the people who know you exist and are interested in what your are doing, but they are also the group most likely to invest in a ticket. Furthermore, this means that anybody who hears vaguely about the event can get the precise details. Make sure you check the listing for required updates at least weekly. Out of date websites create a very bad frist impression.
- Always get your copy to the media in good time
- Ring up and check for submission dates. In any case, get it in a month in advance (two weeks is the absolute minimum).
- Use the process of promoting your event to build up your media contact list. Record every media contact and its outcomes.
- Review your strategy. All of these methods, even if you do them all at the same time, have gaps and limitations and biases. If you really need to get bums on seats - and quickly - you may have to reconsider the cost-benefit ratio of paid advertising.
- Be prepared. There's no point getting publicity unless you are prepared to take advantage of it. However unlikely it may seem that you will be swamped with callers, you need a plan in place to cover this eventuality. Before you begin contacting broadcasters, make sure that you can meet any potential demand for the event (and for your work) that the publicity may generate. Have an attractive circular printed up and ready to send out to those who request more information about you. If you are unable to respond to all the interest that a powerful publicity campaign may generate, then your efforts will be wasted.