So you’ve been tasked to lead an event marketing team. Congratulations!
Now that you have a plan in place for managing your event like a project, it’s time to get a plan in place for getting people to your event. This is where marketing comes in.
While the landscape of event and conference marketing has changed in the past few years, the actual foundation of it hasn’t. The foundation of your marketing is made up of two main things: the intangible and tangible goals behind your event.
The intangible goals for your event could be to raise awareness about a cause or build momentum for a product. The tangible goals for your event might include selling 5,000 shoes, raising $1 million for charity, or attracting 500 attendees. If you’ve gone through this article 9 Steps that Event Organizers Can Borrow from Project Managers, you’ll be familiar with this subject.
So, the big question is how do you obtain these goals? By setting up a marketing strategy and plan, of course!
Strategy is a funny thing. A great strategy can take a while to arrive at, through a mix of analytical thinking, creativity, and intuition, but usually looks simple when it’s finally nailed down and written on paper. But it’s a must.
It’s easy to get marketing strategy, marketing plans, and marketing tactics confused. However, your marketing strategy is the approach you’ll take to achieve your goals. Your marketing plan is your blueprint for achieving those goals, and the tactics are the specific actions that you’ll take to achieve those goals.
If, for example, you’re holding a technology conference that has the intangible goal of celebrating ingenuity, your marketing strategies might include collaboration with a high school to provide tickets to students who excel in STEM courses, reaching out to local entrepreneurial organizations, or even picking a lucky startup to help with crowdfunding. The sky’s the limit!
Marketing is crucial to your event not only because it fills the room, but because it’s also the very first experience new attendees have with your event. As you embark on creating your marketing plan, think about what kind of impression you want to set.
Use the following steps as a guide to creating your event’s marketing plan:
Step 1: Set Goals
Review overall event goals as discussed in our recent blog on Project Management in Event Planning and set marketing goals that are in alignment with them.
Step 2: Identify your Budget
Big or small, you should be aware of the budget allocated to your marketing efforts. Printing, advertisements – it all costs money and you’ll need to be aware of the constraints before embarking. While these constraints will set limits on certain things, they’ll also show you where you can get creative.
Step 3: Gather your Core Team
More than social media, more than video, more than money, your team is your number one resource when marketing your event. When you first begin your planning, take stock of who you currently have on your team. In an ideal world, you’ll have someone for every position from the get-go. This would be great! But, doesn’t always happen; especially if you’re working with volunteers. Having at least one other mind in your core team who is committed to marketing can greatly help throughout the entire marketing process, especially in the early stages.
Your core team would include anyone in marketing who can help you get organized and create your strategy. You can bring in the subject matter experts (designers, videographers, copywriters) once you’ve created your overarching strategy.
Step 4: Get Organized
Whether you have a team of one working on your marketing efforts, or a team of 20, organization is paramount to your success.
Project management is as central to event planning as it is to marketing. Being organized enables strong communication, and timely completion of tasks and goals. If you’re leading a team and don’t already have a dedicated project manager, guess what? You’re the project manager!
In addition to project management, your team will need to know what assets they should create and have ready for “go time” i.e.: when you finally announce the event. Having this information ready to go will make everyone’s lives much easier.
Here’s a quick list of questions you should start asking yourself/your team early on:
- What kind of internal communication will we need?
- What kind of external communication will we need?
- What digital assets will we need?
- What communication tools should we use?
While it’s highly likely that you won’t know all the answers, or even the questions, until later when you’ve identified your tactics, this is a great time to start preparing. You can build on this list as your marketing advances.
Step 5: Analyze and Review Existing Strategies
Strategies may already exist in three facets: past marketing strategies for this event, the current marketing strategy for the organization putting on the event (the brand), and the strategies in use by partnering or competing events.
Looking to the past will help you learn what’s gone well in terms of marketing this event, and what’s not gone so well. You’ll save money, time, and headaches if you do this. This will go especially well if you have access to the following information:
- Past attendee demographics
- How past attendees heard about the event
- RSVP’s vs tickets sold
- App downloads
- Social media interactions
Recording the above information will not only help you this year, but will help keep your marketing on point for years to come.
Step 6: Create your Strategy
Before even creating a Facebook event, sending out an email, or creating a digital flier, create your strategy statement. A strategy statement clearly states your goal and your overall approach to achieving this goal, and is created to be in alignment with the brand’s strategy.
Let’s say that the brand conducts their marketing by the following strategy statement:
Increase applications for the incubator program by X% (goal) by promoting innovation in our city (strategy).
Keeping in alignment with the above strategy statement, marketing strategies for your event might be:
- Grow ticket sales for our event by spotlighting local innovators
- Grow ticket sales for our event by building relationships with local entrepreneurial clubs
If your brand doesn’t have a strategy, you can kill two birds with one stone and invite the brand marketing team in on this process.
At this point, you might be thinking it’s strange that it took six steps to get to these little statements. However, these statements can only be born once you’ve done the heavy lifting of the past six steps. Plus, these little statements have a big impact: they’ll be guiding every decision you make when marketing your event.
Once you’ve finalized your strategies, you can begin to weave together the document that will clearly lay out your master plan: the marketing plan.
Step 7: Build your Marketing Plan
While your strategies are each one sentence, your marketing plan is usually several pages long. This seems like a lot of work, until you realize that most of what’s in the marketing plan, has already been gathered during steps one through six.
Marketing plans come in all shapes and sizes. However, a strong marketing plan usually consists of the following components:
- Competitive analysis – An analysis of similar event’s marketing strategies, including demographics, number in attendance, and apparent strategies
- Budget and other constraints
- Timeline – When setting the timeline, starting out with a skeleton timeline and then filling it in is usually the most efficient. You’re timeline will largely be based on the overall event timeline. Some things like catering deadlines won’t affect you. However, other things, such as the cut off date for selling tickets and the deadline for signing speakers, will greatly affect your marketing timeline, and may even drive it
- Specific marketing tactics – These are the specific marketing actions you will take to achieve your goals, such as a social media contest, press releases, etc.
- SWOT analysis – Strengths and threats to your event (such as weather, competing events that weekend, etc.)
- Branding guidelines – Tone of voice and event communication guidelines that are in alignment with brand guidelines
- Event strategies and brand strategies
- The brand’s mission statement
Once you’ve created the marketing plan, share it with everyone on your team!
There are several event marketing plan templates available online, but this one is the strongest.
Step 8: Revisit your Team Needs
Do you have all the people resources to accomplish what you’ve outlined in your plan?
Will you need to bring on a PR agency? Designers? Your needs will different, but the following is a list of subject matters experts and additional help you might need to bring on:
- Public relations experts
- Graphic Designers
- Web Designers
- Street team (flier distribution)
- Strategic partnership liaison
- Social media team
- Digital asset manager
- Marketing project manager
After completing steps one through eight, you should have a solid framework for creating a winning marketing plan that will help you reach your goals and build momentum for your event.
Have you used a marketing plan for your event before? If so, what other advice or steps would you add?