Using PR to Promote Your Event

In all my years working in public relations, it seems as though one thing has not changed—the belief from many outside of the PR world that if they are planning or hosting an event that media relations is a silver bullet to encourage or increase event attendance.  Specifically, there is a feeling of “if I can just get the word out—be it through a press release or a media advisory—then the media will cover the event in advance and voilà, event attendance will increase.”

There are some events where this can be the case. Notable keynote speakers, newsworthy annual events and launches are examples of events that can garner pre-coverage.

Now I’m not suggesting that you exclude media relations in your event promotion, but it needs to be part of a larger outreach strategy. For the bulk of events, the media will see its role as attending (if it’s compelling and newsworthy) and reporting on the event after it happens. The pre-event media relations should be done to build the awareness with the media and encourage their attendance to your event. It can also open doors for other coverage opportunities (maybe they are working on articles about Open Source software development, startup trends or applications in the cloud).

So, if pre-event media coverage is going to be minimal and leave you disappointed, what are the ways you can maximize exposure on your event and get the attendance that you are aiming for? Successful event promotion should include the following tactics:

  • Leverage social media. Use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ to promote your event. Hopefully you have already cultivated an appropriate following on these platforms and by promoting your event on social media you are reaching out directly to people who have already opted in to hearing what you have to say.
  • Use the power of your Rolodex. Hopefully you, or the organization hosting the event, have a good database of contacts that would be interested in attending your event. Put your email to good use and send out invitations directly to the people that you want to attend your event.
  • Get others involved.  Ask others who work for the organization, who serve on the board (if applicable) or who have expressed an interest in the event, to help promote it to their contacts. Sure, there may be some overlap but by including others in event promotion you greatly expand the number of people you are able to reach.
  • Identify other groups or organizations that can help. If you’re hosting an event for undergraduate students, research universities in the area you live and reach out to appropriate student groups. If you’re hosting an event for other PR/marketing professionals, engage other PR/marketing groups – just as the local PRSA chapter – in promoting the event. If you’re hosting an event for startups, ask the incubators in the region the event is taking place to help promote the event to their contacts.
  • Include your event in the events calendar of your local news outlets. Most local news outlets, whether it be a major national newspaper, a weekly community paper or the local TV station keep a calendar of upcoming events. Submitting your event to these calendar listings is a great way to inform readers without a hard news hook.

Creating a well thought out and inclusive event promotion campaign, and not simply relying on a press release sent out en masse to the media, greatly increases the chances of the right people hearing about, and attending, your event. And, if securing media coverage of the event is of importance to you, absolutely work with a PR pro to do some targeted outreach to specific and relevant media outlets. The good news is that once you have a successful event under your belt, media relations for subsequent events may be easier because there is a history of interest and data to pull from to provide some advance newsworthiness.