Promoting a community events programme is just as important as the planning of the activities themselves, and usually requires as much time and effort.
Here is Clarity’s guide to some promotional methods that we’ve found to work well.
1. Plan a launch event
A good way to get your community activities programme off the ground is with a launch event focused primarily on creating interest in the rest of the programme. It doesn’t have to be a big, flashy, expensive affair – essentially you just need to do something that will draw a crowd of local people in a busy place. A drop-in children’s activity, a taster workshop for adults, people in period costume, a performance, even a flashmob – whatever is relevant and will draw in passers-by. Some sort of display stand as a focus is probably a good idea, with information and literature. Create a buzz in the local press by getting some coverage, ask the mayor or other dignitary to come along and do an official launch.
Even if your activity programme is already up and running, providing an event like this can give your audience numbers a boost. The important thing is that you engage with everyone who comes to see what’s going on and tell them about what’s coming up – give them an events listing, a flyer with your website address and a summary of the project, and ask them to sign up to get emails about events coming up (reassuring them that they won’t be spammed!)
2. Start an e-mail list
If you don’t have a mail-out list, START ONE NOW! In our experience, direct e-mail is the most powerful tool for promoting community events.
If you did a launch event hopefully you will have some addresses to start you off. Also include people in your own existing networks – colleagues, volunteers, staff at partner organisations, members of community groups, even friends and family.
Your list will grow as your programme goes along. For events people need to book onto, you should ask for email addresses to send out confirmations and event details. You then add these to your list (having offered a clear and easy opt out).
During non-bookable or drop-in events, take time to approach participants with a sign-up list and ask if they would like to know about future events via e-mail.
You should also have a sign-up form on your web site and use social media to make people aware that they can join – post a link to the sign-up form.
3. Produce a printed events programme
At Clarity we use new technology in promoting events but we still find that the good old printed ‘what’s-on?’ booklet is pretty effective. People like to pick them up and keep them for that moment when they are asking themselves ‘what can we do this weekend?’
Put images featuring people on the cover and if some or all of your activities are free, make that clear. Distribute them to libraries, tourist information centres, community centres and local attractions. Use a small, standard format – DL or A5 – so that they can display them easily in their racks. Ask people in your work and personal networks to put them into places that you might not be able to get to yourself. Ask partner attractions to stock them, and don’t forget to take some along to all your activities once they start!
4. Promote events individually and in a targeted way
In addition to promoting an activity programme as a whole, for example via a printed ‘what’s-on?’, we find event-by-event promotion extremely effective. We recommend doing this in three ways:
Firstly, every single event should be promoted individually via an email sent out to everyone on your list who might be interested. Use the subject line to offer something irresistible to these recipients: ‘Photograph one of Britain’s rarest butterflies’; ‘Explore an ancient woodland through art’. We find sending the email two to three weeks in advance is long enough for small, low cost or free activities but you may need to give more lead-in for large events or pricier paid-for activities.
Depending on how bookings go, you may want to send a follow-up email in the week leading up to the activity. We have found some organisers baulk at this, afraid of over-doing it and annoying people, but as long as the event is relevant to the recipient, you should not get any complaints. To make sure it is relevant, segment your list, using groups in Outlook or the tools in E-mail Marketing Software like MailChimp, according to what recipients are interested in or where they live.
Secondly, if it’s possible on your website calendar, create an individual event page for every activity, containing full details and a quality ‘featured’ image.
Thirdly, create a separate Facebook event for every activity and individually invite all Facebook friends who you think would be interested. Do this around the time you send out your targeted email (you don’t need to invite people on the email list!) Then keep people updated: post a status if the event is nearly fully booked – ‘Just a few places left!’ – or post a link to the event website page as a reminder if take-up is slow.
5. Promote directly to organised groups and online communities
We found organised groups a great way of reaching people with an interest in specific activities. For example, we found lots of participants for wildlife photography events from local camera clubs. Many groups have websites with email addresses or contact forms, and are more than happy to hear from someone offering activities their members might enjoy. There are also directory websites with lists of local community groups and contact details. Think about offering events exclusively for the members of a group – a ready-made audience.
Facebook groups can also be a good way of contacting large numbers of interested people. We have promoted outdoor painting events on local arts-related Facebook groups. Make sure the group allows the promotion of events before you post anything by reading the ‘about’ or ‘description’ section. Also search for relevant pages with lots of likes and approach the admin by messaging them and asking to post a link to your website event page.
6. Produce simple posters and flyers
Don’t forget good old-fashioned posters and flyers! They don’t have to be works of art, just clear and eye-catching, with all the relevant information. Get a designer to set up simple templates in Word or Publisher, then you can just change venues, times and insert one or two relevant images. Web address and social media icons should be prominent.
Posters are best used at the site where an upcoming activity is going to take place. Put them up at least 10 days before the event but not so far in advance that they become faded or rain-damaged. Don’t overdo it – just put up one at each of a few key entry points – and make sure you arrange for them to be taken down once the event is over. You could try making use of notice boards at visitors centres, libraries, local shops etc. but we’ve had limited success with this. Parish notice boards in small rural communities are probably more likely to get looked at – approach the parish council for permission.
Hand out flyers at your event venue a week or two in advance and engage with people about the activity coming up (this may not be worthwhile if it is a quiet site with few visitors). Flyers are great for handing out to people at an event to promote the next activity coming up. Also, ask partner organisations/attractions to have flyers available if they have similar events during your lead-in.
Bulk, ‘scatter-gun’ distribution of posters and flyers in the high street or elsewhere is probably not the best use of your time and could even damage the image of your project. The same can be true of delivering them door to door; the exception to this is if an activity is very focused on residents’ concerns, or changes in a particular neighbourhood (for example, a workshop to consult on designs for a new park) then you can target the households in the relevant area.
7. Give people something to take away
Finally, when an event is over, offer participants a pack to take with them. Contents should include an events programme booklet, a flyer for the next upcoming activity, a feedback form for your monitoring and a pre-paid envelope for its return. Literature specific to the site could also be included. If it was a children’s event, you could add a fun activity sheet or branded items like badges or stationery. Before participants head off, have a booking sheet handy for the next activity and offer them the opportunity to sign up early.
PLEASE ADD YOUR OWN TIPS
We hope you have found this guide useful, but recognise that we are always learning new ways to do things and that other people’s experience may be different. We would value your own insight into what has worked for you in community events promotion in the comments below.