Your organization has an event coming up — lucky you! Whether you’re hosting an experiential event, participating in a conference or putting together a pop-up shop, there’s still work to be done ahead of the big day. This isn’t “Field of Dreams,” after all.
The power of a successful event
Sorry, Terence Mann, but you’ve got to do a whole lot more than simply throw together an event, open the doors on the day it’s scheduled and hope that people will flock to your location. It’s time to create a thought-out event marketing plan that will help you connect with your audience, garner their attention and get a buzz going about your event.
Hosting or participating in a live event is a beneficial opportunity for any organization, but it’s particularly important for those that may not regularly be able to connect with their audiences in person. Now that so much of the business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) relationship takes place through online channels, it’s important that decision-makers not overlook chances to cement the loyalty of existing customers and potentially grow their reach through live channels.
Live events could take the form of an in-person gathering or virtual connections facilitated online during situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, where social distancing is required.
That’s why more organizations are looking to foster these types of in-person connections:
- The number of companies taking part in 20 or more events annually increased by 17% from 2017 to 2018.
- Currently, 84% of C-suite execs consider in-person events a key part of their business success.
- More than 40% of marketers view live events as the most effective marketing channel, even over traditional venues like content marketing and digital advertising.
Businesses are also allocating more of their marketing spend to support in-person events: Today’s B2B software and services companies regularly dedicate more than 21% of their overall budgets toward events.
Once you’ve put the work in by planning key elements like the date, location, purpose, speakers, activities and beyond, it’s time to get the word out about the event and help make sure that all of your efforts truly pay off.
What is an event marketing plan?
An event marketing plan is a thorough and systematic blueprint used by event marketers to ensure that they’ve covered all their bases as they strive to stage a successful event. This comprehensive plan can include every pertinent event marketing strategy available, from digital marketing to direct mail and in-person interactions.
Why do you need an event marketing plan?
Hosting a conference, convening or other occasion without executing a deliberate event marketing plan sounds a bit like a thought experiment: If you sponsor a meeting, but nobody attends it, did it even happen?
The first time you sit down to strategize, it might feel like you’re starting from scratch, but it will be well worth the effort. You can save time in the future by reworking previous iterations to create a reusable event marketing template of your own design.
What’s included in an event marketing plan?
There are a handful of essentials that your event marketing plan will cover, including things like:
- The types of content you’ll create to support the event, such as an initial press release announcement, blog posts leading up to the big day and more.
- The platforms on which you’ll distribute your content and a description of the various ways that content will be used for marketing campaigns across social media or other channels.
- Unified event messaging across all of your content and communications as you promote the event. This approach ensures your audience and other potential attendees will get the right feel for the event as well as a clear picture of what’s to come. The same message will shine through whether prospects read a blog, listen to a pre-event interview or see a post on social media.
- A collaboration strategy that helps solidify your marketing efforts with other event sponsors and exhibitors. This is key for joint events or conferences that involve several different companies.
- Evaluation metrics that allow you and your fellow event marketers to gauge the overall success of your efforts so you can continue to leverage the elements that worked and employ other key insights for future event marketing campaigns.
When should you start marketing an event?
Generally speaking, there’s a sweet spot for when you should launch your event marketing campaign.
Get started too soon and you’ll risk overwhelming your audience with a prolonged lead-up before showtime. Or, they’ll think the event is so far away that it’s not even worth reserving a spot on their calendar. Wait too late and you’re sure to lose out on any forward-thinking planners and exceptionally busy audience members whose schedules fill up months in advance.
Use your previous experience, as well as your knowledge of the industry and the type of event you’re hosting, to determine the appropriate start date for your initiative.
For annual occurrences, you should have the following year’s event marketing strategy ready to go live as soon as this year’s festivities conclude. As your audience departs, make sure they’re equipped to pencil in the dates for next year’s outing as soon as they get home.
In general, you should consider launching campaigns for large-scale, singular events at least two or three months ahead of the date.
Make sure you don’t get ahead of yourself, though. An event website or landing page should be finalized before making any announcements. Potential attendees must be able to register as soon as they hear the news.
Content creation: What to consider
Content is one of your greatest weapons. There are few better ways to support your event messaging, get your audience excited and describe what’s to come on the day of the event.
There are a few important content types that you should consider creating as part of your event marketing plan:
Compose the classic press release: Start your event marketing plan off right
This one’s a standby, and for good reason. A short and sweet press release is a great way to get all the essential details out about your event. This is also the ideal place to share contact info for internal marketers, making it easy for interested parties to reach out for more details. A press release helps inform your audience about the basics, and professional circulation means major outlets like PR Newswire will assist with the heavy lifting. The general rule of thumb is that you should stick to about one page in length, or around 400 words, for your press release.
Expand on the details in a blog or two: Generate interest for your target audience
Although it can be tempting — not to mention easy — to go beyond the press release word count limits, it’s good to save some of the juicier details of your event for subsequent blog posts. This way, you can expand on the basics from your initial announcement in a longer blog post and pair your content with captivating images or even an embedded video. Post the blog on your website, and share it on social media leading up to the event day.
List out the details on a dedicated webpage: Give your audience all the info they need
If your business takes part in an annual event, or if you’re hosting something especially large and newsworthy, you might consider creating a dedicated webpage on your site to provide additional details and generate traffic. You might even add a registration form so participants can sign up on your site, right then and there. You can also leverage this page after the big day by updating the content to focus on post-event coverage.
Consider a podcast interview: Take your event marketing plan to the digital airwaves
Another content strategy to consider with your event marketing plan is an audio interview with a keynote speaker or other sponsors and participants. You can use this content in several different ways, including editing the entire interview for a podcast or quoting smaller snippets in a blog or social post.
Provide a sneak peek through video: Let your audience see what they can expect
Video content is particularly well suited for event marketing. You can provide a look at the event location and preparations to get people excited for the big day or record your pre-event interviews and put together a reel featuring some of the guest speakers. Similar to audio content, you can also use smaller segments of a video for social posts or to create an eye-catching, shareable GIF.
Bring it all together on social media: Incorporate top platforms into your event marketing plan
You may have noticed a theme in some of our previous content suggestions: sharing on social media. Event-related posts are a great way to drive engagement with your target audience. Plus, if you’ve got a buzz going, you might be able to drum up some additional registrations through Facebook or other channels.
And when the big day rolls around, make sure you’re ready to live-tweet it.
Tips for content distribution
Event content provides a lot of opportunity for repurposing, including using quotes and other snippets to attract your audience’s attention. Here are a few other strategies to consider with your content distribution:
Know your audience: Speak to your potential attendees in a way that resonates with them
Before you broadcast everything on all of the major platforms, it’s important to carefully consider which social media venues are best suited for your needs. For example, your B2B audience might not be expecting to hear from you on TikTok or Facebook. However, LinkedIn and Twitter engagement may align perfectly with your event marketing plan.
A comprehensive marketing strategy will also extend beyond social media into other delivery methods. Think about whether digital marketing outlets like text messaging or email will appeal to your intended audience.
Lastly, no matter where your outreach efforts take you, make sure to deploy the unified messaging we talked about earlier. You may have decided that Instagram is an acceptable venue for your event marketing plan, and you should strive to create interesting images as a result, but you don’t have to load up on emojis if they don’t match your brand voice.
Don’t put everything out there at once: Release one element of your event marketing plan at a time
First things first: It’s helpful to create a schedule for your event marketing content. This way, you can release your content elements in a step-by-step manner that sustains your audience’s attention. For instance, start with your event webpage and then link to it in your press release. From here, provide more event details in a blog post as the event date gets closer, and then expand even further in a podcast or video just before the big day. Putting your content out there one piece at a time will systematically boost your event promotion efforts, support brand awareness and help you reach your audience through a variety of interesting content types.
Continue promotion before and during the event: Stay present in your audience’s thoughts
The focus of event marketing often centers on the days and weeks leading up to the big moment. This makes sense, as you want to generate anticipation, boost ticket sales and encourage people to show up. But it’s also important to promote the event while it’s going on. Video is particularly strong here, including livestreaming the most exciting event activities or unveilings. In addition, sourcing user-generated content from event attendees is a great way to showcase the perspective of various participants.
Use automation where you can: Put your event marketing plan on autopilot
Your event marketing plan is critical for informing distribution. While some marketing elements will need to be manually updated as event details come in, it’s helpful to use automation wherever possible to keep everything on schedule and prevent things from falling through the cracks. Automation is particularly helpful for annual events.
Event do’s — with examples
It’s always important to learn from others, and this is especially true with your event marketing efforts. As we saw in the data points mentioned above, businesses are throwing events more often than ever before, providing some great examples of successful strategies that truly work, as well as some really stellar case studies in failure, which we’ll delve into in greater detail below.
In that spirit, let’s take a quick look at some events that went well and explore the takeaways you can leverage for your own event marketing tactics:
Use your theme as a common thread
People love an event with a well-established theme. Depending on the purpose of your event, your theme can extend to many different event elements while providing memorable — and Instagrammable — moments.
Tech giant Oracle provides a good example with its Code One user conference, formerly known as JavaOne. One year, the company decided to employ an environmental theme to support its new green initiative. Event planners took this theme and ran with it, even incorporating special touches like an eco-friendly menu, presentations focused on reducing carbon footprints and the ability for attendees to make charitable donations.
This is an interesting example for a number of reasons, including the fact that Oracle was able to support its own environmental efforts while also establishing a conscious brand image.
Incorporate experiential elements
Looking to create a splash with your event? Consider using an experiential approach, which takes traditional event presentations and turns them into immersive experiences that truly engage participants.
Experiential events are also ideal for promoting specific campaigns within a larger convening or conference. There are many different examples out there, but one of the most memorable is JetBlue’s Ultimate Icebreaker event in 2016. This experience was used to publicize the launch of the airline’s direct flights from New York City to Palm Springs, California, and it included an ice wall installation filled with different warm-weather travel items.
Event participants were invited to break the ice in any way they could, enabling them to walk away with prizes. The event — held outside in New York during the winter, which kept the ice from melting — was a fantastic way to support JetBlue’s target messaging: Warm weather is only a flight away.
Tap local influencers
Another trend picking up steam in event marketing is the use of influencers. We recently explored the positives and negatives of this approach and how it differs from other, more traditional marketing styles.
Leveraging the power of local influencers isn’t as difficult as one might think: It can be as simple as sending a specific invite to a local influencer and asking them to share their experience on social media if they enjoy the event.
Event don’ts — with examples
Some events don’t exactly pan out as marketers and planners expect, but these examples can still provide us with some valuable lessons.
Don’t forget to do your research and bring in the necessary experts
Jagermeister learned this lesson the hard way with its 2013 pool party event in Leon, Mexico. The plan was to add liquid nitrogen to a swimming pool at the event to create a cloudy, smoky effect. However, as those at the event soon discovered, nitrogen and chlorine do not mix well. The result was a poisonous cloud of nitrogen trichloride gas, which made several event attendees very ill, requiring medical attention.
As this example shows, it’s important for marketers and event organizers to do their due diligence and be especially careful about planning for large-scale stunts like this. It’s best to bring in subject matter experts for particularly lofty or ambitious event plans to make sure safety is overlooked and everything goes off without a hitch.
Don’t overpromise: Make sure the actual event lives up to the hype
There’s nothing worse for attendees than showing up for an outing only to discover that the event marketing was vastly overstated and the experience itself can’t deliver. One of the best examples here is the infamous Fyre Festival.
Event marketers did almost everything right leading up to the festival — they engaged influencers and launched a wildly successful social campaign. However, organizers broke one of the cardinal rules of event planning: They didn’t provide anything close to the experience they promised. After hearing for weeks about high-end accommodations and food, attendees were treated to a “festival” that was anything but fire.
Expectation vs. Reality#fyre #fyrefestival pic.twitter.com/U80NApajxl
— William Needham Finley IV(It’s real. I made it up) (@WNFIV) April 28, 2017
The takeaway here is simple: Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Your marketing efforts should paint a true picture of what participants can expect at the event. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up for failure, and something like a Fyre-esque marketing miss will surely impact your brand image.
The COVID-19 effect: Updating your event marketing plan to go virtual
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has made one thing clear: Event marketers need to be ready to pivot at a moment’s notice. We’re certain that over the last year, more than one marketing strategy had to be quickly adapted to support the transition from an in-person gathering to a virtual event.
After gaining your first experience with virtual event marketing, it’s important to note that there can be several benefits to hosting your next conference or convening online, including:
- The potential for increased attendance from individuals who wouldn’t be able to travel.
- Greater accessibility for people of varying abilities and those who couldn’t attend live.
- A larger pool of potential speakers, since geography is no hurdle.
- Fewer challenges related to attracting attendees to locations that are perceived as less desirable.
- No outside distractions at the event site.
It’s important to highlight some of these advantages if you’re doing virtual event promotion. Make sure that your event website reflects the new opportunities made possible by hosting your outing remotely. Be sure to foreground networking opportunities and devise strategies for encouraging interaction with vendors, too. Your target audience may be skeptical at first, but with a concrete plan for simulating in-person interactions online, you should be able to win them over.
See how we helped our client Shibumi pivot to a completely virtual conference earlier this year:
Capturing your audience’s attention to ensure event success
An in-person or virtual event is a powerful way to foster an emotional connection and create memorable experiences for your audience. Pulling this off requires the right planning process, as well as the creation of key pieces of marketing collateral alongside successful distribution strategies.
Now, get out there, build it, market it and they will definitely come.
Editor’s Note: Updated March 2021.