Many entrepreneurs market via outreach events, be it trade shows or presenting seminars, and budgets to schmooze clients and impress friends are getting tight.
Now that the economy is back in the spotlight, with gasoline at $2.60+ a gal., big companies announcing layoffs, and prices rising across the board, the time is here to tighten our belts and squeeze that marketing dollar until it squeals. Believe me the rhetoric that the economy is getting better is just that – political rhetoric, and isn’t coming from the business community in the trenches. We know better!
Even though lavish budgets are history, the creative entrepreneur can still use events as a marketing tool if he/she rolls up sleeves and goes into “guerilla marketing” mode. Creativity is the key! The time for promoting an event and waiting to see who registers within 6 to 8 weeks is past. The first’s thing to remember, is that no amount of cajoling, marketing, or freebies will compel attendance at your event if it doesn’t offer real value to the attendee.
People expect to be exposed to valuable content, and aren’t attending just for the networking. With that as a given, let me give you some guerilla marketing tips.
- Save the expensive advertising you usually do 6 to 8 weeks before the event and use “referrals”. Many of your pasts attendees are either employees of companies or in business themselves, and have contacts and friends they talk with regularly. This source is often overlooked, and you’ve got direct access to them. Send them an invitation as if they were customers, and ask them to pass it on to one or two people they know that might be interested. You could even make it more enticing by having a form at the door for attendees that asks who referred them, and providing some incentive for the person that referred the most attendees
- Don’t overlook clubs, associations or other local groups. Many not-for-profit groups have charters that state their members will be informed about opportunities that will enhance their membership, career and education. Put together a promotional kit announcing your event, an agenda, and offering a discount to the group’s members. You can also offer the association something for free – a full registration, print ad, magazine rack, exhibit space or a sponsoring logo on your Website – whatever is feasible in you line of business. Don’t miss the opportunity of offering your services as a speaker at some of the group or association meetings, and even bringing some event brochures with you after you have the leader’s approval.
- Local business – the bookmark brigade. If your event relies heavily on local participation, then work through the businesses used every day. A most successful and fun outreach program is to implement a Bookmark Brigade on behalf of the businesses. These are special announcement bookmarks printed with the name of the event, dates, location, and Website on one side and the local business name on the other. Make them big and bright, and get a team loaded with bookmarks to visit every business shop, coffee shop, bookstore, grocery stores, newsstands, cleaners, music stores, and libraries all over the area. Some stores may even let you hang a poster. Give something to the manager or in-store sales personnel as you do this. Maybe a free T-shirt, or pass to the event. The printing bill is bound to run less than half or full-page ads in the relevant weekend newspapers.
- Your event sponsors and exhibitors are your best allies, as well as a support network of resources for recruiting attendees. Twenty percent of them will support your event because they can, the rest won’t due to limited resources or conflicting agendas. Use any of the tools already mentioned with your partners, or trade a contact database of theirs to be used for telemarketing for promoting the sponsor in the telephone blitz. Offer this database a discounted rate and attribute the discount to the sponsor for their client. Everyone wins.
- Offer your sponsors tools like posters or tabletop signs they can post in their lobbies. Visitors can learn about the event while waiting for their appointments. This expands your word of mouth, and may even draw additional sponsors. Of course, you’ve already negotiated an event logo and listing presence on your sponsor’s website – haven’t you?
Some key points to remember in any outreach promotion are to build in a tracking method on each marketing piece, such as unique URLs and/or codes on registration. Be ready to offer incentives such as discounts or gifts to gain access to clubs or sponsors members, lists or audience. Lastly, have the appropriate marketing tool kit ready before you start. It should contain such things as Web banners, email templates, sample sales copy, and special offer announcements packaged for easy access.
In good times or bad, these tips will help any entrepreneur draw more interest in their activity or event. A good outreach program promotes special relationships with your sponsors, community and attendees better than any other marketing activity can before the event. Using guerilla marketing tactics in lieu of bucks takes creativity, elbow grease, and luck.