Learning the Hard Way
Often the best way to learn about anything in life is through your mistakes. Years ago, when I began doing vegan advocacy, I didn’t know much about advertising and hadn’t considered what it takes to attract people to events. I’ll never forget our first outreach fundraiser: a huge yard and bake sale planned at a local church. Volunteers who sweated for days preparing waited and waited but the crowds weren’t coming. The problem? The only thing we did to advertise our event was email an announcement to our members and place a paid classified ad in a major newspaper — and they forgot to print it!
Well, we never made that mistake again, and we learned to embrace diverse advertising strategies as one of the critical elements in our event planning. If you find yourself frustrated by low turnout or are unsure how best to spread the word, read on. First and foremost, a good publicity plan takes time and commitment. The good news is that while many people assume effective advertising costs big bucks, the reality is that the savvy activist need not spend any money or very little at all.
Consider Your Space!
Location is key. Networking with other established venues (universities/student groups, holistic education centers, festivals, theatres, conferences) can be a great strategy. For example, if you’re planning a film screening, libraries will work but you will probably have a much better turnout if you approach a local movie theatre who may be willing to donate the space or charge a nominal fee. They already have a dedicated space for screening films, maintain a customer base, attract people who like films, and typically have an advertising platform already online, onsite. and in print that you can take advantage of for your event.
Print and Post!
Flyers, posters, and postcards. Paint the town with eye-catching advertising materials one to two weeks before the event. Flyers, cards, and posters can be easily created on a computer and printed locally. Perhaps there’s a volunteer who has some graphic design experience or enjoys creating flyers. For design tips, pay attention to posters that stand out among the crowd and learn from them. For postcards, consider using an online vendor such as Vistaprint. Team up and split up to cover targeted restaurants, movie theaters, community and health centers, markets, libraries, universities etc.
Work That Computer!
Email. Send a colorful email announcement to friends, family, supporters, environmental, and animal rescue organizations, and local vegan-friendly businesses to let them know the specifics about the event, requesting that they help spread the word. Consider sending out an announcement a month ahead and then three or so catchy reminders.
Stir it up on Facebook and Twitter. Create a Facebook event with all the relevant information about a month before and invite everyone. Continue the buzz about the event on Facebook and Twitter by highlighting a special guest, some food to be served, the awards a film has won, etc.
Website networking. If you have a website, post your flyer, web banner, or event announcement on your website and ask viewers to spread the word. Reach out to animal and environmentally friendly organizations and blogs to see if they are willing to post an announcement that you provide.
What’s going on calendars. There are a number of sites that have general Calendars of Events, just like newspapers. Some of these are targeted at particular markets, such as tourists, and some are put up as a public service by municipalities or government agencies. You can typically email a contact person or submit an event online through a specific form that is provided. Also, make sure your event is posted on VegFund’s own Events Calendar and VegEvents.
Get in on The News!
Press releases. Also known as a news release or a media release, press releases are a written or recorded communication submitted to the news media. They can be faxed or emailed to newspapers, magazines, and radio stations, but there are often submission deadlines, so do your research ahead of time. And, yes, many people still read the newspaper and other local publications to find out what’s going on in the community. If you’ve never written a press release, there’s a specific and uncomplicated format to follow.
News articles. Wouldn’t it be great to have an article written about your event — before it happens? How do you entice reporters to pay attention? After sending a press release, follow up to pitch your event. Generate interest by linking it to other recent news, such as a story on farmed animal cruelty, obesity statistics in this country, a celebrity or politician who went vegan, a new vegan restaurant getting rave reviews in the area. Be mindful of the larger cause and what’s at stake so you can communicate effectively. If you have a special guest or prominent person in the community involved in your event, ask if him or her if they would be willing to do some pre-publicity.
Radio announcements/interviews. Many local, community and college radio stations will happily air a brief public service announcement for charitable events. After sending a press release, follow up with a public service announcement after inquiring about any required criteria. Some stations prefer to have their staff read the announcement on air. Others may assist you in making an announcement for free or charge a small fee to cover their time and costs.
- Be realistic. While you may not be able to fully act on all the advertising tips offered, don’t worry. Consider what will be most effective for your event and what you or your team has the time to do.
- Be clear and accurate. Watch out for spelling and grammatical errors. Make sure materials contain all the necessary information. Make sure your wording is clear, direct, and easy to understand.
- Do some homework. Set up a comprehensive document with all your advertising resources such as newspapers, radio stations, organizations, blogs, and flyer drop off sites. By having contacts in one place, you can efficiently develop and execute a publicity plan and delegate tasks to others.
- Delegate effectively. People will be more likely to help you advertise if you ask specific people to take care of specific tasks than if you ask for general help.
- Check your list twice. Create an advertising checklist and timeline in a program such as Excel where you track who, what, and when for your advertising plan.
- Save yourself time. Use the process of promoting your event to build and edit your media contacts and advertising resources for next time.
- Stay organized and save. If you plan to do similar events regularly, save all your files of flyer designs, email announcements, advertising checklists, press releases, budget, etc. You can easily edit these for future events, which will save so much time!
- Successful advertising pays off immeasurably. It honors your hard work and allows you to have a greater impact on advancing veganism in the world. Be creative and be bold as you entice the public to show up!
Republished and updated from a VegFund blog by Elana Kirshenbaum, VegFund 2012 intern.