In my career as a marketing professional, I have managed the marketing timeline for over 50 events over the last eight years. I applied those skills to my work as a freelance director and producer in New York City. I ran the marketing and public relations for two productions, while also directing and producing the shows.
When planning a special event or performance, there are a lot of moving parts, and you’re working on a hard and fast deadline. As the day of the event approaches, you find yourself with more and more to do: long technical rehearsals, finalizing the guest list, or any number of last-minute emergencies.
Luckily, much of the marketing can be done well in advance, so when the hours are ticking down, you aren’t caught between fixing a last-minute problem and finishing your marketing outreach. By planning ahead, you can ensure that your event marketing is strong, and you can dedicate those final critical days and hours before the event or performance to making the event itself a success.
Follow these guidelines by working backward from your event date.
3-4 Months Prior to Event
Define the major aspects of your event (answer the 5 W’s: who, what, when, where, why). Determine pricing structure and set up sales platforms so that you can direct the audience from initial announcements. Can also send out a save the date with the on-sale date.
Announce through a press release and on social channels, and post to your company’s website. This is especially important for large-scale one-day events like Galas or Fundraisers. You want to make sure your audience can save the date!
Set a Budget: You should allocate some of your event budgets to promotional efforts, including printing, graphic design, advertisements, and social media ads. It may be tempting to forgo marketing dollars in favor of spending more on your event, but a healthy marketing budget is your best tool for filling the house and recouping costs. About 10% of your event budget is a good rule of thumb.
Plan your marketing timeline. Using a spreadsheet, a bulleted list, or a calendar, work backward from your event date, mapping out eblasts and newsletters, design and printer deadlines, social media posts, advertisements, and cross-promotions. The rest of this blog post will give you some suggestions on when to plan each of these items. By creating a solid timeline to follow, you break down your marketing plan into small, easy-to-accomplish steps, and you can avoid missing deadlines with printers or advertisers.
2-3 Months Prior
Finalize the artwork for your event with your graphic designer. This is the image or logo you will be using for your event. This might involve taking promotional photos.
Identify key constituencies or potential audiences for your event and begin brainstorming potential groups, organizations, or press outlets that might be interested in your event. Start compiling a list of the names and contact information. These are the potential audience members or organizations you can contact to help you market your event to their constituents. For example – If your event is a play based on a classic piece of literature, you might research local book clubs, local bookstores, local university English departments, and literary journals.
Tickets go on sale! If you announced the event with a save the date, make sure to follow up with on-sale date a minimum of 8 weeks prior to the event.
6-8 Weeks Prior
Print your print marketing materials (posters, postcards, flyers) and get them to the printer.
Announce your cast, performers, or participating artists. This is likely your first big opportunity to grab the public’s attention on who and what will be happening at your event or performance. This can be through social media, your email list, and the press.
Begin Cross Promotions Efforts: All that great research you did on key constituencies is ready to go! Begin reaching out to see if they might be willing to share your event with their social media or email lists, or if they are interested in attending your event.
4-6 Weeks Prior
Begin a social media campaign for the event. There are tools that will allow you to schedule your posts well in advance. Facebook allows Pages to schedule their posts right from Facebook. For Instagram and Twitter, third-party tools like Hootsuite are fantastic. Start with 2-3 posts a week, and increase as your event gets closer. You can always add more as interesting things happen, but if you schedule your posts in advance, you know you’re covered. Set it and forget it!
Email Marketing: This is a great time to make sure those already on your email list know about the event.
Postcards: If you’ve chosen to print postcards or flyers, this is a good time to start mailing them out or dropping them off at places for display.
1-3 Weeks Prior
Social Media: Things should be heating up on your social media channels! Share photos from rehearsals, pictures of your team preparing for the event, or press announcements. Make sure everyone involved with the event is tagging you in their photos so you can share!
Email Marketing: Who hasn’t booked their tickets yet? You don’t have to bombard your email list, but 1-2 emails leading up to the event in the final weeks keep your event top-of-mind.
Follow up with your target audiences: Can they help amplify your message to their followers?
If you’ve followed this timeline, you should just have to be adding exciting updates to your social media and sending a “final last chance for tickets” email, or even better “we’re sold out”!!
Rest assured that your good planning and hard work will pay off with big attendance!