From the April 2001 issue of Startups

With the millennial craze of the past two years (since no one could decide which year to celebrate), parties and promos have been the name of the game. No matter what the calendar says, though, if you're looking for a way to get your name out there, promote a new product or just draw a lot of traffic, what better way to create a buzz and get noticed than with a special event or promotion?

"A special event is a way to put a real face on your product or service," says Kimberly McCall, founder of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. and MarketingAngel.com in Freeport, Maine. "You can also bolster your brand by pulling together an event that will have positive connotations for your prospects. For example, sponsoring a concert that raises money for the local animal shelter will elevate you above just running an ad announcing the latest sale."

Smells like free publicity to us. But getting the media involved isn't always an easy feat. "Obviously, there's got to be a hook for the media to be interested," says Marley Majcher, CEO of The Party Goddess!, a Pasadena, California, catering and event planning company. "I've found that linking up with a charity helps get attention. Often local chapters of a national charity have public relations people who can help promote a certain event and attract the attention of writers."

If your event incorporates a nonprofit, you've got an extra in. But there are other considerations when dealing with the press. From the beginning stages of planning an event, you should determine whether it's something worthy of coverage. Get the word out early so local newspapers can include it in their calendar sections or TV stations can make the necessary arrangements. And make sure you give them something to work with. "If you want the local TV station there, give them a visual-the more unusual or creative the better," McCall says. "One retail client decided to have a vintage VW Bug installed in her front window. We turned the installation into a photo opportunity by alerting the local TV stations and print photographers."

The end result? "Tons of publicity. It was unique, colorful and wonderfully odd," says McCall.

Aside from the media, though, there are plenty of other details to keep in mind while planning. Whether it's a one-time event, an ongoing promotion or a product launch, success lies in attention to detail-painstaking planning, a compelling concept and fastidious follow-through. "Don't just whip up a promotion with no legs and expect the media to hail you and your products," McCall cautions. "Plan carefully, budget adequately, and have contingency plans-like what to do if it rains. Make sure you're not competing with other events that will pull from yours. And publicize like crazy-from press releases to opt-in e-mail lists. Send a postcard to all your clients and prospects."

And don't forget to rehearse. Low-cost marketing expert Shel Horowitz, author of Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, advises doing a run-through ahead of time to work out technical glitches like whether there are enough outlets and lights.

Like all other marketing efforts, have a goal in mind. "Know exactly what it is you want to get out of the event, and be able to quantify it," Majcher says. "Also, determine what kind of image you want to communicate; can you afford to communicate that image?"

The more specifics you nail down in the conceptual stages, the easier it'll be to pull it together. But keep in mind that while these types of events may get you noticed, they aren't meant to replace advertising, but rather complement it. "Special events are a creative way to do something a little different, a little above and beyond," McCall says. "It's just one piece of the marketing pie. It won't stand on its own, but it will bolster other efforts."