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Special Events

Make a splash by holding a special event for your business.
August 23, 2004
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/24576

Ever since the first Wild West Show was staged to sell "Doctor Winthrop's Miracle Elixir," businesspeople have understood the value of promotional events. Even the most obscure product or service takes on new cachet when accompanied by a dash of showmanship. From "fun runs" to fashion shows, contests to concerts, businesses have learned it pays to be associated with special events. In fact, special events are one of the fastest-growing areas of marketing today. And while large corporations shell out billions each year to host events, small companies, too, can use promotions to reach their market in a way no conventional method could.

No matter how spectacular an event is, however, it can't stand alone. You can use advertising or public relations without doing a special event, but you need both advertising and public relations to make your event work. How do you put together the right mix to make your event successful? First, you must know what you want to accomplish. The desired outcome of event marketing is no different from that of any other marketing effort: You want to draw attention to your product or service, create greater awareness of it and increase sales.

Grand Openings

You're excited about opening your new business. Everyone else will be, too . . . right? Wrong. You have to create the excitement, and a knockout grand opening celebration is the way to do it. From start to finish, your event has to scream "We're here. We're open. We're ready to go. We're better than, different from and more eager to serve you than our competitors. We want to get to know you and have you do business with us."

A grand opening is one of the best reasons to stage a special event. No one thinks twice about why you're blowing your own horn. What you do want them to think about is what a great time they had at your event.

That means no run-of-the-mill, garden-variety ribbon-cutting. Be original. If you own an electronics store, open your doors via remote control. If you're opening a yarn store, unravel a huge knitted ribbon. If you sell sporting goods, reel in both ends of an enormous bow until the ribbon is untied. Whatever your specialty, do something unusual, entertaining and memorable.

Also give thought to what other activities go along with your grand opening. Design a terrific invitation, do plenty of publicizing, provide quality refreshments and entertainment, select a giveaway that promotes your business (and draws people into the store to get it), and incorporate some way of tracking who attended your event (contest entry forms, coupons, free newsletter subscriptions, birthday club sign-ups and so on).

Entertainment and Novelty Attractions

Time, space and popular appeal are three things to consider if and when you host or sponsor a one-time special attraction. If space permits and a beach motif fits your business, having a huge sand castle built in your parking lot might draw attention and business for the entire time it takes to construct it.

Just keep in mind that the novelties and entertainment shouldn't last so long or be so distracting that no one finds the time or inclination to do business with you. Think of these events as the appetizer, with your product or service as the main course.

Holidays and Seasons

Some of the most common and easily developed special events are based on holidays or times of year. For example, during the Christmas season, Santa's Workshop can be found in thousands of communities, not just the North Pole. Or kick off the summer season with a "Beach Boys" music marathon.

Again, when planning an event tied to a holiday or season, make originality your motto. If the average December temperature in your city is a balmy 76 degrees, then don't dredge up icicles and fake snow for the store. Take a cue from your locale: Put antlers on pink flamingos and dress Santa in shorts and sunglasses.

Celebrity Appearances

Working with celebrities is like buying a volatile stock-high risk but high return. If you're willing to go out on a limb, you may harvest the sweetest fruit. Many celebrities are affable, cooperative and generous if they are treated professionally and supplied with all the necessary details in advance.

The key to using a celebrity to promote your business is knowing what kind of "personality" is appropriate for your company and marketing goals. Think about whom you want to attract, what kind of media coverage you want to generate, and what kind of lasting impression you want to create.

Whether you are seeking soap stars, sports stars or movie stars, it's usually best to contact their agents first. If you don't know who a star's agent is, contact a talent agency or the organization the celebrity works for.

Unless you know celebrities personally, you must consider the arrangement a commercial venture for them. There are literally hundreds of details to work out and opportunities at every turn for something to go wrong unless you are experienced in dealing with celebrities or have contacted a reputable talent or public relations agency to help you.

Celebrities don't have to be nationally known names, either. Think about local celebrities in your community who might be willing to be part of your special event. A politician, well-known businessperson or community leader can be an excellent addition to your big day.

Co-Sponsoring

You can partner with complementary businesses to host an event, or you can take part as a sponsor of an established charity or public cause. Sporting events, fairs and festivals have proved to be popular event choices with good track records for achieving companies' marketing goals. Keep in mind not every event is right for every business. As with any marketing strategy, your event must be suited to your customers' needs.

Think about how your company can benefit an event. If you're a florist, for instance, you could provide flowers for a wide range of charity luncheons or galas. A health-food retailer could provide free energy bars to participants in a local 10K race. Whatever you do, be sure to promote it with press releases, a sign in your window or a mention in the event's program.

Anniversary Celebrations

This is one special event most people can relate to. Staying in business for a number of years is something to be proud of, so why not share the achievement with others? Throw a party and invite current, past and prospective customers to enjoy your anniversary, too.

Games and Contests

From naming a mascot to guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar, contests are a proven means of attracting attention. But they pay off big only when they are properly promoted and ethically managed. So be sure your prizes are first-rate and that you get the word out in a timely and professional manner.

Let people know how and when they can participate. Think through all the ramifications of judging, selecting and awarding a prize. Check out the need for special permits or licenses well b1fore staging any contest (it never hurts to get a legal opinion just to be on the safe side). Above all, deliver on your promises.

From Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need by Rieva Lesonsky and the staff of Entrepreneur Magazine