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Special Events Make a splash by holding a special event for your business.

Ever since the first Wild West Show was staged to sell"Doctor Winthrop's Miracle Elixir," businesspeoplehave understood the value of promotional events. Even the mostobscure product or service takes on new cachet when accompanied bya dash of showmanship. From "fun runs" to fashion shows,contests to concerts, businesses have learned it pays to beassociated with special events. In fact, special events are one ofthe fastest-growing areas of marketing today. And while largecorporations shell out billions each year to host events, smallcompanies, too, can use promotions to reach their market in a wayno conventional method could.

No matter how spectacular an event is, however, it can'tstand alone. You can use advertising or public relations withoutdoing a special event, but you need both advertising and publicrelations to make your event work. How do you put together theright mix to make your event successful? First, you must know whatyou want to accomplish. The desired outcome of event marketing isno different from that of any other marketing effort: You want todraw attention to your product or service, create greater awarenessof it and increase sales.

Grand Openings

You're excited about opening your new business. Everyoneelse will be, too . . . right? Wrong. You have to create theexcitement, and a knockout grand opening celebration is the way todo 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 youthan our competitors. We want to get to know you and have you dobusiness with us."

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

That means no run-of-the-mill, garden-variety ribbon-cutting. Beoriginal. If you own an electronics store, open your doors viaremote control. If you're opening a yarn store, unravel a hugeknitted ribbon. If you sell sporting goods, reel in both ends of anenormous 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 yourgrand opening. Design a terrific invitation, do plenty ofpublicizing, provide quality refreshments and entertainment, selecta giveaway that promotes your business (and draws people into thestore to get it), and incorporate some way of tracking who attendedyour event (contest entry forms, coupons, free newslettersubscriptions, birthday club sign-ups and so on).

Entertainment and Novelty Attractions

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

Just keep in mind that the novelties and entertainmentshouldn't last so long or be so distracting that no one findsthe time or inclination to do business with you. Think of theseevents as the appetizer, with your product or service as the maincourse.

Holidays and Seasons

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

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

Celebrity Appearances

Working with celebrities is like buying a volatile stock-highrisk 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 andsupplied with all the necessary details in advance.

The key to using a celebrity to promote your business is knowingwhat kind of "personality" is appropriate for yourcompany and marketing goals. Think about whom you want to attract,what kind of media coverage you want to generate, and what kind oflasting 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 youdon't know who a star's agent is, contact a talent agencyor the organization the celebrity works for.

Unless you know celebrities personally, you must consider thearrangement a commercial venture for them. There are literallyhundreds of details to work out and opportunities at every turn forsomething to go wrong unless you are experienced in dealing withcelebrities or have contacted a reputable talent or publicrelations agency to help you.

Celebrities don't have to be nationally known names, either.Think about local celebrities in your community who might bewilling to be part of your special event. A politician, well-knownbusinessperson or community leader can be an excellent addition toyour 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 orpublic cause. Sporting events, fairs and festivals have proved tobe popular event choices with good track records for achievingcompanies' marketing goals. Keep in mind not every event isright for every business. As with any marketing strategy, yourevent must be suited to your customers' needs.

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

Anniversary Celebrations

This is one special event most people can relate to. Staying inbusiness for a number of years is something to be proud of, so whynot share the achievement with others? Throw a party and invitecurrent, past and prospective customers to enjoy your anniversary,too.

Games and Contests

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

Let people know how and when they can participate. Think throughall the ramifications of judging, selecting and awarding a prize.Check out the need for special permits or licenses well b1forestaging any contest (it never hurts to get a legal opinion just tobe on the safe side). Above all, deliver on your promises.

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

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