Monday, April 21, 2014

Let's have Earth Day, but not tell Anyone

Mark Twain knew how to stir up his audience
Has anyone heard about the Earth Day event going on at Hartford's Riverfront Plaza next Sunday, April 27th?  Someone sent me an email about it last week.  I'm glad they gave me a personal heads up, but that isn't going to do much to bring in attendees.  It was also confusing to me that an environmental event in Hartford hadn't reached out to Bike Walk Connecticut, CT Rides, or CT Transit - especially if one of the themes is sustainable transportation.  For example, Bike Walk Connecticut is planning for the May Bike to Work events right now.  I'm personally involved in the Wednesday, May 14th event in East Hartford.  East Hartford is going all "big tent" and calling it a Bike and Walk to Work Breakfast.

It drives me bonkers how poorly many events are publicized in Hartford.  It doesn't have to be that way, and it's not that difficult to do an adequate job.  If you're going to spend the time organizing the actual content of an event, please put aside the time (and a little budget) for the outreach and publicity.  There are so many amazing events and shows in Hartford that have an imperceptible audience.  If a show is lacking publicity and attendance suffers, you're doing a disservice to yourself as the organizer.  It hurts a lot (I know) when you spend days and weeks planning an event, and then only a handful of attendees show up.

This past Saturday I stopped by Charter Oak Cultural Center for live ukulele and dance as part of the severely under publicized  Hartford New Music Festival.  There were maybe six people in the entire auditorium.  I made it a point to attend after catching one mention of the event via FaceBook.  Deborah Goffe was performing, and I hadn't seen her dance yet. Deborah and Kevin Hufnagel put on a splendid performance for the intimate audience.  I didn't know a ukulele could do that, and Deborah accompanied with much strength and grace.  There is another concert next weekend, and you should follow the link to get more information.

Such that we don't continue this pattern of well performed, but under attended shows I'd like to offer some basic tips.  Remember.  I am not an event planning professional.  This is common sense.  You have it.  Use it.  And you don't have to be the organizer to make these things happen.  Bit players and volunteers working with an event can help to bring the outreach and publicity home.  If you don't see it happening, it probably isn't - and that is your cue to chip in.
  • When picking the date and time for your event spend at least 15 minutes thinking about conflicts and your target audience.  Google the date to make sure there aren't other events that would draw your same crowd.  Consider which nights and times seem to work for events like the one you're planning.  For example, don't schedule the same day and time as the Wadsworth First Thursday or RAW Creative Cocktail Hour if you are targeting Hartford's arts crowd.
  • Plan your event far enough in advance that you have time to announce the date and do appropriate publicity.  I like to target having enough detail wrapped up at least a month in advance for small events.  For big stuff you might need 3-4 months, and really big stuff with major sponsors I would recommend almost a full year in advance to catch their funding cycles.
  • Do the cheap and easy stuff first.  Facebook event.  Post it to the various local media outlets.  LetsGoArts. Write your own blog post.  Put links to the event page or FB event on your page and other related FB groups that you belong to.  Ask your friends to share the link.  Ask folks that have said they are going to attend to share the link.  
  • If you know of organizations that have a similar mission or individuals that have a lot of connections.  Send them an email with the event blurb and link.  Ask them to share the information via their email list, blog, or Facebook.  Reach out beyond your immediate circle of contacts.
  • Posters.  Yeah.  Posters are nice, but they take time and money.  First make sure you get the electronic posters up on blog posts and FB Events.  If you have the time and money, spread printed posters around at locations and businesses where folks will see them and the event will be reinforced. 
  • Hit them.  And hit them again.  Unless they are Superfans, you need to touch them multiple times before they pull the trigger and buy a ticket or put the event on their calendar.  Just because you sent out that link on FB once doesn't mean that folks are going to magically show up.  It only takes a couple minutes to re-invite, send out event reminders, and update that FB event page with a teaser update.  
  • Sell discounted tickets ahead of time.  If you're coordinating a larger event, pre-sale tickets will guarantee a bit of income to offset expenses while also increasing buzz.  You can ask those that purchased tickets ahead to spread the word to friends, and they are now part of the publicity network.  
That's all I've got for now.  Please get better at publicity Hartford-ites.  We've got so much going on and it's a shame not to tell folks.  Hartford does "Have It", so let's not be shy about spreading the word.  Mark Twain knew how important publicity was, and we do too.

Note:  This post has very little to do with bikes.  Well aside from my event organizing associated with bike-type events.  I'm creating a new blog called - In Hartford We're All Famous Together.  I'll use that blog venue for posting non-bike related musings on Hartford. 


Chris Tetro said...

I actually spend time searching for stuff to do here and got more information from this one post than I ever have from anyplace else. We received flyers today at Work for It was also a little disappointing that the Bike Work Website has lots of info for 2013 but 2014 is kind of thin. There is no mention of the 2014 National Bike Challenge.

Tony C said...

The Bike to Work website is currently being updated. They are running behind this year. I do what I can to expand Hartford bike event publicity, as I know BWCT is underfunded - they need a larger base of paid members.

Chris Tetro said...

I feel like there is a lot of potential for multi modal transport here in CT. Id be more than happy to volunteer time to help.

Kerri said...


I don't know what the fuck is, but it won't help people get news out about events.

Here's my thoughts on publicity: people need to meet deadlines. And explain what events are. There are some esoteric as shit messages I get where I'm like "Is this a fair? A glorified health care event? A book reading? I don't know." I also get four page press releases which basically do the same thing. If you can't succinctly explain your event in one sentence, you might need to rethink what it is y'all doing.

I've heard people complain to me about why their organization can't publicize. I get that you need to have someone to send out info on the event, but what you're doing should not cost money to promote. You can actually do a lot with a little, if you know how to make what you're doing sound interesting.

Connecticut Science Center and Connecticut Historical Society do an excellent job of promoting their events and exhibits.

Johnna Kaplan said...

I share your frustration. In the few months I've been editing Hartford City Center HamletHub, I've seen how hard it is to get people in Hartford to submit their events to a free online calendar, or even just email a press release.

In a way, I think that smaller cities, not just Hartford, unintentionally breed a kind of "We don't need to promote our event, all the cool kids (i.e. our friends) already know about it" attitude.

I hope this starts to change, because there is SO MUCH to do here, and so many ways to publicize if people choose to do so.

Tony C said...

Chris - If you are in Hartford, we are starting If you are interested in statewide stuff Bike Walk CT can always use motivated folks.