How to Create an Event Marketing Plan

Tim Gass
Tim Gass

You're invited speech bubble

Imagine you're planning a barbecue with your friends. The day comes and the weather turns out great. You fire up the grill, get the drinks ready and string the lights. The set-up is perfect, but where is everybody? That’s when you realize—you only got around to shooting out a Facebook invite a few days ago and totally dropped the ball on texting your buddies to see if they were coming.

Now, it’s too late. Only a handful have showed, the rest of your friends already have plans for the evening, and you’re going to be stuck with a ton of leftovers.

That sounds like an obvious miss for something as simple as a backyard barbeque, doesn’t it? But, you might be surprised how often the same fundamentals of planning a get-together aren’t applied to company events on a larger scale.

All the planning in the world won’t matter if you don’t consider varied and consistent communications as a key factor in developing your event.

A successful pre-event marketing and communications roll-out involves careful planning and the right tactics. Always consider these key steps for a successful event marketing plan.

Target the Right Audience

Don’t underestimate the importance of targeting the right people with event marketing elements early. No matter what type of event you’re planning—a tradeshow, a sales conference or a product launch, for instance—you’ll want to establish a target list of key attendees. These could include:

  • Current clients
  • Prospective clients
  • Past event attendees
  • Media, industry leaders and audience influencers

Many events hope to grow their registered audience from outside these core groups, but getting these key audiences aware and registered ensures the maximum impact of your event, right out of the gate.

They don’t just provide the base of the event’s ROI, but they support your general marketing message by becoming “ambassadors” of your event. They spread the message and grow event awareness.

Consider giving these key attendees early perks—exclusive info or travel upgrades, for example. Take them behind-the-scenes on some of the planning and get their feedback to ensure your event is providing the value needed for a general audience to want to attend.

Establish an Event Theme and a Clear “Why”

Why would someone attend your barbecue? Brats, burgers, fun and friends—that’s easy enough. Why would someone go to your event? If you don’t have a similarly clear answer, you’re in trouble.

If you’re not creating a clear hook on why an attendee would take valuable time away from their life or work, you’re missing an opportunity that is crucial to your event’s success. Creating a clear core message and value you want to provide is as important as knowing your potential audience and the other key details (where and when). Why?

  • First impressions matter. Creating an immersive event experience, putting your audience in the right mindset and maximizing the impact of your event starts with the very first message you send.
  • Your pre-event communications are where you set the stage for that message, build the momentum, and give your onsite experience the chance to drive it home.
  • Be honest! It can be easy in marketing to overpromise, and if your event can’t deliver on your overall positioning, you risk having strong attendance followed by a strong drop-off in future events and negative word-of-mouth. If you’re starting small, it might not be best to position your event as the greatest show on earth if that’s not what you expect them to find on-site. In this scenario, look at what your event might offer that a larger scale event might not. More direct contact with speakers, more detailed and tailored discussions, and more hands-on opportunities with products could be examples to differentiate the messaging of your event while you build towards your larger attendance goal.

Start Event Marketing Messaging Early

Even eight months prior to your event, it’s not too soon to send out a teaser. While it might seem like forever before the doors open, there are two key reasons to get the ball rolling on messaging for your event:

  1. You need to think about the travel considerations of your event attendees. There could be a lot of competition out there for dates, depending on the industry.
  2. Often, attendees need to secure management approval and keep budgets in mind, which can take some time.

With those reasons in mind, here are a few tips to engage your event audience quickly—and keep them engaged throughout the life cycle of your event.

  • In early messaging, you have an opportunity to be creative and position your value in a way that helps your attendees gain that approval. Though specific details may be sparse at this stage, potential attendees need a high-level, strong message on why they should attend. Provide key talking points for potential attendees on the benefits—they can use this to help secure approval and budget from their manager to attend your event.
  • Be creative in incentivizing early registration. Offer early-bird benefits—reduced costs are great, but they’re a standard offering. Consider top-tier travel accommodations, exclusive events on site or access to keynote speakers or VIPs.
  • Don’t be afraid to let your audience contribute to the event content itself. Give your audience a voice—try crowdsourcing your event content through polling, quizzes or feedback. It ensures that you’re building an engaged audience by creating relevant content that attendees want to see. This is especially true when you’re looking to build momentum with independent audiences. Those prospective attendees are going to trust your event’s different than competitive options when hearing that through the perspective of a peer over your direct messaging.

Get the Word Out

It’s not just about one type of media. Having a cross-media approach to spread the word is the best way of impacting all generations. Here are a few forms of media to focus on:

  • Tried-and-true social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. (Depending on your targeted attendees, you likely already have a built in audience from your existing social media accounts and will likely get more lift by working event promotion into your current social editorial calendar.)
  • Utilize live streaming features available through social media channels, such as Facebook Live or Periscope—to bring potential attendees the behind-the-scenes planning of your event, site visits or live Q&As with featured speakers.
  • Traditional media, such as direct mail and packaged kits can strongly reinforce perceptions on the quality and investment you’re making in the event, and are especially impactful for initial invitations.
  • Digital media, such as your event micro-site, blog posts, text messaging and email campaigns. You’re likely already planning to send out specific messaging about your event through these channels. But remember, you likely have consistent touchpoints being distributed through your general marketing strategy utilizing these channels. Look for where you can integrate messaging about your event into those as well, and reinforce your messaging to an already captive audience.
  • Word-of-mouth through your sales team or ambassador roles—incent them to provide a direct contact, provide a personal touch, especially to key attendees you want to see there.

Set the stage for an on-site brand immersive experience across all these channels. Creating and sticking to a consistent tone, look and feel and creative across all these materials provides a bridge to the experience you’ll be providing on-site.

Keep the Messaging Going

Once you get going, don’t stop—having a consistent, actionable plan for event communications is the best way to grab your audience and not let them go.

  • As you continue to unveil pre-event communications, make sure to consider audience segmentation based on where they are in the event participant journey. 
  • Build a content management plan that accounts for the journey your attendees take to get to your event and what they experience along the way. Take into account when details will be known, from the early high-level details to closer to the event.
  • An editorial schedule can help you map out when content is revealed, shared and passed along throughout the course of the pre-event stage.
  • Time is ticking—as the date of your event gets closer, reveal more details, benefits and value to unregistered attendees. For registered attendees, maintain their engagement, especially if they registered early and there’s a longer window for their attendance.
  • Provide registered attendees behind-the-scenes info or exclusives—let them know how much you appreciate their attendance.
  • Don’t forget to continue the momentum after the event! If you’re holding a reoccurring event, the audience you have on site is your best path towards ensuring strong and growing attendance for the next one. Reinforce messaging delivered on site, incent them to spread the word, and keep them on the look-out for details to come for the following year. 

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Tim Gass

Tim Gass

Tim is a strategic, multidisciplinary creative director with over 10 years experience. While at ITA Group, he has developed and managed communication campaigns supporting engagement and incentive programs for several Fortune 500 companies. When he’s not helping ITA Group clients develop creative digital and print communications, you can find him enjoying live music with his wife, Erin or rooting for the Chicago Bears with their dog, Buckley.