Advertising events

One of the forums I read got a post this week that got me thinking about how one best advertises events in the Pagan community (or to be more specific, how one does so efficiently, but politely.) What I came up with are a series of questions. I don’t think they’re the only questions possible, of course – but it got me thinking about some new ways to approach letting others know of events of interest.

What is the event?

Is it an afternoon or evening workshop? A festival? Something in between (like a weekend-long event?) Is it of interest to many people, or is it focused on a more narrow topic of interest to relatively few? Who is putting it together? Are they known in the community? If there are presenters, are they well known, and is clear information about their background/expertise easy to find?

Who will be interested?

Some events, by their very nature, will attract potential attendees from a wide area (even nationally in a country as large as the US or Canada, where travel distances are non-trivial.) Some examples include:

  • Festivals or conventions that last for 3-10 days (or even more) so that travel time is a small proportion of the total time invested in the event.
  • Attendees have the chance to see/hear a number of presenters or work on a number of topics of interest, not just one. (There’s more chance that they will get significant benefit from the experience.)
  • There’s something unusual about the event, but of specific interest to some. For example, a particular author who rarely presents or travels,  a workshop on an uncommon topic, etc.
  • The event has some other benefits or ‘destination’ value (this is why a lot of professional conferences are held in tourist destinations. I suspect some of Pantheacon’s success is that California in February also makes for a nice break for people from colder climates, above and beyond the actual workshops, events, and conversations.)

Some kinds of events are unlikely to attract much interest outside of the local area:

  • It’s a short event (3-5 hours). See my notes on travel time below.
  • It’s on a weeknight. Is this event worth that vacation time or loss of pay?
  • It’s a presentation that is reasonably accessible in many areas. It might be on a common topic that many people teach (Tarot, Wicca 101) or maybe it’s by an author or presenter who is known to travel widely (people may wait until another event happens closer to them.)

Example: the event that got me thinking about it, was on a weeknight, with a signing/greeting for an hour, and then a 3 hour presentation. (This meant the event finished at 10pm – a rather late night for anyone  who had to work the next day who had any kind of drive) The presenter is an author who travels fairly widely, and the topic is one that is not incredibly common, but that is likely covered in many mid-size communities every few years.

Is the event long enough to make the travel time worth it?

People, realistically, are going to get less and less likely to travel to an event as the time to get there increases as a proportion of the overall time needed.For example, if you have to travel 5 hours to get to a festival (as I did for several years), but you spend a week at the festival, the travel time is a reasonable portion of your total time investment. In this case, the travel time is about 6% of the total time. Not great – but pretty manageable.

Compare this to an event 2 hours from you, that lasts for 4 hours. In this case, you’re spending as much time traveling to the event as you are at the event. Many people may decide not to go to this kind of event – even if it’s of interest – because the return for their time may not be great. That said, someone who has other things to do in that area might find it more agreeable. For example, if you drive for 2 hours to get somewhere, spend 4 hours at an event, and another 4 hours doing shopping or other activities in that area (or along the way) that you enjoy, then your ratio gets a lot better.

I’ve been on the board of our local Pagan Pride for several years now. Despite the fact that it’s a two day event, we get relatively little attendance from outstate Minnesota – most people come from the Twin Cities metro. Some of this is the cost of gas, some of it is time (Duluth, Rochester, and Mankato are all around 2 hours drive, give or take 20 minutes.) That means four hours of driving to attend a day of the event – and not everyone’s up for that for any number of reasons.

The thing is – much as we’d like to encourage greater participation from people in other areas of the state, we also recognise that a great deal of what we offer is of the most interest to people who are local (and who can benefit from ongoing connections to the community, like learning about local groups, resources, networking events, public rituals, etc.) If our own finances improve to the point we could regularly consider an outside (well-known) speaker, that might change, but right now most of our (very talented!) presenters are from the local community, and may not be well-known to people outside the immediate area.

Where would interested people find out about the event?

Once you know who might likely attend your event, you can adapt your advertising accordingly. If your event is likely only of local interest, then you should focus on local advertising. This would include resources like Witchvox and any local area networking or community lists that allow announcements of this kind. It could include flyers in esoteric stores, and stores that serve related interests (herbs, New Age, coffee shops, tea shops.) However, it probably doesn’t make much sense to post on a national or internationally focused forum – many of the people there are unlikely to travel for a small event. (Like the one that got me started thinking about this.)

If it’s a larger or substantial event then, yes, it’s worth looking at broader advertising. But again, it’s important to be thoughtful. Not every resource is going to reach people who will be interested in the particular focus of an event. Is your event focused on a particular path or technique? Focusing in places interested in that would make more sense than on general forums. (i.e. you might look for lists or forums on that topic that allow such announcements of events, rather than hitting every forum with Pagan in the name.)

What information do you provide about the event?

This is a hugely important one – especially if you’re hoping people will go to some effort to attend (from further away, more of an investement in cost, etc.) Now, I admit I’m way over on the side of “Give me as much information as you possibly can.” but, still, information helps people make informed choices – and providing details up front can make people with specific concerns or needs more comfortable attending.

The things I personally want to know about an event include:

  • When is it?
  • Where is it? (Address, directions, and any special notes, like where to park or avoid parking, )
  • Specific costs (not only for the event, but it’s nice to know if you might need change or small bills to pay for parking.)
  • What exactly is planned? (For example: if it’s a workshop, is it solely a lecture/discussion, or will there be a ritual or meditation portion? Some people have preferences about these things or who they do them with. They may want to make different clothing, seating, or other practical choices if they know there’s ritual, too.)
  • Information on the background of the presenter/teacher (often, a website link is a great way to do this)
  • Is the space accessible to those with mobility issues or other concerns? Are there things they should know?
  • And, in the case of workshops – are there any sites, books, or other resources recommended for background reading, or that the presenter is going to recommend during the workshop as particularly good places to start? People can better budget for those titles, pick them up in advance, etc. if they know ahead of time.

One of the things I’m most pleased with from this past year’s Pagan Pride work is that we got a lot more information up on our website that provides details to those with questions. This included a lot of specifics in the general event info page, but also separate pages for those who were new to Pagan Pride or Paganism, and a page for people with specific needs. We got several comments that these pages made it easier for people to plan their day – and it made it very easy for us to point people at further information if they had questions we’d already covered there.

Most of this information is easy to put together – it just takes thinking a little bit about how to make potential attendees feel comfortable and welcome and able to focus on the event.

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