I’d like to introduce a new face here at Step by Step, benefit auctioneer Sherry Truhlar (pictured at left).  Sherry’s stories and advice have been published in publications (e.g. Town & Country, The Washington Post Magazine, AUCTIONEER, The Eleusis, The Virginia Auctioneer) and heard on television (e.g. E! Style, TLC) where she inspires and teaches volunteers how to hit new fundraising records in their auction galas.

Enjoy her FREE Auction Item Guide (listing the 100 best-selling items to sell in your benefit auction) here .

How to get publicity for your benefit auction: Use auction games and raffles

I refer to auction games, raffles, and activities as the “bells and whistles” of benefit auctions. Some call them revenue generators, but that’s an understatement because they do more than make you money.
These are the fun add-ons designed to address specific problems, involve the crowd, trigger fun, attract press, and (yes) make you money.

This post addresses the “attract press” piece.

Many groups seem decent at securing post-gala publicity. But its pre-event recognition which will help sell your tickets.

Here are two ideas to help you secure elusive pre-event publicity for your charity auction.

Consider Headwaters Foundation, a public school foundation about two hours south of D.C. The Foundation is located in what has traditionally been one of the poorer counties of Virginia. The Foundation provides support for the public school system by increasing community involvement in education.

Pitching two angles, a savvy Executive Director managed to score sought-after pre-event publicity in both her local paper and The Georgetowner.

The latter publication, as you might imagine from the name, caters to that trendy zip code in Washington, D.C. Although I haven’t researched it, I sense it also has a more affluent readership than the local paper.
Think about it: Of all of the thousands of charities in the D.C. area, The Georgetowner wrote a coveted 8.5″ story on a charity hosting an auction gala two hours south of Washington, D.C.

What gives?

I wasn’t on the call between the Executive Director and the reporter, so I can only glean information from the article.

In the third sentence, the Executive Director states, “We’ve hired Red Apple Auctions of Alexandria to help us with both the silent and live auctions, and they have some great new ideas that we are implementing.”

Did you catch it?

That single sentence had two tips to help you secure publicity.

• First, she said she hired someone. That ups the ante.

It’s like a baseball team announcing that they’ve hired a new coach. You’re expecting something better.

So as you think about your nonprofit … who have you hired that brings with them an expectation of improvement?

Most organizations focus on announcing their band or some headline entertainment. Although headline entertainment might help you sell tickets, you don’t have to go to that extreme. This group succeeded in securing publicity even with a fairly straightforward dinner and auction.

• Second, she talked “new ideas.” That’s change.

She’s saying, “Hey, we’re different.” I don’t know if she shared the new ideas (auction bells and whistles) with the reporter. If she did, they didn’t make it into the story.

Remember: “new” = story

For instance, last fall, I spoke about using electronic bidding devices in your silent auction. If you were one of the first groups in your area to use that technology, that’s a story. You’d be using “the latest” technology. It’s a new angle. The reporter could cover that as a technology story or a public interest story, as they did for this benefit auction in Colorado Springs.

When you use auction bells and whistles in your event, pitch that.

P.S. Headwaters enjoyed some solid post-auction publicity, too.

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Posted on 15 March 2011

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