One of the biggest mistakes event organizers make is forgetting about publicity until after almost all the planning is complete.

Do that, and you’ll blow your chances of getting the best coverage possible. Smart Publicity Hounds are aware of any and all media opportunities and keep them top of mind when planning. Here are eight questions to ask yourself during the early days of your planning:

1. Do we need pre-event coverage in national magazines in order for the event to be a success? If so, what are the editorial deadlines for getting into those publications?

You particularly need to know about deadlines for routine things like calendar listings. If publicity in national magazines is absolutely essential, you may have to pitch six or seven months before the event because many magazines have long lead times. And if you’re pitching stories that far ahead, it means your planning will be pushed back, too.

2. Is the event taking place in or near a city that’s a hub for one or more of the major airlines? If so, coverage in the airlines’ in-flight magazines could really boost attendance, particularly if the event can be considered a tourist attraction.

The May 2004 issue of NWA World Traveler, the in-flight magazine published by Northwest Airlines, includes stories and photos about several events, from the Memphis in May International Festival to an art show featuring works by Scandinavian wood carvers at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. (See “Special Report #29: Fly High with Publicity in Inflight Magazines.”)

3. Do we have enough photos and other graphics to submit to national publications?
If not, you need to round them up before your publicity campaign begins. That could mean planning eight or nine months before the event.

For example, a regional art festival that’s taking place for the first time obviously use in its media kit photos from the previous year. Instead, organizers would have to provide beautiful color photos of some of the artwork that will be displayed at that first show. You will also have to make sure the photos are available in several different formats-prints, slides and electronically.

4. Can we plan specific activities in which we can ask media people to participate, not just report?

If your event includes a parade, a popular local TV anchor might agree to serve as the grand marshal. If you need someone to judge a competition, consider asking media representatives. If you need a keynote speaker, TV people will often oblige. If they do, there’s a good chance they’ll include your event on that night’s newscast. If you’re planning an air balloon festival, make sure someone from your group can take a reporter for a ride in an air balloon at least several days or weeks before your event begins, so they have time write about it.

5. Are we designing invitations so that they attract the media? If so, your efforts are focused on the wrong people. Media folks are not impressed by clever invitations.

In fact, when I worked as an editor, I hated opening an invitation that included an unexpected handful of glitter or confetti that fell into my lap. Design invitations to attract the people who will be paying to attend your event. Impress the media with great story angles, and make it easy for them to cover the parts of your event that most interest them.

6. Are we budgeting for fancy press packages, overnight delivery and other unexpected “surprises” for the media, such as a news release about the event hidden inside a balloon bouquet and delivered by a courier? If so, please don’t waste your money on ostentatious press kits either.

When I worked as an editor, I once received a balloon bouquet from someone I didn’t know, with a note instructing me to pop the yellow balloon. I hate popping balloons. But I popped it anyway. The news release that was folded up and put inside the balloon flew across the room and landed under a bookcase. By the time I retrieved it and unfolded it, I wasn’t amused. I was furious! What do you suppose I did with that news release? When delivering things to the media, also avoid hard-to-open packages such as cardboard tubes.

7. Have we checked to see which other events are taking place at the same time as ours? And if so, are we prepared to reschedule?

Nothing is worse than spending long months and thousands of dollars planning an event, sending the invitations, buying the ads, then discovering a few weeks before it begins that it’s competing with two or three other major events in the same city. If that happens, your chances for media coverage are much slimmer. Check with your convention and visitors bureau, city hall, chamber of commerce and other groups to see which events are competing with yours.

8. If we’re serving food, can we come up with a clever food theme to help attract publicity? Media people might not like fancy invitations or unusual press kits, but some of them LOVE fancy and unusual gifts of food.

For example, a PR team hired to publicize the opening of a new train museum sent huge cakes shaped like a train to local TV stations, to attract attention. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a local chain of hamburger restaurants sent bags of hamburgers to local TV and radio stations on opening day of baseball season this year, with the offer of giving all customers free burgers during one day if the Brewers win 10 games in a row. The promotion was on most radio stations in town and on several of the TV stations, too. Note: Gifts of food are used most effectively with the broadcast media. Many print media have ethics policies that prohibit food gifts. If you aren’t sure, call beforehand and ask.

If you run into problems with publicity during this year’s event, and the problems could have been avoided with better planning, you can add even more questions to the list above.

For more than 800 tips on how to make your next event a smash–with the public and the media–see “How to Plan & Promote Sizzling Special Events.”

About the Author:
As a media relations consultant and professional speaker, Joan Stewart shows people how to use newspapers, television and other media to establish credibility, promote a favorite cause or issue, attract attention for special events, sell more products and services, and more.

Subscribe to “The Publicity Hound’s Tips of the Week,” a free ezine featuring tips, tricks and tools for generating free publicity at and receive free by email the handy list “89 Reasons to Send a News Release.”

Reprinted with permission.

Posted on 14 November 2006

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