From the archives… reflections from my days running a photography business.
When I started my business I took every opportunity to stick a flyer in gift bags at events, with little thought to the event in question or anything else. I loved working with my images and with words to put together fun flyers that I believed were not only eye-catching but irresistible. But as I started attending more and more business events, I realised what a huge waste of money this was – if the lack of response hadn’t spelled it out to me already!
I would come home from each event and dump the contents of the ‘gift’ bag on the floor. Pulling the rubbish bin next to me, I’d sift through the pile of advertising in 20 seconds and the only things that didn’t end up in the bin were free samples or movie passes. Even the discount vouchers to places I didn’t know ended up binned – I’d rather pay full price at my favourite salon or one recommended to me than get a cheap – or usually just ok – deal somewhere I knew nothing about.
I learned the hard way that effective at-event promotions require a lot more than putting a piece of paper in a goody bag: they need thought and work before, during and after the event. I’ve made the mistake of printing off 400 flyers in full colour and glossy A4 paper when half that size (and therefore at half the cost) would do. I’ve spent money and time on promotions without giving much thought to the audience… I once pitched fashion-inspired portrait services to a crowd of elderly people at a quiz night.
It sounds obvious but when you’re in the thick of running your business and just react to an opportunity that comes your way, it’s easy to get it oh so wrong. So here are some tips that come straight from my learning experiences and that will hopefully save you some costly mistakes!
My tips for making the most of At-Event promotions:
Before the event
- First of all, DON’T just react to the promotional opportunity. Is it the right time for you? Do you see an opportunity that is perfectly matched to a particular aspect of your business, so much so that you are willing to put time, money and effort into the promotion? Or are you just too busy in something else right now to do it justice? Remember, it’s not just about sticking a flyer in a gift bag.
- Your target audience v the real audience is your Number 1 concern. If it isn’t a perfect match, forget it. It’s always going to be a gamble but don’t make it more than it needs to be. Find out from the event organisers some SPECIFICS about the attendees. With the quiz night example, I assumed because it was being run by young people it would attract young people. I was wrong. So ask specific questions to get specific answers. Do you need them to be business owners? Women between 30 and 45? Mums? Check out previous similar events – you might get clues from the organiser’s website or Facebook page.
- Don’t just throw a business card in the gift bag. This is so pointless! Business cards are meant to be used within the context of your business, i.e. when you’ve been talking to someone about your business and they ask for your business card. People who throw business cards at me for no apparent reason end up quickly forgotten.
- Get the design right or please don’t bother. This includes attention-grabbing and original wording, content that adds value to the reader and communicates clearly and simply, attractive and modern design, and high-quality, up-to-date photographs. This is the ONLY way to market your business. Otherwise it just says one of the following:
– these brochures are old and out of date and so is my thinking
– my business isn’t successful enough to afford good design and high-quality materials
– I don’t think you have good sense so you won’t notice either of the above
- Balance quality design and materials with value for money. Consider how the layout of your flyer (spacing, font and type size) will affect the printing cost. Compare printing services or develop a good relationship with a printer to whom you give ongoing work. Use black and white if you don’t think colour will add to your design. Better yet, use a graphic designer for an all-in-one, professional package.
- Don’t just throw advertising at people. It’s rude. Instead, add value with your materials. If giving a discount or voucher, make it a good one – one that’s too good to miss. If you can provide a sample, even better. Or consider invitations/free passes to events, 2 for 1 offers, introductory consultations, or educational pieces such as a tip sheet. Whatever you put in should be relevant to your business and in line with your brand (so don’t throw in a packet of lollies without thinking of the type of lolly, how it’s presented, and whether the audience even likes lollies).
At the event
- Yes, at the event. That’s where you should be if you want to make your promotion work hard for you. Be a presence to go along with your banner or flyer. I sometimes provide demonstrations of my Style Shoot – a glamour studio set up at the event for guest entertainment. This provides maximum interaction between my business and the attendees. It gives them a little chance to work with me and to ask me further questions. It provides a visual context to my promotional material, which sits alongside my mini-studio and may be boosted by material in the gift bags or on the tables.
- Act like the host. Take the opportunity to network in a genuine way: be interested in what others have to say and if the opportunity arises, mention your promotion. When I’m doing roaming event photography I try to take the time to say hello to a few people and always make a point of introducing myself to the speakers and others working at the event.
- Be seen, by leaving little touches everywhere. How else can you be involved besides a flyer in the gift bags? Besides physically being there, you could donate a door prize, provide a description of your business to the MC, add something to the tables or registration area, put up a banner, give away a gift to the host or guests. Can you get your logo on the slide show presentation or on the notes given to each attendee? Or run a competition during the break?
- Consider the placement of your marketing material. If you are leaving flyers or cards at the registration table, consider that people will come into contact with your material only if they notice it on entry, and few people will go back there later. If adding something to dining tables, less is more, as clutter just makes people feel overwhelmed or annoyed! It’s a sad moment when you see your beautiful flyer stained with a coffee cup ring or splattered with sauce.
- Protect your brand at all times. In my early days in business, I agreed to photograph an event for free. In exchange, the organiser agreed to promote me during the speeches. I emailed him a word-by-word run down of what I wanted him to say. I also double-checked with him that he had seen my intro and was ready to use it. Despite my diligence, his introduction went like this: ‘This is Julissa. She’s doing the photos tonight. She’s a lovely girl, so yeah, get your photography done with her.’ I was seeing red, but there was nothing I could do but force a smile and do my best to look like a professional and not just a lovely girl. Protecting your brand means being very firm about what you expect from the organisers (especially if you are giving something away!) and trying your best to control the content relating to your business. It also means checking that your appearance, behaviour, conversation and materials promote quality and accurately reflect your brand. This goes for any of your team members involved at any stage of the promotion too!
After the event
- They won’t remember you. So follow up! So few people follow up, that if you do you’ll really leave a mark. This DOES NOT mean spam them with a huge description of all your products and services. Where you’ve had specific enquiries, email – or better yet – call them within a couple of days. If you’ve had people join your mailing list (e.g. through an at-event competition), record their details and send them a quality email right away – something that makes them laugh or adds value. During the event you should have aimed to collect twice as many business cards as you gave out so you should have plenty of people to connect with on Facebook, Twitter or Linked In. Can you give them something for nothing? Good! This gives you a reason to contact them… with no strings attached!
- Say thank you. If I missed out on a key speaker’s details, I’ll ask the host, because I like to contact them to say thank you for adding value to my day. And of course, thank the host… perhaps with a card or gift to surprise them.