52 Fridays is a year-long series for equestrian professionals and equine business owners and managers, with marketing and public relations information, ideas, tips, & resources shared here each Friday throughout 2011.
A few weeks ago, there were several equestrian events in northern Illinois on the same weekend. While our area has fairly dense population and significant numbers of horse owners, do you think these competing events split up the potential audience? Event planning is already fraught with risks and complications, but any horsebiz can leverage the Internet when it comes to advance promotion, paid-in-full ticketing, and avoiding booking an event on an already-full timeslot.
Of the many equine events held in northern Illinois the weekend of November 19 & 20, 2011, one was an annual event (Chicagoland Equestrian Lifestyle Expo & Holiday Market), one was a grand opening (Dover Saddlery, Libertyville store), and one was a clinic, a Monty Roberts Methods Workshop featuring one of their handful of certified instructors in the U.S. plus Monty Roberts’ daughter. All great events and good draws on their own, but what about when going head-to-head?
When you’re planning a special event such as a clinic, workshop, open house, horseshow or holiday party, can you afford to compete against a bigger name or more established event? Sometimes it’s a make or break situation; here’s what you can do via the Internet to lessen your risk.
- Search for other events in your area to avoid schedule conflicts: When you’re planning an event, it’s a good idea to check into what’s already going on and what you’d be competing against. A thorough Internet search is a must, and it’s also worth taking the time to ask around about annual events , or even special events that are already planned. Unfortunately there’s no ‘central’ calendar online for equine events, but definitely search for equine events in your state, town, and even neighboring towns or counties. Be sure to look through several pages deep on the search engine results, since an equestrian event might or might not be employing or leveraging an SEO (search engine optimization) keyword strategy; if they’re not, they could have a ‘hidden’ event that could still draw participants away from your event. I found some good equestrian event calendars at HorseChannel.com, TheEquinest.com, and HorseShowCentral.com; these have some of the ‘biggies’ of the horse world and give you a starting place for planning.
- Leverage and cross-promote your media: This includes both social media AND regular media. Facebook and Twitter can both help you spread the word on the cheap, but they take time and effort. A well-written news release and media outreach can also help, whether you choose to DIY or absorb the cost to hire a pro. And if you get media mentions or coverage on the TV, radio, or in sources like blogs, you can then share those via your social media; be sure to give source credit and abide by copyright and trademark laws when sharing.
- Use direct mail for more ‘impressions’ if your budget allows: Direct mail still has its place in the marketing toolbox, especially when it supplements Internet-based marketing efforts such as social networking and SEO strategy. The Mailing List Finder from NextMark is one place to find mailing lists; they listed 244 ‘equestrian’ lists and 149 ‘equine’ lists. However, it’s a good idea to get really specific on who you want to target when it comes to direct mail. A search on ‘equestrian and dressage’ turned up eight lists, while ‘equestrian and rodeo’ resulted in five lists, narrowing the field and ultimately the cost while improving the likelihood your mailer will move the recipient to action.
- Online pre-paid ticketing can help your bottom line: We’ve come a long way since Evite was the innovator when inviting folks to events. Now, sites like Constant Contact offer turnkey event marketing solutions, and Eventbrite (which has sold nearly 44 million tickets!) allows you to create an event page for free; you’re only charged when you sell tickets. Both sites also have social media integration for promotion. Advance ticket sales can give you an idea of participation and help your event financials, but be sure to have a plan for refunds should your event get cancelled.
Common wisdom says you wouldn’t want to schedule your event at the same time as another area equine event, but maybe your strategy is different. I’ve wondered if Dover Saddlery picked that November weekend to take advantage of area traffic driving by on their way to the Expo; it’s certainly a possibility, since the locations are only a few miles apart off the same major road and when I drove past their parking lot it was jam-packed.
That’s one way to leverage your event, by taking advantage of other happenings in the area, but keep in mind it can also backfire, especially if yours is a first-time or little-known event. Dover had significant marketing power behind the new store launch, plus it’s in the same high-profile building as the iconic Libertyville Saddle Shop, which closed earlier this year after decades in the same location.
Planning an event is a skill and an art form; there’s a reason people do it for a living. The nuances of date selection, getting the word out, and then actually running the event are mind-boggling. That said, with some strategy and attention to detail, and enough lead time (allow more than you think), your event certainly has a fighting chance of filling the seats and being a success.
Have any event planning successes or ‘lessons learned’ to share? Use the Comments link below, and if you liked this article, you can easily tell others about it via Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, LinkedIn, and even by email with the Share button belo. Pssst, pass it along, and see you here next Friday for 52 Fridays #48!
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