How early should you start promoting an event?

Timing is a question that I get asked all the time from my University students. The honest answer is it depends on the type of events that you are promoting. I have over 20 years’ experience in marketing events, so I have a lot of experience to share, both good and bad!

In this post, we’re going to explore time scales needed to promote a variety of the most popular types of event, focusing on local, regional, national and even international.

When promoting events, you should leave a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks; this will allow your audience enough time to learn about your event and decide about attending.

How much time do I need to promote an event?

Knowing what is the correct amount of time to promote your event can be the difference between success and failure. If you leave too little time, people will not have the chance to discover your event or worse, forget about it! Too much time and you may find that you waste valuable expenditure on marketing materials or adverts.

Understanding who your audience is and the type of event is key to this process. Not only will the event-type dictate how long it will need to promote, but you also need to consider your audience. Consider what the audience buying behaviour is for the type of event that you plan to promote.

For example, large music festivals will often put their tickets on sale shortly after the previous year’s event.  They know people have just enjoyed the experience and will be keen to relive that the following year.

In contrast, smaller events such as local music night may only need 6 to 8 weeks for marketing. This audience rarely make an informed decision about attending until the week or even the day of the event.

This concept is perhaps better understood by considering the scale of the events in terms of local, regional, national or even international. Primarily, the larger the event, the longer the amount of time needed to promote it.

Now clearly some international events such as the Olympics promote themselves. There is very little active promotion may be needed to sell tickets as demand is so high. However, they will still need to consider a brand and marketing communication plan years in advance.

Launch your event.

Now there is a difference between launching the event to the public and actively promoting the event. As soon as you’re able to confirm the date for your event, you can announce it with a “hold the data” date teaser and website.

Launching puts the notice out there for those who may be interested. This tactic works particularly well for annual events where people come regularly, and the event manager has an email database.

One top tip here is to add an email address subscription tool to your website for people to sign to notifications. Email lists are a far more powerful way to promote any event than using social media. Start making an email database as soon as you launch the event date so people can sign up for more information.

Remember that first impressions count! You should ensure that all of your branding and website is complete before you launch the event. You can’t go back and undo any poor representation of your event afterwards.

Launching puts your event onto the attendee’s radar which starts to help build a buzz around the event in anticipation of tickets going on sale and your active promotion.

After you have announced the date, then you can continue to plan the event without actively promoting it, that will come at a later phase. Let’s look at the different sizes of an event to understand the ballpark times when you should consider starting your active promotion.

Ramping up your promotion

When you start the process of ramping up to be actively promoting your event, timing is everything.

Local Events

Local events are those that attract anywhere between 50 to 500 people and more often than not happen regularly week to week or month to month. Local events can often be the hardest to promote as you may have a small target audience but also more commonly quite a tiny marketing budget.

For this reason, you must pick the right time to start actively promoting your event. You don’t want to start promoting too early, and then people forget about the event. Vice versa you don’t want to leave it until the week before as you may find you can’t reach out to enough people in time.

Typically local events should allow between six and eight weeks to promote actively. That is not to say that if you have an annual local event, you cannot put out some light marketing information up to a year in advance. For example, you are asking people to hold the date for a particular local music festival. This is true if you know the date for next year.

You will actively start to promote the event eight weeks before to get people interested in buying tickets.

Regional Events

Regional events typically are those that ranked between 500 to 10,000 people and will usually only take place once or twice a year. With this number of people, the amount of time to promote the event is between 6 and 9 months.

Again these numbers allow for a launch date before you actively start promoting the event. Again, it would help if you considered who your target audience is. Is your audience the kind of people who like to buy tickets early or perhaps your event as an artist that will cause people to buy tickets on the day they go on sale.

If it is, great but unfortunately, not all events can be this lucky and will need to give serious strategic thought as to when to begin actively promoting the event.

National Events

National events will almost certainly have a promotional timeline of a year or more, again depending on the type of events and the target audience.

National events are typically those that take place once a year such as major festivals, sporting events or exhibitions. Again as with the previous two types of events comment a launch date holding a date is fine. Still, in this case, active promotion usually starts at that point as well.

These types of events will often put tickets on sale immediately after the previous year’s event as they try to ride the wave of good feeling from those that attended.

The type of marketing channels (e.g. TV or radio) that a national event may use may also have much longer lead times.  Again, a careful and strategic marketing communications plan should be created to divide up how the year’s budget will be spent.

International Events

International events will often promote themselves, and an excellent example of this is the Olympic Games or the FIFA World Cup. Such is the popularity of these events that they require very little promotion. They will be promoted up to four years in advance depending on their cycle.

They are so popular they often sell themselves especially, and demand will be quite high when tickets go on sale.

Events at this level will have marketing and branding budgets in the millions of dollars range and a serious and strategic marketing plan we required.

Conclusion

So to summarise the key takeaways from this post are that you need to understand the size of your event; who’s coming to your event and when they will buy tickets for your event. From here, you can start to develop a marketing communication plan based on the time frame as described above. Hopefully, you’ll have a successful event. Best of luck

Mark Norman

Mark has over 20 years of experience in the events industry from working in live music venues through to major outdoor events like the Olympic Torch Relay and the Tour de France. He now works as a feelancer, consultant and Senior Lecturer in Events Management.

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