This is the first in a series of posts on marketing tips for the events industry.
Building a service-based business like an event planning business is no easy task, mainly because you are essentially marketing and selling yourself and your ability to do what you say you can do.
Any experienced event planner or professional will tell you that one of the keys to running a successful event planning business is keeping the pipeline full of prospects. And so we asked hundreds of event professionals on LinkedIn what marketing strategies work best for them, and here are the top 10.
However, before we continue, I wanted to share two key things.
First, many planners mentioned that planning amazing events that leave a memorable impression on clients and guests and exceed clients’ expectations is one of the best marketing tactics itself, mainly because great performances lead to word-of-mouth and referrals. Second, in order for any marketing tactic to be effective, you need to be consistent in applying it. A rule of thumb used by one prominent consultant to event businesses is to spend a minimum of 10 hours a month on marketing (and I would submit that it should be more like 20 or 30 hours).
#1 – Networking / Referrals
Event planners are social animals by nature, so it’s no surprise that most of them find that networking is by far the most effective marketing tactic they use.
Developing and nurturing relationships with other vendors who can refer you business is critical here. This could be as simple as mutually referring prospects back and forth, like a hotel referring a party client to a planner and a planner referring a wedding client back to the hotel. However, you could also offer up services in exchange for leads. One planner agrees to donate their services to manage a charitable event for a hotel in exchange for getting loads of referrals from the hotel.
One key thing to remember here is to find reputable, reliable partners to refer people to, because you will not make friends by referring leads to less-than-stellar vendors.
Many referrals also come from former clients, and the best way to encourage this is to periodically reach out to your former and existing clients and ask them if they know of anyone who could use your services. Remember, if you don’t ask, people may assume you’re busy enough, so always, always ask.
#2 – Facebook
Surprisingly, many event professionals cite having great success using social media sites – primarily Facebook – to find new clients. In fact, one planner said that 60-70% of their business comes from Facebook.
For starters, this tactic requires both having a well-developed Facebook page as well as building up the number of your fan page “likes” (which you can do by putting links to your Facebook page in your email footers, on your Web site pages, in your e-newletters, etc.). Simply adding likes from your friends, networking partners and clients can give you a great start on this. (Again, you must ask for them.)
However, this tactic also requires diligent and regular posting to your Facebook page so you can increase your EdgeRank (the algorithm that Facebook uses to rank your posts and place them in your fans’ news feeds. Note that posts with photos and videos rank higher than posts with just text or with links; Hootsuite is a great tool for automating this process.
Several event planners also noted that locally targeted Facebook ads worked well for them in driving visitors to their pages, and it may be worth trying.
#3 – Search Engine Marketing and Optimization
Of course this requires a Website (which, in our opinion, isn’t a marketing tactic as much as it is a necessity of being in business), and you need to put the requisite time and resources into making your event Web site stand out.
But one of the most effective ways that event planners are driving visitors to their site is through programs like Google AdWords and Bing Advertising. You can easily bid on localized keywords and try this yourself to see if it works in your area. For example, if you are an event planner in Denver, CO, you can bid on keywords such as “Denver event planner”, “Denver wedding planner” and “Denver event planning” to drive search traffic to your site. It’s advisable to start with a small budget and test.
In addition, you can optimize your Web site title tags and copy with keywords and work on building mentions and links to your site (start with asking your networking partners for online recommendations/links), which can help with your organic search engine rankings.
#4 – Email
Event planners are using email in three different ways to attract new clients.
First, they are emailing current and former clients to stay top-of-mind in case they or their acquaintances need event planning services.
Second, they are building their own lists via their Web site (using incentives like free e-newsletters) as well as information they gather at trade shows and such, and they are periodically emailing these lists with useful event-related information.
Third, they are using email groups to connect with both prospects as well as referral partners, sharing their expertise and passing leads back and forth among community members.
Which works best? Try each method out for yourself and see what works for you.
#5 – Trade Shows
Finally, trade shows round out the top five marketing tactics for event planners. At the least, planners attend trade and bridal shows and walk the floor to interact with prospective clients. However, many planners choose to exhibit at shows, which besides providing them with a prominent presence at the show also can provide additional perks (like a list of show attendees, which alone can be worth the exhibitor’s fees).
Event trade shows and bridal shows do require preparation such as printing up flyers and brochures as well as booth decor and staging. But the added expense is worth it to many planners simply because of the sheer number of potential prospects walking the aisles.
Another strategy planners can take with trade shows is to co-op with another vendor and share space so that you can spit the costs but still have a prominent presences.
Event planners have also noted success using the following marketing tactics and materials:
- Business collateral like flyers, brochures, business cards
- Angie’s List
- Direct mail
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