Issue 55: How To Publicize Your Festival

As Editor Barresi will tell you, I occasionally get these strange “thoughts” – which usually means I’m in trouble again, so I’ll tell you how it happens… I ran into my fine friend, John Freeman – kite-builder extraordinaire – at a recent festival, and that led me back to his Kitelife article in a prior Kitelife issue – wherein, said Mr. Freeman mentioned that “publicity” was a necessity for festivals…

Sure it is! If you don’t have people show up, how do you have an event? Put another way – what’s so “festive” about a festival where nobody shows? Actually, it’d be kind of a “bummer” if you asked me…

So – what to do about it? Well – like everything else in kiting – it ain’t exactly “Rocket Science” as they say… Really, most of it’s just common sense – once you get past a few hurdles… And the main problem is, nobody’s ever explained the “hurdles” and nobody’s laid out a methods, and we’ve paid so little attention to “publicity” over the years that everyone’s afraid to tackle it! (Again!) So, we’ve established a sort of self-defeating “tradition” instead… We’ve done it so poorly over the last few years that… Oh, heck – let’s just copy what we did last year, and… Darn! Not very many people showed up again… How’d that HAPPEN? Well, it happened (or didn’t) JUST LIKE IT DID LAST YEAR! And… is there any surprise in that?

Instead – let’s think this thing through – just you and I together. First off, let’s deal with a few concepts (I called them the “hurdles” earlier), talk about some “organization” and “management” plans (both are major bugaboos in volunteer organizations), pass on a few publicity “secrets” to you, and see if we can’t make some sense of all this “Publicity” business! (FINALLY!)

THE CONCEPT – Let’s start with a major overview right here…

I want you to think about the last event you put on (or the next one you’re planning) or even one you attended. SERIOUSLY! Think about it, and use the following little primmer to come up with a little series of “blurbs” in Notepad… (No, don’t argue – just bring up Notepad and let’s do it!)

You want MAJOR EXPOSURE to the NON-KITING public for your event… (Nope, putting a little footnote into your club newsletter DOESN’T amount to “publicity” in my book) You want to play up the FUN in kite flying, let people know it’s a “Family” sport, and encourage everyone to come by, making sure they all know they’ll have a good time! Are they encouraged to fly their own kites? Point out that they can make their own kites (You WILL have a kite-making booth, won’t you?), or buy kites (Got Kite Vendors?), and get food and drink for the whole family (Got Food Vendors?). They should all plan to come enjoy this terrific event, right? Then you need to tell them when and where it is, how to get there, how much it will cost (if costs are involved), and who to contact with questions.

So, jot yourself a little series of “notes” about that event you’ve selected into Notepad right now! Name? Dates and Times? Activities available? Services available? BUT!!! You also need to add just one (1) more thing to your list, which is – whatever you think will cause the MOST interest or excitement for the non-kiting public. Will they see an astounding show? Will they get to hang out with some of the “stars of kiting?” Will they get to make and fly their very own kite in front of hundreds of people? Do kids get to go home with a new Teddy Bear from the “Drop?” So what’s the “DRAW” – the one thing you want the public to get from your advertising… (hopefully, it’s something both “family oriented” and FUN!) Anyway, just jot down these few things…

Now, there may be more involved in your event from your perspective. Custom tailor the “concept” above a little so it explains your event to the public. And then ask your boss at work, or someone in your church, or a neighbor, or even a babysitter to critique it all for you. And you need to specifically ask your new critic if the “Draw” grabbed them enough to attend. Anyway, you want to get the overall “concept” down right from the very beginning, and it needs to “grab” the non-kiting public…

Be aware, that the “overview” you’ve just created should drive everything else concerning all of the event’s publicity efforts… (So keep those notes you have on Notepad until you really need to use them!)

HURDLES – The pieces…

Okay, now for those “hurdles” I talked about… The ones that everybody’s “afraid” of…

You’re going to be handling two separate efforts here. You’re going to be doing your usual self-done publicity effort but better than you’ve done it before, AND you’re also going to be dealing with “The MEDIA!”

Why the “Media?” Well, think about it… You use them because the “media” exists specifically to communicate with the public. That IS their function in our society, and they ARE available to help you publicize your event! So – plan on using them! We’ll get to them in a minute or two.

So anyway, you now have enough information to build THE POSTER.

The Poster is that same thing you’ve done in years past, but you’re REDUCING the amount of information on it, cutting it down to that one “grabber” concept you’ve come up with, plus the necessary information about name, where, when, how to get there, contact info, etc… all presented in a nice graphic, kite-oriented, poster. And if you have to list the sponsors on it, do their logos small, and at the very bottom of the poster. Now give it to your favorite poster-designer and say “go!”

And the next item you’ll need to create is THE PRESS RELEASE.

Now, the major reason everyone flees from “publicity” like the plague is that they have no idea why or how to write a successful Press Release. Therefore, I’ll recommend you do a Google search, using “Press Release” as the argument and look at a few of the PR websites. The Publicity Release site I found that struck my fancy was one from a fellow named Bill Stoller at Publicity Insider, but there are certainly plenty of others. Find a site that you think you can work with and follow their advice, and you’ll discover Press Releases “Ain’t Rocket Science” – just as I think I mentioned before.

Put simply, the Press Release is a short (one page) “News Story” written in third person. It should give factual information WITHOUT all that fluff and puffery, just like you’d read in the first couple of paragraphs on the front page of your daily newspaper. YES, you should lead off with your “Draw” or “Grabber,” as the “exciting” reason enticing someone to read further. Then flesh the story out with the other facts you have out on Notepad. Keep paragraphs short, no more than 2-3 sentences. Start a new paragraph each time you switch subjects. Also, make certain you have all of your “contact” information available on the Press Release. If the site you’ve chosen has a fill-in-the-blanks PR template, USE IT!

Now, re-read what you’ve just written, thinking about this MOST IMPORTANT fact. The major purpose of The Press Release is to entice someone from the media to call you back and ask for more detailed information! Done right, they will call you, interview you, and then write their own story – which is very good! It means you’ve “got them” and they will “push” for including “their” story in the media – which is exactly what you wanted in the first place!

Be aware, if you want to get downright “technical” about it, you might want to write two (2) separate Press Releases – one for print media, and another one for Broadcast media. Why? Well, because print media tends to focus on “newsworthy” ideas, while broadcast media likes to report “action.”

Anyway, The Poster and the Press Release are the two “stock” items in your publicity arsenal. Everything else comes directly from them…

Whew… Two major “hurdles” are done, and you aren’t even rolling yet… Pretty easy so far, huh?

Okay, on to…

ORGANIZATION AND MANAGMENT PLANS – the real “meat” of this publicity business…

Organizational efforts obviously begin with your Festival Committee (assuming that you have one). Presumably, you’re the person tapped to handle publicity for your event, right? Okay, you’ll likely need a few other people working with you… essentially your own Publicity Sub-Committee, if you will. Why more? Because if done right, this is will be a substantial effort, and you want it to succeed… So you’ll basically need someone to oversee those who deal with “the media” and someone else who will deal with the more traditional “club” efforts which you’ve always handled on your own. The efforts are quite different, so you’ll need separate minds focused in different directions.

And your own efforts? Well, you can choose to do either of those two publicity efforts yourself (media or club), but I’d actually recommend that you do – Neither! Why? Well, someone needs to keep their focus on the “overall” publicity effort, and that’s probably you. Besides, your Festival Committee needs someone to just “hang loose” and be ready when something goes sideways” on them (because something always does), and since you’re the one with a solid grasp of the “overview,” you’re probably best equipped to come up with the ideas, apply the “fix,” and get everyone back on schedule. Yeah – something for you to think about…

PUTTING IT ALL INTO PRACTICE, or we’re into action now…

Anyway, the next tasks are to a) decide how you’re going to publicize, and b) parcel out do-able assignments, with realistic and enforceable deadlines. Yup – sounds a bit ugly, doesn’t it? Anyway, hold your Publicity Sub-Committee meeting, cut up the pie, make the assignments, and get functioning. Yeah – you all know how to do this!

Dealing with the Media involves deciding which media you want to attract (use), and then going after them – ALL of them. And since they’re basically the same, you’ll need to apply duplicate efforts, but using the same techniques.

And, for the purposes of this discussion here, I’m talking about using the “free” resources of the media. Obviously, if the Festival Committee has an Advertising Budget for the event, you’re likely to be involved in buying time/space, ad creation, scheduling, etc. But that’s not what this Kitelife discussion intends to cover.

So – make your decisions early. Are you going after the Print media (newspapers)? Radio Media? Television? Or all of them…? Phone books and the Internet will end up being your main “contact info” gathering mechanisms. Build your lists, and by the way, don’t disregard any other organizations who are not Radio or TV stations or newspaper publishers. There are OTHER organizations, usually “contract agencies,” listed in the phone book under those categories as well, and they are often excellent media sources. The way it works is – these firms take news stories “on speculation” and then try to sell them to the media. So if there’s a photo or video house listed in the phone book, by all means, contact them too.

After you have a list, send the appropriate Press Release to each one. Use whatever means you have available. Snail-mail, Faxes, and Emails all work just fine. Then sit and wait and hope for a response, because there’s not much else you can do… HINT – if I were doing it, I would email the releases to the regular media outlets (Radio, TV, newspapers, etc.), but send Snail-Mail releases to any “contract agencies.” Why? Well, if you don’t hear from a contract agency after a few days, it’s entirely appropriate to phone them and ask a) if they got the Press Release and b) if you can add anything to the information that might help them use your information…

WHEN you are contacted by the media, plan on doing about anything they want! Meet them at the field at 6:00 AM to fly with the Morning Weatherman (and put a kite in his hands and teach him to fly one on camera, complete with the big grin!) Show up at the station to discuss stuff, if they ask – and bring a kite or two. Simply make yourself available, and bring anyone else they might request (Got any “stars?”). Chat with radio personalities over the phone. Feed the newspapers the good stuff too. Give all these folks the idea that you a) have something “hot,” and b) are willing to help them “scoop” their competitors, and you’re their newest “Best Friend” – which is exactly what you want to be from a publicity standpoint.

Unfortunately, you’re pretty much at the mercy of the media, however. They tend to function on a “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” basis, so you need to be ready for that too… And any “back door” methods of contacting them you can think of (Secretaries who go to your church, for instance) will likely cause you more problems than they’re worth, since Editors and Managers can be pretty rigid once decisions have been made…

Your own “Club Publicity,” however, is a completely different story. Here is where you can distribute those posters, create Yard Art and Phone-Pole advertising, fill store windows with fliers, and mail stuff to everyone you know… Yup – TONS of paper, created and distributed.

This is also where you can recruit additional help. Perhaps you know someone in another part of town. Can they go by hobby shops in their neck of the woods and drop off posters? Have you a babysitter that goes to a different church, and could put a poster on their “community bulletin-board?” How about you knowing kids that go to different schools? Can they take a couple of posters into “the office” to be displayed? Anyone covering the public libraries? How about local shopping malls and Supermarkets? Sporting-goods stores? Local convenience stores?

Also, DO NOT forget about other kiting organizations – like all local and state kite club newsletters, the various kite competition leagues, and the AKA website.

And as you parcel these tasks out, set do-able assignments and reasonable deadlines – then make a few spot checks to be sure it’s all working. BE SURE to comment favorably to those who have done well, and ALSO contact those who’ve not “come through” for you to ask if there were problems or if they need any help. Remember however, that you’re dealing with a volunteer staff – and you’ll always get more with carrots than with sticks!

And finally, all the Publicity work will eventually get done… Oh yeah, it might not be finished until the fliers are all off the field and the last media dude packs up his TV Camera and leaves, but it will finally be complete “sometime.” And you all know enough to sit down and relax for a minute and savor those accomplishments, right? Congratulations! You’ve DONE IT!

A word or two about The Inevitable Crisis… or what to do when it all goes in the toilet!

As some wag said, “Stuff Happens!” Yeah, we’ve all seen it before. And those who’re ready for it have allocated a little backup for contingencies, or can fill in themselves. I’ve no particular idea what might go wrong in your particular case, except to note that it’s not uncommon to have some task fall by the wayside or some person “opt out” over some senseless nit at exactly the wrong time. And what’s always worked for me is having a “generalist” handy in the wings who can do “most stuff.” And it they can’t repair all widgets, they can maybe spell the someone who CAN from other tasks. But I think it’s important for you to have a few spare cycles held in reserve. Just a word to the wise, and ‘Nuff said!

Well, I promised to give you Some Secrets, and here they are…

  1. Nope, it ain’t “Rocket Science!” Yeah, we said that before. NOW you should finally understand.
  2. Do it “by Committee!” Yes – you DID do that… It’s much easier than doing it all yourself, right?
  3. Fragment into “do-able” tasks. Of course. You distributed the load” and made it work for everyone. Good Job!
  4. Get OTHER groups and folks working for you! (Uh, see “c” above.)
  5. Keep it “Happy!” If you’ve done it right, you’ve kept everyone satisfied and they’re all proud of their accomplishments. Do be sure to share the praise around.
  6. KISS! And, by working through it step-by-step in small increments, you did it the easy way, right? KISS? Oh, it’s an old management adage, meaning “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” I guess you did that too, huh?

Well, then – how about some worthwhile CONCLUSIONS…

  1. Yes, Publicity is imprecise… Yes, there is always something you could have done better. Still, you did the best you could. It’s over now, though. Pat yourself on the back.
  2. Do a little survey during the event. It doesn’t have to be scientific, or even particularly precise. You just want to ask a few bystanders what worked and what didn’t. So, how’d they find out about the festival?
  3. Be glad when it’s over. Yup – a celebration is due – so Hold One!
  4. And while you’re at it hold a happy “Post Mortem” too. Yeah, ask those who helped how it went and what could have been done better. It’s a good time to get this valuable info, and VERY worthwhile for next year (which, after all, is just around the corner! So “Document It!” Yup – take notes!

Finally – Remember, if you aren’t having fun – DON’T DO IT!

Oh – and if you have any “extra cycles” left over, would you PLEASE let me know how it all went? I’d sure appreciate it! Thanks – in advance!

And a huge thanks to John Freeman too, for getting this whole line of thought started. Much Love, John! Funny how minds get to wandering, all on account of some casual comment, huh?

Fair Winds and Good Friends –