Yesterday I started a series on “How to Get 500 Students to Show Up to an Event.” In the first part of these I talked about how you need a UNIQUE EXPERIENCE. Today we’re going to talk about how to promote your event to gather a crowd.
Three Secrets to Throwing a Great Event
- Start with a Unique Idea People Want to Experience (Day 1)
- Market Directly to Everyone You Want to Come (Day 2)
- Deliver the Experience You Promised (Day 3)
After years of throwing events, there was one promotion technique which made all of the difference.
Market Directly to Everyone You Want to Come
I’ve been a part of throwing countless outreach events.For years I thought attracting a crowd required an enormous amount of money. I had seen events with little to no marketing budget attract a modest crowd, and I’d seen events with ENORMOUS budget per person attract a crowd. But I’d never seen an event both attract a crowd and keep the budget per person in check.
For a long time the largest outreach event I’d been apart of drew 200 people. To gather this crowd we threw a Super Bowl party at a local go cart place. There was pizza, video games, go carts…o yeah and the Super Bowl. It was a great event with a great turnout. But the church had to budget $10 to $15 per student who attended. The budget was enormous.
Mass marketing with mail-outs, newspaper ads, and now Facebook ads can get the word out in big way. Unfortunately, those methods can easily cause you to spend just as much on marketing as you do the event itself.
The method we used to do to promote our events was to give all our students a stack of invitations and tell them to invite their friends. This is great for getting students involved and helping students point their friends towards the church.
There are a few problems with this approach:
- It assumes your students have non-Christian friends. They often don’t.
- It assumes they will invite non-Christian friends. They often only invite their churched friends.
- It assumes they know how to effectively invite someone to an event. I watched a student invite someone to our Christmas party with the mechanical bull. Instead of mentioning the mechanical bull, 20ft slide, or give-aways, she said, “Wanna come to a church event.” I can’t read minds, but I would assume her unchurched friend interpreted this as, “Wanna go to church with me.”
- Only having students invite friends limits your reach to your students’ friends. My student ministry only has about 5 students any given school. If each student has 10 friends, we can only reach 55 students at a school of 500.
What’s the Alternative?
The alternative is to do whatever you have to do to get a flyer in the hand of every single person you want to attend the event. Of course, it’s much easier to say that than to do it.
1) Ask the Schools to Pass-out Flyers
Never in a million years did it occur to me to ask the schools to pass out flyers. Then when I was planning my Christmas party, one of the guys helping me plan the event asked if I’d asked the schools to pass out flyers. I hadn’t. So he sent them an email. They gladly agreed to pass out flyers at both middle schools. They would have been ok with passing them out in the high school, but the high schoolers have a bad tendency of throwing flyers on the ground. That was the only reason the school wouldn’t pass out a flyer to every single student we wanted to invite to the event.
When we did the egg drop, we once again asked the schools to pass out flyers. 5 out of 7 schools passed out our flyers. One of those schools only turned us down because they had a competing event that day. With the cost of printing flyers and an hour of driving around town I was able to invite 2,500 students to an event.
2) Pass Out Flyers at a School Lunch
This one can get you in trouble. If you want to maintain good repoir with the school or you’re not comfortable getting kicked out of a school, ask for permission before hand (in which case they’ll probably tell you “No.”).
With that said, go to a school lunch and walk table to table passing out flyers. After you hit a couple tables kids will start asking you what you’re doing. If you know what you’re doing, you can even get complete strangers to start running around the room passing out flyers. I went to a sixth grade lunch and nearly started a riot within 10 minutes…then the principle asked me not to pass out flyers anymore.
That was the only time I’ve ever used that strategy. I decided this probably wasn’t the best way to represent Christ at the school, but it did work.
3) Pass Out Flyers at Athletic Games, Plays, and Whatever Else is Going
Put flyers under every single cars windshield wipers. Make sure your flyer will catch their eye, and your event has something which they actually care about.
4) Find a Student Who has NO Problem Plastering Posters Everywhere
For my Christmas party I did virtually no promotion to the local high school, but 100 high schoolers showed up to the event. Why? One student took a stack of flyers to his high school and covered the building with them.
5) Make What Makes Your Event UNIQUE the Centerpiece of Your Flyers
A couple of years back we threw a large event for our community. We passed out 100s of flyers directly to people in the community. We announced the event to our congregation of several hundred, but when the event rolled around we were disappointed by the attendance.
We promoted that the event had fun, games, food, and giveaways, but we didn’t define any of those terms.
- What types of games?
- What types of food? …and how much?
- What are you giving away?
To get huge numbers, you have to be the person to invite huge numbers of people. If your schools will work with you, it’s real easy to get a crowd. If they won’t, you have to be a bit more creative and do a lot more work. You have to do whatever it takes to get a flyer in the hand of every single person you want to show up.
Tomorrow I’ll finish up this series with some thoughts on how to make sure the event lives up to the hype.