5 Options for Low-cost Event Publicity

Events May 04, 2011

Lori Halley

By Lori Halley

For small-staff or volunteer-driven organizations with limited resources, hiring a PR firm or marketing consultant to help publicize events is out of the question. But if you have ample lead time, effective planning, creativity and of course, willing publicity volunteers or staff, you can promote your event with little or no cost. And, if you focus on email, social media and online messaging, you won’t need to produce printed materials – with the possible exception of your program, tickets and on-site signage – which means you can achieve paperless event promotion.

Publicity Options

I’m no event publicity guru, but I have been involved in event communications and participated in events as a volunteer, so I’m offering a few tips to get you started with event publicity.  I’ve provided an overview of the 5 key event publicity options or vehicles. Once you’ve reviewed these and determined which combination of these best fit your needs, you can create a publicity plan for your event that maps out your chosen publicity tools, material requirements and timelines.

Of course, the nature of your event, its scope (e.g., local, regional or national) and size, as well as your target audience, are all factors that will impact your publicity plan. However, here are some general ideas (in no particular order) for publicizing your event in order to raise awareness, get media coverage and promote event attendance.


Media releases can be used to gain pre-event publicity in order  to drive ticket sales and also encourage the media to attend the event. If possible, you should have a media approach that includes:

  • Event Press Release: the purpose of this piece is to get the media interested in your event so they will promote it. This means you need to get all of your event’s details across in an interesting and powerful way. Remember, some media may just take clips from your press release, so be sure it is clear, concise and persuasive.

  • Media Advisory: this is like an invitation to the media to attend your event.  It should contain the usual who, what, when, where and why, as well as additional details that are only relevant to the media (e.g. availability of speakers for interviews; venue details; set-up, etc.).

  • Media Alert: this is usually sent out the week of or day before the event as a brief reminder about the event – with all of the relevant details (who, what, when, where, why and contact information).

  • Backgrounder: This is like a fact sheet that offers all of the pertinent details about your event as well as your organization. If you have a standard boiler plate backgrounder for your organization (e.g., mission/mandate etc.), you can edit this down and include a brief overview of the event, with any pertinent details – e.g., is there a keynote speaker/guest-of-honor/celebrity etc. that you need to identify?  The backgrounder would be included in the press kits for the event, and can also be sent along with 1-3 above to provide additional information on your organization and event.

Sending / Posting Your Media Releases:

The method you use to send out your media releases will depend on the scope of your plan as well as your existing media relationships. 

  • For example, if you have an existing active or up-to-date media email list that you use to regularly and effectively interact with the media – you should continue your successful method.
  • If your organization hasn’t done much media relations, you need to identify your media audience – for example:
  • Are you looking for local coverage (newspaper, radio, TV)?
  • Is your event focused on the environment and therefore you’d want to target the environment editors
  • Is it a community event – that might target community newspaper editors; cable stations; political editors, etc.
  • Would your event appeal to Business Reporters or Lifestyle editors, etc.
  • You can use online newswire services to get broad coverage your media release – for example: Free-Press-Release.com; PR Web; PR Newswire, etc. Some of these services are free and others have non-profit rates.
  • Don’t forget to post your media release on the “news” section of your website
  • You should also send your event news release to other organizations that might be able to publicize your event, including local colleges, universities and other non-profits or networking groups that might include a message in their online news or e-newsletters (also see Event Calendars below).
  • Media Relations Contact & Strategy

    If you don’t have a staff person with PR or media relations experience, you might want to see if you can identify one or a group of volunteers with media relations expertise who can help craft the media releases, assist in developing your media list and act as key media contact person.

    In addition, you’ll need to plan out a strategy for handling the media at the event itself. You should consider the following:

    1. Setting up a Media/Press Table
    2. Creating Media kits with all of the pertinent information, such as:
      • Event program
      • Backgrounder
      • Event Press Release
      • Speaker bios & photos (if available)
    3. Having Press tickets & name badges available
    4. Identifying a contact person who will greet the media and introduce them to the speakers, VIPs, etc. and set-up interview opportunities and photo ops


    If you’ve ever been involved in media relations, you’ll know that it is all about effective messaging and follow-up. Once the initial event press release has been sent out, you’ll need to follow-up with the media to find out if they need more information to run a story or if they plan on covering the event.



    Online event calendars offer some great free publicity for your event. For example, there are:

    The nature of your event will dictate the type of event calendar you’re looking for. Once you find some pertinent calendars, be sure to check to see what type of information they need, what their timelines are and if on-going updates are possible.


    3. WEBSITE:

    Your website offers many opportunities for event publicity. For example, if you are using membership management software, such as WildApricot, you can:

    • Include a message about the event on your Home page – in the “news” or “upcoming events” sections.
    • Include an event listing in your Online Event Calendar;
    • Create a dedicated web page for your event – that can include photos, details and maps and a link to online registration (and payment);
    • Include information on the event in your Members-only Forum and create new discussion threads that your supporters or members can follow;
    • Promote the event through a series of posts on your blog  and don’t forget to Tweet and post Facebook updates when you create a new blog post;
    • If the above options aren’t possible, consider creating a website for the event, with a unique URL and a link from your website.
    • Don't forget to include your Twitter hashtag on all web pages, forums, blog posts, etc.

    4. EMAIL - Event Notices and E-newsletters:

    Email can be effective to announce the event, provide updates and last minute reminders. If, as noted above, you are using association or membership management software, such as WildApricot, you can create automatic email event notices to all or select groups of contacts in your database  (e.g., members, supporters, past event guests, etc.). You can send an initial notification, e.g., in advance of the event, then send a second email a few weeks in advance to remind folks to register, then a final reminder email a few days before the event. Your event list can even be published via RSS (really simple syndication) feed so that people receive updates automatically with RSS readers and the event will also be picked up by other web sites automatically.

    You should also be sure to create a special announcement or even a special edition of your e-newsletter to circulate ahead of the event. This offers a great chance to include information on presenters, speakers, and details about the event — including photos, visuals — without the 140-character constraints of Twitter and the confines of a Facebook post.

    Read More: Event Management Software: 42 First-Rate Tools for Any Organization


    While this Mashable post, by Ben Parr, offers some great advice on How to Plan and Promote Events with Social Media, here are some event publicity social media basics to consider:

    • Facebook: If you don’t already have one, consider creating a Facebook page. As Ben Parr notes “they are better than groups because you can appear in news feeds every time you update the Page’s status.” You can also create a Facebook Event. For more details on how to promote your event on Facebook, check out this post

    • Twitter: Be sure to create a Twitter hashtag for the event and promote it and ask for retweets of key event information and updates. As noted above, don't forget to include your hashtag on all event web pages, emails, blogs, etc. to build buzz.

    • YouTube: Create and/or edit an existing video or podcast promoting your event and/or your organization and upload this to YouTube or Flickr.

    • LinkedIn: You can promote your event to your own LinkedIn network by “sharing” an update with a link to your event page; Facebook event, etc.  

    Using all or a combination of these 5 publicity options - Media Releases, Event Calendars, Website,  Email and Social Media - should offer some effective, low-cost publicity for your event. But remember, to achieve high impact, you’ll need to start with a well-thought out strategy, effective planning, ample lead time and a lot of creative effort and follow-up. 


    And Don't Miss Out On Post-event Opportunities

    Even when the event is over, there are post-event publicity, fundraising and member development opportunities that you can take advantage of with just a little pre-event planning.

    I know that it takes an enormous amount of team effort and energy to plan and host an event. And when the event is over, everyone wants to relax and move on to other priorities. But it's not really over until the "fat lady sings" and the post-event communications are complete.

    If you want to reap the full benefits of your event and its objectives, you need to do more than simply send out some thank-you notes and host a wrap-up or post-mortem meeting. While you still have the participants', donors', volunteers' and even the media's attention - you need to use the momentum to undertake some basic post-event publicity and recognition. And to make sure this takes place, it’s important to plan for and assign post-event tasks ahead of the event to ensure they receive the attention they deserve. 

    What Post-event Publicity?

    What am I talking about?  Well, post-event opportunities will depend on the nature of your organization and event, but here are a few examples of some basic post-event publicity activities:

    • Fundraising event:
      • Update your event page to include information on the event’s success (did you reach your goal? how much did you raise?) and photos of the event  be sure to offer opportunities for additional donations - e.g., a link to your fundraising page, etc.
      • Create a news release announcing how much you raised at the event. Remind the reader about the objective for the fundraising event (e.g., if you are raising funds for a specific project – offer the details on what this project will achieve) - don't assume they remember the details from your event press release, so include key points about why you had the event and what you'll do with the funds raised. Perhaps you promote upcoming campaigns - just be sure you make a realistic connection.
      • Include post-event stories and photos in your next:
        • newsletter;
        • blog post;
        • member forum

      People love to see themselves in photos, so be sure to offer captions and identify event attendees or award-winners, etc. Remember you should get permission to use photos and identify those in them in your newsletter or on your website.

      • Take advantage of additional promotion opportunities: In all cases, make sure the readers or visitors to your website viewing post-event materials have an opportunity to:
        • learn more about the event – especially if it is an annual affair
        • contribute funds – either to the specific event-related cause or your organization in general
        • receive information about upcoming events and/or volunteer!

    • Awareness-raising event:
      • Create a post-event news release with any news-worthy details – e.g., if you had an intriguing or well-known speaker, offer an overview and/or quotes and a photo – and be sure to link the speaker’s presentation with your organization and event.
      • Post videos and/or speaker presentations on your website and/or on YouTube and SlideShare – Be sure to receive permission from speakers to post their presentations online.
      • Write a newsletter article about the event, summarizing its objective; what transpired and how this will impact your organization’s mission in future. Again, this can link to photos, video and/or slide presentations if they are available and let volunteers and/or members know about: number of participants; media coverage (offer links to articles), etc.

    • Educational / networking event:

      • As above, be sure to:
        • Offer follow-up information to the media and your full networking contact list.
        • Offer presentations via email and on your website – if you have the presenters’ permission.
        • Additional promotion opportunities: If you collected contact information at registration or through other means (e.g., collecting business cards for a door prize) – be sure to send out any newsletters or other post-event or organizational updates to your list and link these folks to your website for coverage of the event and/or presentations and promote future participation - e.g., joining the organization; becoming a donor; attending the next event, etc.

    Recognition and Thank-you's

    In general, be sure to that post-event publicity is part of your initial event publicity/communications plan. Also ensure that all communications you send after the event reinforce the initial objective of the event and demonstrate your success in reaching your goals. At a minimum, remember to send thank-you’s to the following for their participation and support:

    • Sponsors
    • Volunteers
    • Speakers/presenters
    • Donors
    • the Media

    In your thank-you notes, be sure to remind the recipients of the event’s success – and how they contributed (e.g., dollars raised, awareness - number of participants, etc.).

    Post-event Engagement Opportunities

    • Conduct a Post-Event Survey - to learn what people enjoyed about your event, and where you have room to improve. Here are some questions to inspire you. 
    • Create a “Sustaining Donor Conversion Series”
      Your event participants have told you point blank that they want to support you. ...Create an e-mail conversion series to educate your participants about your ongoing programs and how they can support you throughout the year by making a sustaining donation.  

    What post-event activities have you found effective?  We'd love to hear how your organization uses event momentum to improve member or sponsor engagement. Let us know in the comments below.


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    Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.


    • Nena A.:
      Great article. Trying to do more with publicizing my chapter events.
    • Lori:
      Nena: Glad you found this post helpful. For more information on events and other membership topics, check out our Membership Knoweldge Hub: https://www.wildapricot.com/membership-articles

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