One thing we’ve discovered when planning large events is that big events need a hook. The “hook” is the thing that reels people in – a super-cool activity, or a chance to win a great prize, or a pre-existing notion that the event is fun. Let me offer some examples:
At the library’s Comic-Con, our “hook” is the pre-conceived notion that a Comic-Con is cool. Our target audience already knows what a Comic-Con is, and they already think a Comic-Con is cool, so we don’t have to sell the idea. We just have to let people know when it is, and make sure that the publicity supports their idea of it.
At our library’s annual Teen Read Week Masquerade, we have to go one step further. Nobody knows what a “Teen Read Week Masquerade” is or what it looks like, so at the same time that we’re spreading information about our event, we also have to sell the IDEA of our event. Our hook is the prizes. We heavily advertise our grand prize, which is usually a tablet, and the winner must be present to win. In addition, we give away books to EVERY attendee. Between the chance to win a terrific prize, and the guarantee of free books, we are able to incentivize attendance in a significant way. Of course, the prizes don’t provide the fun – our activities provide the fun. The prizes just offer a hook.
A hook provides an entry point, something to make people take notice and say to themselves, “Hey, maybe I should go to that!” You’ve got to have it, and you’ve got to plan it. The best promotions in the world won’t get good attendance unless your event has an easily-stated, easily-understood selling point. “Lots of cool activities” won’t do it – not even if you actually do have lots of really cool activities. Our Dia de los Ninos event struggles every year, and it’s because no one knows what it is, and nothing that happens there is quite enough to change people’s indifference into interest.
The larger lesson here is a familiar one: marketing begins in the planning stages, not in the promotion stages. You’ve got to know what you’re selling, and you have to be sure that people want it.