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Sabrina Hutchinson of Defiant Public Relations

A PR Pro’s Publicity Tips for Event Planners

Defiant Public Relations CEO Sabrina Hutchinson shares secrets for getting valuable publicity for special events

All event planners want their events to be successful. The reasons are many: to please the client, be the talk (or envy) of the town, to win new business, to win awards, to motivate staff, and so on. Success will look different with each event, as goals—and outcomes--vary.

As an entertainment PR agency, we regularly plan events for clients, and we also publicize them. Whether an event is public or private, there are a variety of reasons why publicity is necessary, or at least helpful. With this in mind, here are a few pro tips to keep in mind so publicity can be a factor in your event’s success:

Involve PR early in the planning process
Whether you are hiring a publicist or handling the job internally, involve PR early in the planning phase to help identify potential publicity conflicts. Two key elements that can ambush event publicity are date and location. While planners must always take into account other events that might conflict, sometimes holding an event on the same week or weekend as another major event can have an upside.

For example, the advantage of holding a Grammy-related event in Los Angeles during Grammy week is that you may be able to gain access to celebrities who are in town for the big show. However, if your event is located outside the central hub of the city, it will inconvenience the media, who will not attend and may not even promote the event in advance.

Talking with your publicist early on will help you sidestep major press and publicity roadblocks.

PR shouldn’t be the only channel in your event marketing plan.
Many event planners mistakenly believe that PR alone can influence attendance or ticket sales. If you are planning a public event, you cannot rely solely on public relations to drive ticket sales. Public-facing events require a multitude of marketing efforts including media relations (articles and interviews), social media, influencer relations, advertising, email marketing, partnerships and more. Make sure your event marketing budget not only allows for a good PR campaign but has room for other facets as well.

It’s a good idea to consult with your PR team regarding your ticket on-sale date, ticket pricing and even your ticketing vendor prior to announcing your event. It’s much better to work with your publicity team to coordinate the placement of stories and interviews around your on-sale date than to bring them on board late in the game.

Your publicist can also be helpful in pointing out bottlenecks in the purchase path and ensuring a strong call to action in ticket descriptions.

Think like a publicist (or better yet, like a journalist)
When crafting your event, visualize the media headlines in advance. Which elements will make the media want to publicize the event?

Avoid the temptation of being too myopic. Think objectively and ask yourself at every turn, “What makes this event newsworthy?” “Why is this special?” “Why is this event going to interest the media?” If you’re challenged to answer those questions, it might be time to change things up.

Don’t forget that photo op
For some people, a big reason to attend an event is for a great photo op. So, give the people what they want! Make sure your event has highly Instagrammable areas and that event hashtags are accessible throughout the event--from the invitation to the event website and all throughout the event itself.

Whether you have the budget to design elaborate photo backdrops, hire third-party photo booths, or simply set up a step-and-repeat, make sure the area is well lit and accessible to attendees. And don’t forget a nearby area for guests to stow their drink, phone and handbag.

And what about those social media influencers?
Influencers can be hugely important to the success of your event. Regardless of who and how many influencers attend, it’s important to make sure that they know how to engage with the brand and with the event. Be sure to set clear expectations well in advance.

Take time to educate influencers about the event. This will not only create a more authentic experience for them but might help build a long-lasting relationship with them and your organization. Often influencers are more than willing to go the extra mile if they feel connected to the cause or occasion.

If your influencers are going to walk a red carpet, prepare them in advance with talking points. And make it easy for them to promote the event by writing suggested posts and including all relevant handles and hashtags.

A picture is (still) worth a thousand words
It cannot be overstated how important good event photography is, and how important it is to have a photographer who can turn photos around quickly and get them back to you and your PR team. Ideally, you want your photos the same day or early the next morning so that the PR team can pitch the images to media. For many planners, event photography is an afterthought, but this is an area where you should hire the best people you can afford.

Event photographers need to be great low-light, fast-action shooters. Be sure that they can demonstrate this in their portfolio before you consider hiring them. They should be prepped in advance to know which celebrity or VIP guests are in attendance and be ready to capture both staged and candid shots that can be used to send to media after your event.

Keeping these tips in mind can better position your event for publicity and keep your PR team, clients and stakeholders smiling well after the last guest leaves.

Sabrina Hutchinson is CEO of Defiant Public Relations, with offices in Los Angeles and Seattle. Besides producing events, she has handled publicity for high-profile special events including the Whole Foods Foundation’s Whole Planet pre-Grammy party, the Eat, Drink and Support benefit for the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the We Are LA Family Music Festival, and San Diego Comic-Con.


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