Successful event marketing starts with the publisher
Company buy-in is important in ensuring the success of events sponsored by newspapers in their markets, but it all starts at the top – with the publisher, attendees at the recent Event Revenue Summit were told.
The Event Revenue Summit, sponsored by the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press, attracted 46 attendees, all eager to learn from the masters of event marketing.
They heard very candid talks from Publisher Jason Taylor, his department heads and event marketing staff ... and left with an Event Planning Kit that will prove invaluable with their first (or next) event.
The Event Planning Kit included timelines, checklists, samples of vendor contracts, sponsorship agreements, promo ads, sales flyers, floor plans, profit and loss spreadsheets, and more.
During a workshop session on "Creating Company Buy-In," Taylor stressed this culture change must start at the top. He said publishers need to send the message by being present at the event and by being involved in the initial planning phase. He said publishers should be involved in setting the budget and financial expectations, and in sales calls for the big sponsorship dollars – "because you're talking major money."
Alison Gerber, editor, and Ed Bourn, digital director, echoed the need for department heads to be fully on board and present at events.
Gerber said it was a difficult battle in the newsroom when the paper first began sponsoring events five years ago. "I'm not going to lie and sugar-coat it," she said. But, if publishers can get their newsroom engaged, she said, "your battle is won – in terms of company buy-in."
The newsroom at the Times Free Press is involved in two ways: number one, to promote and cover the events, and, number two, to help staff them.
While some newsroom employees volunteered right from the start, others were slow to embrace the event culture.
"One of the ways we convinced people was by talking about the business side of it and talking about the state of the industry now," she said. "It's imperative for newspapers to look for new revenue streams."
She told attendees to "put the hand grenade on the table and say: 'Look guys, this pays for what we do. This pays for us to have a really good newspaper.'"
She said she isn't afraid to tell staff that "the playbook we used in 2001 is no longer working. We have to try something different." The 10 to 12 events that the Times Free Press hosts every year allows the paper to do big investigative pieces and enterprise reporting. "At the end of the day, there is some recognition that things have to change in order for newspapers to do what their core mission is," she said.
There also was initial concern among some staff members that promotion of the paper's events was a little too self-serving. But, she noted that, if another organization brought Martha Stewart, Paula Deen, Eli Manning or others to town, the paper would cover it. The paper also covers other festivals that it does not host, which often attract much smaller numbers of participants.
Newspapers have to look at these events as genuine news stories, she said. That means allowing reporters to ask tough questions of celebrity guests when newsworthy issues arise during events. Anything less would undermine the paper's credibility, she said.
Gerber said newsroom staff also now understand the benefits that come from the expos that the paper hosts. In addition to the revenue earned, benefits are extending the reach of the newspaper to people who aren't regular readers. Participants at these events often include individuals who heard about the event on the radio, through social media or other avenues.
Another benefit is that it helps the paper brand its newsroom personalities, get them more exposure and help the community better connect with them. It also enables staff from the various departments to get to know each other better.
Another key aspect that drives the cultural buy-in are monthly Town Hall meetings for all newspaper employees. Bourn said these meetings are not mandatory, but are very well attended. Taylor said most are standing-room only. At these meetings, staff hear about the impact that recently concluded events have had. Taylor not only talks about the number of people who attended the event, but the impact on the paper's bottom line. He talks about how these events are helping the paper afford its press upgrade and meet the overall goals of the organization. Being transparent, he said, drives engagement.
Bourn said events, like the upcoming HoHo Expo, also bring a certain excitement and level of pride to the staff and management team. "We do have fun," he said. But, "we also get the job done. We're accountable. We're successful. But, the bar is constantly raised."
Taylor said each of the paper's events engages a different audience. "Each one capitalizes on a different strength. Each one opens up new opportunities," he said.
For newspapers just getting into the event marketing business, he encourages picking just two events for 2014 – scheduling the first about six months from now.
But, he warned: "If you're going to go back and do a 'me-too,' you shouldn't do it." Your event will only be successful, he said, if you believe in it, see the vision and have buy-in from the top down.
Coverage of the Event Revenue Summit will continue in future issues of the eBulletin.
Topics on Monday included developing new print circulation, digital development, best approaches to competition, personnel (finding, recruiting, training and managing) and managing your staff (dealing with strife, reviews, reprimands and terminations). On Tuesday, the agenda will focus on content, niches and how the world sees us (and what to do about it).
Future eBulletins will examine some of the ideas that came out of this meeting, beginning with a look at how one company evaluates editorial excellence produced by its newsrooms.
Special thanks to Dolph Tillotson, president of Southern Newspapers, Inc., for moderating the Forum.