Not long ago, the news that a town was planning to have a festival spread like wildfire, and not only the whole town turned out, but also a large proportion of those in neighboring towns.
Things have changed, though, as festivals have proliferated to the point that some towns seem to have one, or more, happening every week-end all summer long. Some people still make an honest attempt to attend as many festivals as possible, but now it usually takes something a little different or out of the ordinary to stir the average citizen into taking part in more than one or two a year.
An article in our local paper today said that the promoters of a local Slavic Festival were extremely disappointed because only about 100 people had attended. It was a bit sad for me to hear that in this whole area, only 100 people were interested in attending a Slavic Festival, but then I thought that festivals are much like political candidates, or any other cause that seeks public support and approval.
If you want them to succeed, you have to convince people that they are worth supporting. If you can’t convince them, then maybe the cause isn’t worth the time and effort you are putting into it after all.
On the other hand, your cause might not be doing well because it hasn’t been well publicized. If you feel your event really is worthwhile, here are some suggestions to help you reach out to more potential supporters.
1. Use Your Local Newspaper To Spread The News
If no one knows about your event, it stands to reason that no one will show up for it. Most newspapers provide free space for announcements of coming events for local groups. Some will take information by telephone while others require a written notice. Find out the requirements far enough in advance that you can provide whatever they need.
If the newspaper pretty much leaves it up to you, appoint one of your members to submit a small two or three paragraph article 2 or 3 weeks ahead of time mentioning that your group is preparing for its annual festival. Then, a week before the event, follow the article up with a notice in your paper’s “Events” section. If you have a talented photographer who can provide interesting pictures of your group preparing for the festival that would be great. (Or use pictures members have taken from the previous year’s festival.)
2. Announce Your Event On The Radio
Call several radio stations in your listening area to find out their policy for advertising upcoming events in the community. Some will ask you to mail information in on a postcard so they can read it during their announcement time.
If you have a confident speaker in your group, ask if the radio station would like to interview him or her about the event.
3. Use Bumper Stickers
Bumper stickers don’t have to cost a fortune. If you have a computer geek in your group, he or she may be able to design and run off a few dozen stickers for you at little or no cost to the group.
Otherwise, try to work out a deal with your local printer. Sometimes a printer will be happy to provide stickers for free as a good will gesture to a local group, especially if you are a non-profit group which would make the printer’s cost tax deductable.
4. Have A Free Drawing In Connection The Event
Everybody likes “free,” and will often attend an event they might otherwise have skipped just to have a chance at winning something free. Your drawing prize doesn’t have to be something worth a huge amount of money. If your festival theme lends itself to some kind of prize, use that. For example, an Indian Pow-Wow could give away several hand-crafted Indian necklaces, bracelets, or belt buckles. A Hot-Rod festival might offer a free “fill-up” at the local gas station, etc.
Group members might made some posters to distribute around town touting the free drawing, with pictures and an emphasis on the word “free.” Ask various merchants for permission to post them in prominent store windows.
5. Invite A Celebrity
I’m not talking about flying the President in for the afternoon, but most towns have some minor, if not major, celebrities. How about Granny Johnson who just turned 100 years old. You could even have an honorary cake for her; or perhaps the guy who grew the largest pumpkin in the area this year. He might even still have it and be willing to pose for pictures with it and with visitors to your event.
One lady in our town taught her 4th graders about history by reading the Little House on the Prairie series to them. During the year, they worked on making a class quilt, beginning with a trip to a farm to purchase some wool, which they carded and used for the quilt batting. Each child embroidered his or her name on their quilt piece and the quilt was entered in the local fair each year. Several won blue ribbons. This lady, although retired when I met her, was happy to bring some of the quilts and occupy a booth to talk about them at one of our local pioneer fairs. Several people said they had heard she would be there and that they had decided to come to the fair for that reason.
It’s a rare town that doesn’t have someone who has won an honor for one thing or another. Spend a few minutes looking at old papers in your local library. There will be stories of people who have accomplished outstanding things so don’t overlook local celebrities.
6. Finally, Use Word Of Mouth
Encourage each member of the group to mention your festival to several people every day and to ask them to help spread the word. When they tell someone about the festival, they should mention the free drawing and any celebrities that may be involved.
With festival season just a few months ahead of us, think about using some of the suggestions above to make sure the word gets out this year in plenty of time to attract a maximum number of attendees to your event. And, remember, if your cause is a good cause, it is well-worth putting some extra effort into its promotion.