*This article is the third in a three-part series about developing women’s events in specialty outdoor retail shops. Part 1 covers the development and goal-setting; Part 2 covers securing speakers, sponsors, and brand involvement; Part 3 covers marketing the event.
The scariest part about hosting an in-store event: Throwing open those doors and waiting to see if anyone shows up. When Backcountry Experience started the Women Outside Adventure Forum in 2016, we didn’t have a clue as to what to expect. Had we gotten the word out? Would people come?
At 10 minutes to show time, there wasn’t room to stand, much less sit. The venue was turning people away.
Apparently, we had done something right.
The success of an event marketing plan is a very tangible experience. You know right away if it didn’t work. Promoting any event is stressful, but it can be difficult figuring out where to start on a brand new one—like your first women’s event. With Women Outside, we’ve learned that building a network of community sponsors, beneficiaries, venues, and speakers has helped us to reach a broader audience.
Why partnerships pay off
Women Outside has three sponsorship tiers. The top are held by Osprey Packs, Outdoor Research, and the Durango branch of Alpine Bank. Non-competing local businesses like yoga studios, accounting firms, and even our payroll processor comprise the second tiers. I ask all of our sponsors to help promote the event—both to their customers and employees. We also work with local restaurants, bars, and museums to host Women Outside. Because the presentations are a value to the community, our venues are happy to help spread the word.
The more local organizations and businesses you partner with, the greater your marketing reach. I’ve invited a variety of non-profits, clubs, and women’s organizations to set up tables at Women Outside. They’re happy for the opportunity to raise awareness for their cause and I’m thrilled to have other organizations raise awareness and help promote the event.
Think beyond social media
Durango is a unique community. We probably have an equal number of luddites or technophobes and social media addicts. Every year I ask the audience how they heard about Women Outside. Facebook. Instagram. Posters. Print ads. The radio. An article in the local newspaper. The answers are so varied that you really can’t leave any stone unturned.
My strategy is to visualize a person who isn’t on social media or Backcountry Experience’s email list, doesn’t read the paper, or listen to the radio. Sometimes it's as simple as stuffing their bag with an event announcement at checkout.
Work the local press machine
As always, editorial is king. If you’ve put together an interesting event that’s 100 percent different than anything else in town, pitch it. Send out press releases. Follow up with the editor or befriend a writer. Offer to write a free article and provide images. I typically start reaching out to the press at least three months before the event. You don’t know what they have on their editorial calendar, so don’t wait until the last minute to reach out.
Of course, it all comes back to the quality and intention of the event. If you’re doing something that will benefit the community, promoting it will be easy. People want to be inspired and informed… and so do their friends, family, and co-workers. Create an event that gets people excited and they’ll do the work for you.
If you're interested in launching your own women-specific event, reach out to Margaret Hedderman (firstname.lastname@example.org), director of events and marketing at Backcountry Experience, who will be happy to brainstorm.