When you’re trying to come up with a great idea for an event marketing program — whether a brand experience, an awareness event or a P.R. stunt — one thing we’ve learned over the years is that the best creative and execution ideas are the simplest. Not always the “most basic” or “dumbed-down,” but event marketing strategies and tactics that strive for total clarity, making it that much easier to engage an audience.
Case in point? Just last month, The Regan Group had the opportunity to deliver a P.R./buzz-building event marketing program for client The Hallmark Channel to support the second season premiere of Cedar Cove, starring Andie MacDowell.
The creative and strategic gestation process we went through was long and pretty fruitful. Just a few ideas that were tossed around: disruptively towing a large sailboat (the show is set in a picturesque seaside community in the Northwest) across Manhattan, with program clips and info projected on its “sail” (shades of Romancing The Stone!). Or setting up a giant “beach umbrella” projection screen in a city park.
The winning idea? Not the grandest, not the glitziest, or even the newest one in the hopper; it was a concept that had been discussed for some time, but set aside as other options got explored. But it turned out to be the best, for reasons that illustrate how truly effective event marketing ideas don’t have to always entail Bigger! Splashier! Tech-ier! approaches.
We took Andie MacDowell, cast 70 women who resembled her, costumed and styled them to look like her character on the show, and put them all on bicycles. In Manhattan. On a workday. Then we let them ride around town.
That. Was. It.
Our “bike brigade” succeeded, too. We’ve estimated that our 70 Andie-alikes, split into 3 teams each touring its own route around Manhattan, may have generated up to 2 million impressions on the ground alone. Having Ms. MacDowell on hand helped grab press coverage, nationally and locally; everyone from NYC network affiliates to US WEEKLY mentioned the event.
But why did it work? Because the core idea followed a few guidelines that can lead you to a great event marketing core concept:
1. Know Your Goal
What are you out to achieve? If you’re trying to touch too many bases, you’ll compromise the experience for your audience. Set clear goals on what you’re trying to accomplish — what you want to communicate, and what action you’re looking to activate from people. Action, singular: don’t overlay it with two many asks, or you won’t get any of them. Our “bike brigade” had a simple goal: drive buzz around Cedar Cove by leveraging Andie MacDowell’s star power in a unique way that evoked the show.
2. Hold Your Focus
At every stage of development, be a hardcore reductionist: make sure your idea hasn’t suffered “extension creep” and wandered away from its heart. That’s not always easy, because a really cool idea will drive other great ideas, but too many layers — even ingenious ones — will only muddle the mission. Plus, always try to remember what made it a great solution in the first place: when we stare at an idea too long, the bloom goes off the rose. But just because we’ve gotten jaded doesn’t mean it won’t compel and engage.
3. Innovate…If It Helps
We’ve done plenty of breakthrough, NBDB programs, when out-of-the-box technical inventiveness is called for…but first you’ve got to decide if the bells-and-whistles are worthwhile, or whether you’re better off with an idea that succeeds on fundamental merits and creativity. One could argue there’s not much “revolutionary” about our Cedar Cove program, but creativity can come in applying familiar tools in new ways, in understanding the basic challenge, your audience, and then finding the most relevant path to your objectives — not necessarily the shiniest.
4. Will It Startle, Then Stick?
Does your core concept truly disrupt, compel, engage? Then does it plant a seed in mind with your audience that’s going to grow after the encounter? That they’ll be eager to act on, even share with others? This goes back to focus: what’s the single call-to-action or next step you want to get across? For Cedar Cove, scores of attractive lookalikes, identically dressed and coiffed, riding beach cruisers on some of the busiest streets in the world, stopped people in their tracks…and had them asking us what it was all about at every corner, or at our many planned stops at Big Apple landmarks. So we were able to educate them on the show and even get them to socially share the sight of our “bike brigade” via a photo posting overlay.
5. Build It On Brand
A standout brand deserves a standout idea that comes straight from brand story or mission — period. It’s hard work getting there sometimes, with a lot of honing and sharpening. In the end, our rolling street teams made for a cooler solution than a giant beach umbrella projection screen, because they sold the star power of our leading lady using a tactic (baby-blue beach cruisers!) inspired by an aspect of her character, Olivia Lockhart, on the show. Plus, it brought a ground-level, eye-to-eye human touch that felt in keeping with the show and the network.
6. Make It Socially Simple
Allow social media engagement by your audience to be as frictionless as possible, which maximizes results. Then reward them for it, by all means. Locals and tourists who posted pictures of our “bike brigade” with #cedarcoveTV were eligible to potentially win their own baby-blue beach cruiser. It’s been a month since the event, yet we’re still getting queries about the program (Where can I get one of those scarves? Where can I buy one of those bikes?), a big share of them from people who found us via social feeds.
7. Imagery Enables Engagement
Too often, event marketers neglect to include a really unique visual grabber or design hook of some kind. Our program was all visual grabber, because a “look at me!” element A) demands instant attention, and B) actually enhances message and memorability; humans are visual learners, after all, especially in short-term interactions. We didn’t have to say a thousand words about the tone and allure of Cedar Cove. Putting seventy Olivia Lockharts on the streets of Manhattan did that in a glimpse.
Got your own best practices on how to get at a great event or brand experience idea?