Whilst relishing every aspect of the Royal Wedding back in 2011, I realised the sheer brilliance behind the organisation. My Cotswold Open Studios event for Cirencester paled into insignificance. As I write, I am coming to the end of our third open studios event. I feel confident to share some hot tips from personal experience.
So, whether it’s a local event or exhibition (like an open studios) or something that is likely to hit the national headlines (like the FA cup final), there are a number of things you need to do:
Plan every detail
Don’t leave a stone unturned. Write a short business plan before you start. We have a 43-page business plan for our Cotswold Open Studios. Although it took a few days to put together, it has saved hours of deliberation and heartache. This plan has given us confidence. We are all singing from the same hymn sheet. The key messages and branding have been sorted. Right from the start, we knew that we needed great quality artists and makers at the heart of the experience. We are thinking of our audience of art lovers. This open studios differs from many others up and down the country: we are working with some established artists, designers and makers. Our profit/loss is calculated on the basis of 18 slots for each event. We want to refresh the selection each time because we need new stories to tell the press and all the culture-vultures out there. Alongside the big names, we are supporting fresh emerging talent so that everyone benefits. There are many spin-off benefits for other local businesses.
Your marketing activity calendar
After writing your business plan, you need a marketing calendar. Work back from the event date and include all the details of your marketing plan, as well as key action dates.
Take the lead and get the right team
I work with some amazing people. Although I work on my own, I have always made sure that I surround myself with honest, talented professionals with the skills, knowledge and business experience to deliver. We are not writing copy or designing posters by committee, nit-picking every detail with emails flying backwards and forwards. We are all too busy for that. For something like this, you need a marketer at the helm with the passion, skills and determination to get the job done.
Find suitable sponsorship
Link up with the big names and get their endorsement. This year, we are working with interior designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. Some sponsors can give skills and time, some can provide the readies. Choose the best fit. Align yourself with complimentary brands who will benefit by reaching new customers.
Spend what you have very wisely
I know exactly what we have available to spend and when and where I am going to spend it – the marketing plan is detailed. Every expense is accounted for. Make sure you are in control of your cash flow.
Have a story to tell and then tell it - good PR is at the heart of success
Make sure that you have a fresh story to tell the press and your audience. We have the Alexcars vintage bus tour and a showcase exhibition at The Corinium Museum. The bus is very photogenic and captures everyone’s imagination. If you want to promote the event in the monthly magazines, make sure that your photographs are top quality: a minimum of 600 pixels wide, landscape (300 dpi and 2 inches wide) for the main four colour brochure and the other needs to be 6 x 4 inches landscape or portrait 300 dpi (at least) for glossy magazines. I am amazed that many of our participants this year did not follow these guidelines. The people who did follow these specifications had their images sent to the glossy Gloucestershire press! These journalists are looking for good images so you need to get a professional photographer to provide your visual material.
When it comes to PR, it’s essential that you record every contact, with full details of what you have sent them and when so that you know what to do next time.
Apply for awards
I am very thankful to the Cirencester Chamber of Commerce for our two awards: PR and Marketing Campaign of the Year 2012 and Creative Champions Runner-up 2013. We have received some great press coverage as a result, keeping us in the public eye when things are quiet.
Unlike the Royal Wedding, we just don’t have much money sloshing around, so we need to use every penny wisely. Make sure that you get your event onto all the online events listings. Facebook and Twitter cost nothing apart from time. Everyone involved in the event needs to use social media, sharing and retweeting. Use the hash tag to start a trend on Twitter. #COS2013 has worked well for us. We are dealing with a visual audience, so we are tweeting pictures and posting images on Facebook. There are other online devices for sharing images. It’s never been cheaper to promote. Also, this time we have used Eventbrite because we do not have the resources for our own website yet. Next time I will use Eventbrite to sell our bus tickets online.
We now have around 950 contacts – visitors to our previous two events in 2010 and 2011. This will grow considerably after the 2013 event. With this in mind, we now have a customer relationship management system. We have created a branded email template. We are sending out regular updates in the five weeks running up to the event. Each email gives a taste of what’s to come. I’m lucky that I have great visuals. Every venue has a visitor questionnaire for our visitors. After the event, these contacts are put onto our database. We can filter and target our mailings now.
Have a vision
There are many of us who have a vision to see the arts thrive in our area. That’s why we work so hard. It’s vital for every community to nurture the arts. Art, heritage and culture bring personality and identity to a town. We are all working together to generate creative energy and draw people to this very special place. Our high street needs visitors. Everyone benefits. We are supporting each other through the hard times. In this age of austerity, we need the artists, makers and designers to feed our senses and emotions, and to brighten up our world. They are vital in providing education, glitz, challenge, achievement and success for all ages. It is much more than just making a living or a business – we need to express ourselves and celebrate each other, whatever the chosen path.
© Tessa Webb, June 2013