Promoting an Event

Dear Kim,

I work at a small nonprofit and I have been assigned to be the event planner for an event that does very poorly. The event involves getting restaurants to donate meals to use which are then sold for a minimum donation. We sent out invitations to our donor list of about 2500 people and less than 100 responded. How can we spice up our list? Also, what are other ways to entice people to purchase the more expensive meals? My boss was thinking of celebrities? What other ideas do you suggest?
—Drowning in Dinners

Dear Drowning,

The people most likely to come to an event like this are people who like the restaurants who are donating the meals. Enlist the restaurants to help you advertise, which is good advertising for them as well. For example, if they normally buy an ad in the Sunday paper, ask if they will put a line in their ad such as, “Look for our meal at Good Group’s Food Extravaganza next Wednesday at the Elks Club.” Create fliers that can be handed out to restaurant patrons at the restaurants. Get a story in the social section about the generosity of these restaurants. Send Public Service Announcements to all local radio stations. Put the names of the restaurants and a description of the meal they are donating on your website. In fact, if you have the time, allow people to reserve the meal they want on-line and then pay at the door. Encourage people to buy the more expensive meals for their anniversary or birthday. (Again, the patrons of the more expensive restaurants are a good bet for the event.)

A celebrity is not a bad idea, if you have access to one or two, but you are still going to have to advertise the presence of the celebrity in the same way you advertise the meals. The only thing worse than having more meals than people at your event would be to have more meals and two celebrities and too few people. Sending a pre-invitation telling people to reserve the meal of their choice may get people galvanized early.

Finally, an event like this is going to take a lot of phone calling. Call your members who live near the venue, or who live in the neighborhoods of the restaurants and remind them of the event. Most of the time you will be leaving a message anyway.

An event like this should make money and should bring in a lot of new people, but marketing and advertising it are the key elements.