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How to Promote your University Event

You’re finally done planning your lecture or special event — the venue is reserved, the speaker is booked and all the last minute preparations are complete. It’s going to be great. Now it’s just a matter of getting people to show up.

You can and should publicize your event in a variety of ways. Consider a mix of public service announcements, postings to the U of T event website, emails to listservs, flyers and ads. You probably have other ideas, too.

Contents:

  1. Before You Do Anything
  2. Web Tactics
  3. Email Tactics
  4. Social Media
  5. Ads
  6. Flyers
  7. PSAs
  8. Media?
  9. More Ideas

1. BUT BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING:

As soon as the details of your event are confirmed, write up a blurb. You will use this short description for all of your promotional efforts so get it ready first. It must be short and it must include:

  • WHO — who is talking, who is sponsoring?
  • WHAT— what’s going to happen and why is it interesting?
  • WHEN — the most important part; beware the typo.
  • WHERE — think about linking to a map if the location is hard to find.
  • HOW TO GET MORE INFO — email, phone number and website address (URL).

Take a look at the U of T events site for some examples.

2. WEB TACTICS:

Get your event blurb posted on websites. Start with your own site, and go from there.

  • Post on Eventful and Eventbrite — both are public event promotion sites that can reach a large audience.

3. EMAIL TACTICS:

  • Start off by emailing your blurb to colleagues who might be interested in your event. Ask them to share it with others.
  • Send the blurb to relevant academic units (both within U of T and to other universities within the Golden Horseshoe) and ask them to share it with their colleagues. The departmental administrative assistant is usually the best person to contact. They have the power to forward your email far and wide.
  • Email student groups and campus organizations.
  • Listservs: You’ve probably emailed your unit’s listserv(s) but ask other units if they will send your events blurb to their listservs. For example, many units maintain a grad student listserv — they might have others. Ask.

4. SOCIAL MEDIA

What about social media? If you (or someone on your team) is Web 2.0 savvy and your group already
has a online presence, then we don’t have to tell you how to promote your event on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the like.

But if your unit has yet to enter this world, then now — when you are in the middle of planning and promoting a big event — is not the time to launch a social media campaign. Social media only works if you use the proper voice. Leaping in without research and careful planning will, at best not work, and at worst, damage your credibility. If you are interested in learning more, there are many resources online.

5. PAID ADVERTISING

Generally ads in the major media will be outside the scope of your budget. But consider running paid print ads in
the U of T community media and other local publications. For example, consider:

Your budget will most likely not allow you to place ads in the major daily newspapers (Toronto Star, Globe & Mail) but you may (if your budget allows) consider Now Magazine. Contact the papers for their rate cards.

TIP:  Many publications offer a discounted rate for universities. So ask about a “university rate card” — it doesn’t hurt to ask and it could save you some money.

REMEMBER: You don’t have to be a designer to run an ad. Most publications will layout (design) your ad if you provide the content. Ask about this service. Don’t forget to include your U of T wordmark.

6. FLYERS

It might take a bit of time but do get an eye-catching flyer designed. You may have someone in your unit who can create a flyer. If not, think about using the services of a graphic designer. Another option is to contact the Digital Studio at Information Commons — one of the services they offer is flyer design.

  • Bigger isn’t better — it should fit (folded if necessary) into a standard-sized envelope for mailing.
  • A word about visual identity and what design elements should be  included on all your printed promotional materials.

Distributing your flyer:

7. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS:

Also known as Event Announcements, PSAs are a way to get your event listed in the media for free.

Most newspapers — both weeklies such as Now Magazine as well as daily newspapers and some magazines, run regular event listings. Inclusion is free but is at the discretion of the listings editor. Some radio stations will also occasionally run PSAs about upcoming events.

PSAs must be short (no more than 100 words) and must include all the key event details. Include the date, the start and end time, the event’s title and a brief description. Indicate whether the event is free or the ticket price.

  • Make sure you include contact information (i.e., website address, phone number, email, website) for people seeking more info.
  • Timing is critical and deadlines vary. In general, send out your PSA four weeks in advance.
  • Sample PSA

It’s easy to create your own PSA distribution list — you can search the internet as many media outlets post event submission information online; that’s what we do.

8. SHOULD YOU INVITE THE MEDIA

The answer isn’t always yes.

Consider contacting the media only if the topics covered in your event would be compelling to the general public.

While often very interesting, the majority of university events/lectures may not have a very broad appeal. Contact Communications if you’re not sure.

If your event is newsworthy, you can inform reporters with a media advisory — a very short press release (one or two paragraphs maximum) that explains the basics of what your event is about, who is participating and when/where the event will take place.

Usually the advisory is emailed to the specific reporters you wish to focus on.

Mass emailing is not advisable. For example, if your event is about climate change, investigate which reporters write about the environment (or science) and send them the advisory. You can research who writes about various topics (or beats) and obtain their emails by looking at media outlet websites.

Don’t be upset if the media don’t turn up. All you can do is let them know.

  • Note: Do check with event participants (speakers, panelists etc) to make sure they are comfortable with a media presence.

9. MORE IDEAS

  • We’ve given you a few ideas to get started but you know your audience best. Be creative; think about who might be interested in your speakers, who cares about your topic, and the best way to reach those people.
  • Ask faculty members to mention the event in their classes.
  • Look for online bulletin boards that might be applicable and post the info there.
  • Mail or email personalized invitations.