by Pamela Burton
Imagine this: you’ve been working many long hours trying to plan your big “Back to School” event. You’ve got the volunteers, bought the food and drinks and planned great activities. You’re ready to go… right?
Not so fast. You missed one very important element; how do you get people to come?
There are the basic, tried and true ways to do this. I’m sure many of you have used the standard ways to publicize your event to your congregation. Just to name a few:
– Bulletin announcement.
– Bulletin inserts.
– Pulpit announcement (a very popular one at the church I worked at!).
– Sending announcements with children to take home.
– Posters placed throughout the church.
– Video ads before and after services.
Do these sound familiar? The list above includes great (and inexpensive!) ways to promote any event you plan. It taps into a Ready Made Audience that has already bought into your ministry and will most likely be excited to attend your event. However, what about those people on the fringes: the ones who attend your church but aren’t too sure they want to get involved; the ones who only attend church once a month and might miss the announcements during the occasional visit; or the ones who don’t attend your church (or any church) at all. How do you reach them with the news of your coming event? Here are some suggestions on how you can make an impact with your promotions.
Make it personal
Think back to a time when you were looking for a new church. What made the biggest impact on you in your decision? Was it the amazing decor? The well designed bulletin? Or was it the people that made you feel welcome and at home? Most likely it was the people that helped you make that decision. It’s the same with church events: people are more likely to attend if they feel welcomed and wanted. But how do you do that? Here are a few ways to help give your promotions the personal touch:
1. A personal, face-to-face invite from you and your staff. Before you panic, I’m not saying you need to personally go to each person in your church or community and invite them to an event – there just isn’t enough time to do that! Instead, greet people as you are walking down the hall/parking lot/etc and mention you would love to see them at the event. It may seem like these short encounters wouldn’t amount to much, but a face-to-face encounter goes a long way. They feel like you cared enough to personally talk to them and that can be a turning point for many.
2. Make use of your Ready Made Audience. Remember the ready made audience I talked about earlier? USE THEM! They are out there meeting people from all walks of life; people that may need the support of a loving church community but are not sure how to find it. Ask your ready made audience (I’ll refer to them as RMA’s from here on out) to pass out 5 event promoting postcards to 5 of their non-church friends/co-workers/extended family. Creating these postcards can be simple (I’ll get into that later) and will include all pertinent information on your event. Even the shyest RMA would be able to do that – it’s non-threatening and takes little of their time.
3. A handwritten note. Writing a personal note can be time consuming, but it doesn’t have to be utilized all the time. Send someone a short note saying you are praying for them and mention you would love to see them at your next event. Ultimately it’s not so much about the event; it is about how to get people involved in a caring and supportive community. Show them that you care and that gives them an incentive to get involved. Most importantly, be sure and pray for them. The note won’t mean anything if you don’t follow through on your words.
Designing a Postcard
As I mentioned above, postcards are a simple, inexpensive, and non-threatening way to publicize your event. Most churches do not have a communications team, so the creation and design will fall to you or a volunteer. Below are some simple guidelines that will help you create a document that people will actually read!
– Don’t try to pack a million graphics on the page – a few well place pictures or graphics will make it personal without overwhelming your reader.
– Use fewer words! The majority of your audience does not want to read paragraphs of text. Just give them the basic info.
– Make it easy to read by using headers, bulleted lists, etc.
– Make it interesting enough that people will show their friends. (example: “Pie so good it will melt in your mouth – don’t miss the pie social next Sunday!”)
– Leave them wanting more. The point is for people to check out your event. So make sure they want more: either they need to know more information or it’s so cool they have to check it out.
– Make sure you show your postcard to someone else and get some feedback. Can they understand what you are saying? Is all the pertinent information listed (ie. place, time, etc)? An outside perspective can do wonders.
Viral/Word of Mouth Marketing
I’m sure you have all heard about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and so on. You may have even heard the word “viral marketing.” But what do all these mean and how can they get the word out about an event?
You’ve probably heard the story of Susan Boyle, the singer who wowed the judges and audience on Britain’s Got Talent television show in 2009. Hours after her performance, the video of her performance was posted on YouTube. People told their friends about it and more people started watching it. I found out about it on Facebook and twitter, where nearly all my friends were posting links to share this amazing video. I then told everyone at work, as I’m sure did many others. Within days it was the most watched video on YouTube and a worldwide star was born. That is viral marketing – people retelling a story or event. It’s an effective, low-cost way to reach a lot of people very quickly, with little effort.
Now, how do you use viral marketing to spread the word? Setting up an account and getting friends/follower’s on a social network or sending an email is easy and free. The hard part is how to craft the message that will grab your friends/follower’s attention, a message that will also be passed on to their friends/followers. (Remember the RMA’s I mentioned above – use them to spread the word with their social networking contacts as well!). Here are a few simple rules to help:
Sidenote: Not sure what social network/media is or how to use it? Check out this websitefor a good overview – it includes some great videos!
1. Make it emotional
Why was everyone so excited about Susan Boyle? Here was a woman who was laughed at when she first walked on the stage. Yet when she began to sing, everyone’s perception of her changed. She was the underdog who succeeded and most people can relate to that emotion. The more intense someone’s response is to your message, the more likely people will be to talk about it. “Picnic Next Sunday” does not elicit an emotional response. Instead say this, “Pie so good it will melt in your mouth – don’t miss the pie social next Sunday!” One line like that on Facebook or Twitter will get people talking!
2. Provide an essential service
If you want your message to go viral, give people something to say that feels like they’re providing a service to the person their passing it to. “Bible study starts next week” has no urgency and sounds pretty boring. Would you want to tell anyone about this Bible study? It’s doubtful. Instead, you could say “What does God’s word mean for your life today? Find out Saturday.” By passing on this information, people feel like they are providing an important message that could help a friend or acquaintance. This is a message that most would be willing to spread.
3. “Remember this” triggers
Triggers are environmental reminders that cause people to recall your message and nudge them to do something about it. Those yellow Livestrong bracelets? A perfect example. Lance Armstrong uses the bracelets to raise awareness about his organization and it works! Who hasn’t seen one and knew exactly what it meant. It doesn’t have to be something big like those yellow bracelets to attract attention – use the same graphic, wording, etc. and that will get the point across. The key thing is to make it memorable!
Getting people talking is what the church is all about. The Great Commission is based around spreading the word and creating buzz. While creating buzz with publicity is an important aspect to all your events, ultimately it’s about reaching out and connecting to the people who come to your events. And that I leave in the hands of you all who minister each day to the children and families in your church. Blessings to you all for your hardwork and sacrifice!
Pam Burton was the Communications Director at INCM. Prior to this role, she was a Communications Specialist at Colorado Community Church in Denver, CO. Before that, Pam worked at Focus on the Family in the broadcast division and at the United States Olympic Committee media division. On most weekends you can find her hiking, mountain biking, or camping in the beautiful mountains of Colorado.