Capturing media attention is a vital component to most organizations’ event marketing plans, and associations are no exception. To gain an edge and to help position themselves in the public eye, many association meeting planners have turned to integrating unique public relations approaches to get the attention an event deserves.
Luis Antezana, president of the Seattle chapter of the American Advertising Federation and co-founder of the Seattle Creative League, says associations exist in the perception of their audience — they don’t have a physical product or a storefront that’s in front of people — so a big priority for them is to find ways to win attention. One of the best ways is through the media, which still serves as the primary conduit for public awareness. “It’s easy for an organization to get myopic in its consideration of messaging platforms, especially with as many as are available, like social media and email,” Antezana says. “But an organization’s owned media are only part of the communications spectrum. They must strategize and allocate resources for earned media, too, including media outlets.”
Karen Shackman, president/ owner at Shackman Associates New York, worked with an international auto association in New York that worked hard to get media attention for the association’s event. In this case, the auto association piggybacked on an outside event to garner media attention. “If you already have media on the ground at the meeting destination, it makes it exponentially easier to get media coverage,” Shackman says. “And with an international association, it is also likely that members of the group can be seamlessly matched with media outlets that have specific language requirements.”
So why is gaining media attention so vital? Quite simply, media attention is a means of sharing an association’s story over time and generating credibility. As Peter Panepento, co-founder of Turn-Two Communications, explains, news coverage can be incredibly valuable for associations that are looking to build their reputations as thought leaders, influence public opinion on an important issue, get their voices heard by lawmakers or are simply looking to build higher awareness among potential members.
“Because of this, it’s important to think about pursuing coverage for events with an eye toward the future,” Panepento says. “In most cases, the goal shouldn’t be simply to promote that event. Instead, an association should be looking to show key audiences that the organization provides valuable knowledge, information or connections.”
Often event organizers build interest for their events in close connection with ticket sales or sponsorship asks, and that is where they set themselves up for failure. But, as Melissa Forziat, owner of Melissa Forziat Events and Marketing, explains, attendees and sponsors are like any customer in that they want validation of their choice to attend an event, and media attention can provide that. “Customers usually need to have a lot of touch points and validation that they are making a good choice before they buy something,” Forziat says. “An association’s potential attendees or sponsors are deciding if they want to spend money and time on the event over all the other things that they could choose to do. Organizers can make that decision much easier by showing them the value of the event over and over again. Tease them with the story and everything that makes the event unique.”
Indeed, media attention offers validation. It helps share the story of the event, highlighting what makes it worthwhile. “Those who believe in the reputation of the outlet that is reporting on the event will be intrigued by all the inside knowledge,” Forziat says.
If a planner is using social media to garner attention, they can methodically build engagement for social media posts that will also provide that validation. “Associations often think about event promotion as something that ramps up in the weeks before, but if a planner builds a plan to share teasers of the association’s story and seek external validation for it starting months in advance, they will have a much easier time getting attendees to commit,” Forziat says. “For sponsors, associations want to begin that outreach months before they make final budget decisions for the next fiscal year.”
According to writer Beth Ann McCoy, who has worked also in marketing, the key to getting attention — particularly media attention — for any event is to make it newsworthy. One key way for associations to do that is to partner with a celebrity or high-profile figure. This person could be a keynote or session speaker discussing their own experience or interaction with the association’s cause or purpose and how the association or one of its members provided or fulfilled that service or need. “While an association cannot control the final edited media report, they can leverage the ability to promote the event by allowing the media access to the high-profile guest in attendance,” McCoy says. “Above all else, having a good relationship with the media before an association or planner needs them is critical.”
Techniques That Work
Before an association planner even begins to pitch the media, it’s important to think about the overall goals as an organization and think about how the media coverage gained of the event can help accomplish those goals. “Unfortunately, many associations don’t think about their media outreach through this lens,” Panepento says. “Instead of being strategic and forward-looking, they focus on trying to promote the event. And, even when they do that, many associations send out bland, cookie-cutter releases to everyone on their media list.”
If an association really wants to leverage the opportunity being presented at their event, it’s important to think strategically. Have a long-term goal in mind, think about how the event connects with that goal, and then pursue media opportunities that will help achieve this.
As Antezana explains, association meeting planners don’t often dream big enough when it comes to media attention. Planners may be surprised what they can get by being persistent and asking multiple sources multiple times. “If a planner asks in the right day, they just might get their shot,” Antezana says. “Or they might reach out to a planner once they’re in their head and the right opportunity comes along. Just don’t be the one to say ‘No’ for them. Be the one who asks.”
Association meeting planners also don’t always do their homework, which, in this case, would be reaching out to cultivate relationships in the media. Spend some time finding out all the relevant media outlets in television area and beyond — from television to local trade publications, to high traffic online-only publishers who are now significant.
Getting media attention around an association event can be challenging. Obviously, an association will get a longer look from media outlets if they’ve have built a relationship with them. “If the event is one of the many that is put in front of them at the last minute, it may be harder to get their attention and prove why the event is worth covering,” Forziat says.
Build those relationships with the media and let them know what story angles could be relevant for them. Show them why the association’s event is worth reporting. And, Forziat says, above all, make it easy for them to get the coverage they need, whether that means giving them good photo or camera positions, creating opportunity for interviews with VIPs or ensuring that they have access to a clean audio feed.
Also, remember that media attention can be won by being different and noteworthy. Do something unexpected and public that stands out on everyone’s radars. “Reporters love a good story, so be the organization that does things that make for great stories,” Antezana says. “This requires creativity and probably a little risk, but that’s the sign a planner is doing things right. It’s hard to get a story, so even good work can get overlooked on a busy news day, but if a planner makes this behavior a habit, their odds of success increase.”
Shackman says that associations also need to consider releasing real-time feedback to obtain the media attention they are seeking. “I am seeing explosive growth in tools like chatbots that pull in real-time polling and attendee feedback at association conventions that are incredibly valuable to media outlets looking for the very latest in consumer and industry trade trends,” Shackman says. “Advanced onsite tools can provide hyper-local data on the convention floor from key influencers.”
Social Media’s Role
Social media also can play a big role in garnering media attention. In fact, social media is one of the most important platforms for associations to win attention. Being present on social platforms and creating content for people to respond to is the easiest way to win social proof.
“Social media allows people a place to reflect their efforts in real life and online,” Antezana says. “And we all know the value of an endorsement from the general public, much less a known friend, carries tremendous weight. So be present where the audience is and enable them to spread an association’s message, assets and activities.”
When it comes to social media, always remember to share the association’s story. Use social media as the PR platform to build interest and engage with the designated audience, and draw people to the social media page by creating partnerships with other pages and influencers. Visit other people’s pages and engage there. “This is how engagement builds and planners can start to prove that validation to potential attendees,” Forziat says. “Relationship building is what a planner wants to do for the event and, if they use social media with a long-term generous approach, they will see the interest build.”
Also, Forziat advises that planners approach the social media influencers who have the audience’s attention. This could include bloggers or people who have developed a following among the target audience on any social media platform. “We’ve recently had success partnering with media organizations to livestream conference sessions and keynotes. This gives the media organization some skin in the game, since it is hoping to draw viewers to watch the livestream on its website,” Forziat says. So, you can be sure that it will promote the stream — and your event — pretty aggressively. It also helps position your event in front of people who aren’t already there. If they like what they see and hear, they are more likely to want to be in the room the next time the association holds a gathering.
Of course, one of the easiest and best techniques to get social media attention is using a professional photographer at an association event and publishing an album of photos to Facebook afterward. “People love to tag themselves in beautiful photographs, and Facebook’s social mechanics place these photos in their friends’ feeds, along with the event’s branding and views of all that’s going on, along with that subtle endorsement that what the association produced was worth attending — and sharing,” Antezana says. “Be sure to let the audience know via email and other social platforms the images are available. Then, watch the association’s organic reach explode.”
Most of all, a planner should use their own channels — social media, newsletters, blogs, articles; publications. “Whatever tools a planner has, they should frequently share the story in a way that could build interest and get it picked up by others who have influence,” Forziat says. Let them know what message to share so they can boost the association’s event.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Panepento spent more than 20 years as a reporter and editor, and received countless pitches from associations inviting him to cover their events. In almost every case, the pitches were earnest and the events seemed interesting. But, in almost every case, he had to say “No.”
“Sometimes, my reasons for turning down the pitch were simple logistics,” Panepento says. “But, usually, I would turn down the request because the pitch didn’t sell the event as something that was worth my time. While the events were big deals to the organizations that were staging them, they simply didn’t have a juicy enough angle for me to feel confident that I would walk away with a story that was strong enough to make the pages of my newspaper.”
To get the attention of reporters, Panepento says the event needs to provide them with enough of a news hook to justify taking time away from pursuing other stories to be there. They need to be assured that, if they choose to attend, they will come away with a strong story.
Sadly, as Panepento says, most communications pros who are promoting events don’t take the time to find strong story angles before they make their pitch to the media. They take the easy step of sending a news release announcing their event — and they are disappointed when those pitches are ignored.
“The good news is that reporters actually like to cover events that come with a ready-made news hook,” Panepento says. “The stories themselves are easy to report.” But, with so many events on the calendar, an association needs to take the time to sell them on why their event will help them tell an interesting and newsworthy story.
To be successful, it’s important to be targeted in the media approach being used. Figure out which reporters are wanted at the event, learn about what they are interested in, and tailor invitations and pitches to their interests.
“If you’re using a spray-and-pray technique — spraying a generic news release at every reporter and editor you can find and praying that they come — the planner is probably not hitting the mark,” Panepento says.
Another mistake relates to timing. Some meeting planners wait until the last minute to inform the media about their events. A better approach is to reach out to them well ahead of the event, talk to them about who will be there and what will be happening, and see what interests them. “By taking this approach, an association stands a better chance at helping them identify an angle or an interview that will get them to show up,” Panepento says.
Down the Road
It’s no secret that the media world is changing — and has been changing quite a bit since the internet became a part of our lives more than 20 years ago.
Some of these changes are great for associations. “Today, the media isn’t just newspapers, a handful of TV stations and the radio. It includes blogs, internet publications, YouTube and social media,” Panepento says. “An association has more opportunities than ever to reach specialized audiences and they can be very creative in building partnerships and pursuing coverage.”
An association and its meeting planners also have the opportunity to be their own media operation. They can enlist attendees and speakers to serve as guest bloggers and videographers who can chronicle the events and provide perspectives and insights that add value to the event itself.
“It’s tougher and tougher to get media attention with all the options they have,” Antezana says. “The payoff is big when it happens but many organizations won’t appreciate the effort it takes, or can’t afford the time. This is great news for associations who persist as competition drops. A decreasing number of viewers may sound like a reason to de-emphasize media attention efforts, but nothing reaches as many people in one place.” AC&F