Contrary to what you might think, planning any decent event in the real world now requires both online and offline components for it to be a success. Beyond the tricky physical logistics such as venue, food, and the other seemingly endless details, digital elements such as social media, email marketing, and influencer marketing rightly deserve a central role in your planning processes.
This can make the multifaceted nature of modern event planning very stressful. So, when ReelAbilities approached us again for the third year in a row for help making their 2019 festival a success, we eagerly accepted the challenge of boosting their event online and offline. In fact, through our efforts, we scored ReelAbilities:
- 92,093,385+ earned media impressions
- 130% growth of Instagram followers
- 71% increase in email open rate
- The first-ever sellout of festival events
- 400+ increase in event attendees
How’d we pull it off? You’ll have to read on to find out. But first things first: We needed to start early – and we mean early!
The Key to Event Planning in 2019: Start Early
A bit of background: ReelAbilities is a week-long film and arts festival that celebrates the lives, stories, and talents of people with disabilities in Houston. With a focus on accessibility, diversity, and inclusion, the event showcases the contributions of these individuals and creates opportunities for the attendees to enjoy a range of films, art exhibitions, live music and speakers.
The festival organizers sought across-the-board increases for the entire event, ¬from attendance and participants to the public relations and social media efforts used to bring new attention to the festival.
With that guiding principle in mind, we developed a winning approach that focused on the following three methods.
1. Have You Heard? The Value of PR in Event Planning
The timing of news announcements is no coincidence. They’re strategically announced, to the day, to the hour, and sometimes even to the minute. For ReelAbilities, this meant delivering relevant content at the right time to the right people in the right locations. For example, the event’s co-chairs, Susan Farb-Morris and Dee Dee Dochen, were announced by early November. What better way to celebrate that news than with a kick-off party?!
On November 19, 2018, a diverse assortment of ReelAbilities’ partners and sponsors met at Kirby Collection to celebrate the upcoming film and arts festival. This party was tremendously fun and increased our collective enthusiasm about ReelAbilities, but that wasn’t really the strategic goal. Rather, the party served the double purpose of generating buzz in the media. For those keeping track, this was approximately three months before the actual event.
Throughout the following months, we worked behind-the-scenes to secure additional media coverage. Because we connected with media and influencers before the turn of the new year, by February, ReelAbilities had generated massive media attention, including:
- 45+ articles in print and online publications such as Houston Chronicle and CultureMap
- 5 broadcast segments on KRIV-TV (FOX) and other local stations
- 20 + calendar listings
- 3 radio interviews, including KRBE
Over 92 million impressions later, ReelAbilities wasn’t in the limelight – it was the limelight. The public knew about the upcoming event, and they couldn’t wait.
2. Get in Front of Audiences with Email Marketing
While the media circulated stories about ReelAbilities, we continued to pursue other avenues to reach our audience. One of these strategies included email marketing.
One of the biggest improvements we made that increased the event’s success was overhauling the pre-existing email templates with completely new ones. We created a more personalized customer experience by updating the layout, enhancing the visuals, and strengthening the content of each email. We also optimized the call to action (CTA) with clear directions such as “View the Complete Event Schedule” or “Reserve Free Tickets.” This use of simple, enticing messaging and supportive imagery helped new subscribers access more information more effectively.
ReelAbilities’s email template before
ReelAbilities’s email template after
We then used those templates to craft drip campaigns. Our efforts resulted in a 70% increase in open rates, improved clickthrough rate, and, ultimately, more event tickets purchased!
3. Use Social Media to Support Goals and Drive Ticket Sales Online
To complement our digital marketing revamp, we adopted innovative social media ideas to support ReelAbilities’ goals. We were deliberate in the purpose of each social media platform. For example, we linked all Facebook posts to the ticket sale links on Eventbrite and the ReelAbilities website, and the ReelAbilities Twitter page promoted event details by sharing relevant articles and updates.
However, as one of the fastest-growing social media platforms, Instagram served as the source of much of the public’s engagement with ReelAbilities. In addition to actual posts after events like the kick-off party, we also utilized Instagram’s other features, especially highlights and stories. We placed event updates under ReelAbilities’ highlights and secured cross-promotion from Instagram Story takeovers on the Visit Houston and White Oak Music Hall channels. These efforts reached a combined audience of over 74,000 followers.
One example of ReelAbilities’s takeover of Visit Houston’s social media
Our advanced planning enabled this conscientious approach toward email marketing and social media. With high-level timelines spanning the entire process and more detailed ones that were geared towards specific aspects, we refined opportunities for both what and when content would be shared. This attention was reflected in results that showed higher engagement across all platforms, and, in particular, a 130% increase in Instagram followers.
This dedicated event planning led us all the way up to the start of the festival, but they certainly didn’t stop there.
Event Execution and Next Steps
After working with the media and social media for months, ReelAbilities kicked off on February 12, 2019 with Up Abilities, followed promptly by ReelArt, ReelFilms, and ReelMusic. We stayed involved all week by staffing the activities, which allowed us to livestream footage on Facebook and Instagram. We also continued to make posts, distribute images, and deliver event recaps to the media following each event. And finally, we checked off the last item on our to-do list with a “Thank You” post.
Ultimately, everything we did stemmed directly from a plan that was finalized in October 2018. Therein lies the power of forward-thinking event planning. If you are planning a complicated event – complete with advanced marketing through multiple mediums – you must leave plenty of time to ensure you can address every opportunity and seamlessly resolve problems when they surface.
Thanks to efforts on our part and the organizers of the festival, ReelAbilities experienced its first sell-out of every event. And since ReelAbilities is an annual event, we cannot rest on our laurels. We’re busy planning for ReelAbilities 2020…