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Go all-in on event promotions

Event promotion, internally and externally, is vital to event success and growth as a significant source of revenue.

Ultimately, for most events to work, we heard consistently that publishers need to do two things 1) get as many people to know about the event as possible, and 2) get full newsroom support. Organizational structure and culture matter in order to accomplish each.

Make events part of your publication DNA

Some organizations such as The Washington Post or The Atlantic will put on numerous events, but unless an outsider looks closely, he or she may miss it.

Successful small- to mid-size publications who see success in revenue-generating events place a primacy on the role of events as part of the overall brand. The Texas Tribune considers events a core part of its mission. It’s one of two things they do:

“Second, we present on-the-record, open-to-the-public events . . . The point here is that the in-person experience is itself a distribution platform, and once the event is over, the audio and video of what took place becomes content of its own.”

Or, as Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune likes to put it, “Events are journalism.”

The mindset is very much similar at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, which promotes events wherever it can, whenever appropriate. In additions to the special sections it prints for every expo, the news organization takes the hit for full page ads and pushes creative home-page takeovers promos — including both in-print and digital version of a scalpel “cutting open” a notice of its open heart surgery event.

This may mean some short-term losses, but if it results in meaningful exposure and more attendees, the long-term gain is valuable.

Prioritize company buy-in

To make events part of a publication’s DNA, however, publications need the support of the people whose work you’re looking to sustain. Events as a revenue source — as well as a place for meaningful engagement with readers — depends on the understanding and support of the newsroom.

This can be a difficult task, particularly when editorial and business sides of a publication have minimal interaction together. Time spent together builds empathy, spurs ideas and motivates each side in their respective jobs.

“If you can get your newsroom to buy in, you’ve won,” said Alison Gerber, editor at the Times Free Press.

Gerber has worked with Taylor, then-president of the Times Free Press, to prioritize events as part of the company culture. Part of doing so was involving everyone in some part of the process. Each employee, regardless of role, is required to work at two expo events a year.

“At these events, our titles go out the window,” said Ed Bourn, digital director of the Times Free Press, who like everyone else works two events. Reporters may find stories and engage with the community, but as part of the requirement, everyone helps with various roles to be filled in person, from selling subscriptions down to moving tables.

These aren’t overbearing tasks: it allows them time to engage with the community, meet people from other departments. Sometimes it can feel like a day off, according to Taylor, and some employees have asked to do more of them.

The understanding is strong across the organization — events pay for what they do.

“We’re all in the same boat, paddling in the same direction,” Gerber said.

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