Anatomy of event marketing and PR

1955 Chris Craft Whitefish Montana Woody Weekend classic wooden boat show anatomy of event marketing and PR example
That Montana "Big Sky" view from a classic wooden boat on Whitefish Lake (all photos courtesy Leslie McLellan)

Does your event marketing feel a bit stale? Let’s help with some back-to-basics tips as we examine the basic anatomy of event marketing. Don’t worry; no bodies were harmed in the creation of this post . . .

Has your event marketing become stale? Are you picking up the pieces of someone else’s event marketing efforts?

In this post, we’ll dissect event marketing and how to breathe new life into an established event.

For twenty years, Leslie worked with the Antique and Classic Boat Society in Southern California on their annual Antique and Classic Wooden Boat Show. When she moved to Whitefish, Montana, she was delighted to find that the same national organization had a chapter there, too, and held a classic wooden boat show weekend.

After attending the event for 2 years, she volunteered to help with marketing for this year’s Whitefish Woody Weekend.

Whitefish Woody Weekend is held at the Lodge at Whitefish Lake and has been primarily a time for classic wooden boat owners to gather and showcase their boats.

In Southern California, the 2-day event brought in thousands of tourists, willing to pay $5 per person for the opportunity to stroll the docks and look at the boats.

In contrast, the Whitefish event is free, and boats are available for viewing just on Saturday.

The following is a detailed breakdown of what Leslie did to enhance the marketing of the Whitefish event this year, and the results of her efforts. We hope this helps you with events you are promoting.


Awareness vs. Attendance:
What is Your Goal?
How Will You Measure Success?


Since this event is free, the goal was not to make money via attendance, but for Whitefish Woody Weekend to cement itself as one of the “cornerstone” events for the community.

Having 10 years under its belt, you would think that the local community would know all about it. However, that just wasn’t the case. Leslie needed to increase awareness not just locally, but also regionally. The idea of publicizing the event to a wider audience so people from other destinations could come to the area for the weekend and enjoy the event was apparently not something that had been considered.

If you’re having an event, why not try to fill up all the lodging in the area with people excited to take part in the event?

Related post – How to market events with a short lead time 

Jumping ahead a bit, the goal of increasing awareness was achieved to some degree, as shortly before the Whitefish Woody Weekend the event won 3rd place as best community event in Whitefish. This was the first time the event was nominated, so it was exciting to see the awareness aspect of the marketing was working.

Takeaway: Nail down your event goal, be realistic about it, and measure whether you’re getting there or not.

With the awareness goal in mind, Leslie gathered the media contacts that had been used in the past, but then built out and broadened the list.

It’s always worthwhile to do some Googling and research the media in the area by category (print, radio, TV) – in this case in Northwest Montana – and see what comes up. By doing this, the media list nearly tripled.

Also, it’s important to remember that you need to keep regional and state DMO’s in the loop and help them help you!

Takeaway: Is your media list outdated and stale? A LOT of people have changed jobs in recent years. Do the legwork to ensure that you have the right contact information.


Be An Active Participant


Attend all committee meetings.

Event committees generally meet monthly, and for you to be on top of all developments and to be part of the “team” you need to always attend the meetings.

Who knows, you might have some input/ideas that others have not thought about.

Takeaway: Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is to consistently show up and be helpful. Basic, but true.

Whitefish Montana Woody Weekend wooden boat viewing at docks
Whitefish MT Woody Weekend docks were full of participants and visitors admiring the beautifully-crafted boats.

Save the Date Release Came First


Sending out a general “save the date” press release with actual verbiage that could be copied and pasted into calendar listings was the first thing to do.

Make it as easy as possible for recipients to list and promote the event.

** In this press release, we stated that we needed help with media coverage or promoting this event BEFORE the event. We asked for help not day of, or follow up after it was over, but a few weeks before and then again a few days before the event.

We sent this out 5 months in advance.

If the event or organizers have a website, set up one event landing page or blog post to be the primary digital home for event information, and put that URL in the news release.

Takeaway: Get on people’s calendars early, get their attention early, get at least the basic digital support structure set up early.


Key to the Anatomy of Event Marketing: Get Social Media Rolling


If an event you’re promoting has a social media presence, start promoting and building anticipation ASAP. If there are no social media accounts specifically for the event, you can certainly get event partners, DMO’s, regional, and state people to post it on their social media, websites, calendars, etc.

This particular event has a Facebook Page which had been mostly inactive, so posts were put up weekly starting shortly after the initial “save the date” release went out, in order to build interest.

There was a problem though, and one we talk about frequently . . . someone inexperienced with Facebook marketing is in charge of the Page.

Leslie did not have access to the account, so her workaround was to email posts and photos to the individual who did have access.

She asked for the posts to go up at specific times and days, along with tagging the resort where the event was taking place. She had zero luck in accomplishing those tasks and posts were posted late at night, no tagging, etc.

Note to self – don’t let that happen again!

Get at least temporary access to the social platform(s) you need to use for marketing, and a small budget for social advertising if possible. Even US$50-$100 can go a long way if carefully targeted.

Regardless, the posts that were published were certainly better than a dormant Facebook Page, and did tell the story of the variety of boats coming to the show.

Related post – Our top tips: social media for event marketing 

It is a good event marketing practice for a Facebook Page to always also set up a Facebook Event, and to post often within the Event.

Sometimes Events can be more effective in getting your event noticed than the FB Page posts themselves, because people indicate that they are Interested or Going; Facebook’s algorithm shows that to additional people, and it shows people events that their friends are attending.

Don’t forget that there are LinkedIn Events you can set up as well, if that makes sense for your goals and event audience.

If you have additional social platforms like Instagram (where hashtags are still effective – they are not particularly effective on Facebook) then pick ONE event hashtag, stick with it, put it in the account bio, and USE it yourself.

Put the event hashtag on the website, and on print materials and signage, too.

Takeaway: Remember our marketing mantra – who is your audience, and where do they spend time on social media? That is where your event needs to be. Facebook is your obvious first stop, but don’t forget to set up a Facebook Event, too. Pick one event hashtag and use it early and often.

Leslie McLellan Tourism Currents during Whitefish Montana Woody Weekend out on the lake in a classic wooden boat
After all of that hard work on event marketing and PR, Leslie enjoys a ride out on the lake in one of the classic wooden boats that attended Whitefish Woody Weekend.

Six Weeks Before the Event


Organization is key, and with the event having a 10-year track record, the final press release was ready to send out approximately 6 weeks prior to the event. A few last minute changes were made and the release actually went out one month prior, but there was no thrashing around trying to get info, etc. so that was a plus.

The final release painted a picture of the event and again, asked for media coverage and promotion BEFORE the event.

** This “ask” really worked, as most media promoted the event 2 weeks to 10 days prior to the Whitefish Woody Weekend. Without a doubt, more publicity was generated than ever before and the promotion, along with early posting of event fliers and posters around the Valley, raised the awareness of the special boats coming to town.

Highlighted in the final press release was up-to-date information including a breakdown of boats coming from out of state, as well as boats that can be seen on local lakes on any given day.

If possible, it is important to offer something special to the media so they can build a better story.

Exclusive early access, participation in the event, whatever you can think of. In the final news release we offered exclusive wooden boat rides to media, and the largest newspaper in Northwest Montana asked to go out on a boat a couple of weeks before the event, so they could write a story about a local wooden boat owner.

That, to us, was golden.

Another news organization came out during the weekend and interviewed boat owners.

An awesome aspect of the public viewing of the boats on Saturday was that event host The Lodge at Whitefish Lake contracted with a local radio station which broadcasted from the venue and incorporated 60 second interviews with boat owners. They used the final press release to provide details of the show live throughout the day.

NBC Montana also publicized Whitefish Woody Weekend online.

Takeaway: Have a way to track media coverage and promotional efforts. Even a simple spreadsheet will do.


This Year’s Goal (Awareness) Was Met


Not just the local community, but much of Montana’s Flathead Valley (population 100K) and the state knew that Whitefish Woody Weekend was happening.

But did that awareness translate into attendance?

It’s tough to get hard numbers since people didn’t have to register or pay, and there are always some mitigating factors.

This year, weather was a little difficult, as a rainstorm occurred the Friday night of the event. The weather on Saturday morning was unsettled, so the public viewing numbers got off to a slow start, although it was “wall-to-wall people” by later in the afternoon.

Another mitigating factor was other, competing events that were scheduled for the same day.

** In Southern California, Leslie’s Chamber of Commerce kept a community calendar that all organizations checked before they planned an event. It’s tougher to do that in the Flathead Valley, where several communities are all in the mix.

With no paid admission it was harder to track how many people came out to see the classic boats.

If the goal becomes attendance, then use clickers for head counts, or registration, or paid admission, or some way to properly track those numbers.

Takeaway: Decide ahead of time how you will measure attendance. Can you set a ballpark number that you’d consider successful?

Flag and wake on the stern Whitefish Montana Woody Weekend classic wooden boat show

Things to Consider Moving Forward


1) States and regions and provinces think differently and your marketing needs to reflect that.

Southern California is a drive market. Montana, not so much. A two-hour drive to an event is no big deal in SoCal, but it doesn’t seem to be too popular in Montana from what Leslie’s seen so far.

Early paid advertising could help people plan for a weekend getaway in the future and bring more overnight stays to the Flathead Valley, but a two-hour drive one way for a one day event is a little much to ask.

2) There really was no paid advertising in this year’s marketing plan. If the event would like to grow in attendance, paid advertising online would be important.

Growing the attendance is another discussion though, as dock space is limited and the show is really only open to the public for one day.

Always ask, and be both honest and realistic – what are your goals for the event?

3) Whoever is handling the marketing needs to have access to any social media accounts or Pages. That is a must.

We didn’t even mention an email list, because that was not an available tool for Leslie with this event, but obviously if you have the emails of people who have attended in the past, that can be VERY helpful because they are probably open to coming back.

4) For next year the planning committee should look at making personal contacts with the television stations.

Leslie was used to working with Los Angeles media personalities. Montana stations are quite different and many use interns as points of contact. Hopefully television stations will play a larger role in next years’ promotion.

With summer in full swing, the Whitefish Woody Weekend committee has not yet had their wrap-up meeting. From a marketing standpoint, the goal was met and a new bar was set.

When the wrap-up meeting occurs, if there are other ideas discussed about the promotion of the event, we’ll come back and update!

Do you have event marketing successes to share? What works for you and what would you do differently in hindsight? Let us know in the comments.


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