Publishers who don’t produce their own events risk allowing competitors to enter the market and capture that revenue.
The competition is other events and other activities
Unlike a publishers’ news business, the competition for events in most cases is not coming from another news organization. It’s other events, and scarcity of time.
Think about it from the perspective of a possible attendee. People have many demands on their time, including work, school, sleep, commuting, religious obligations, errands or other things that just need getting done.
When the Bakersfield Californian hosted its cooking school event on a Saturday afternoon instead of its traditional Tuesday evening time slot, for example, it created an immediate problem for potential attendees. It had to compete against other demands on people’s weekend time.
News organizations doing events compete against a far larger competitive cohort, including local civic institutions, schools, private events companies, churches and more.
Moreover, attendees only have a certain “budget” of time that can be spent going to events. This time budget pits “going to events” against all the things that person is interested in and wants to accomplish. As such, value and convenience of an event must be apparent.
People making decisions about their time budget likely care about whether the event looks like it will really benefit them, then if price is right and if it fits into their schedule. Utility should come first. Importantly, the company’s priorities aren’t the deciding factor.
Defend turf, and advertising dollars
A similar competition exists for sponsors and advertisers.
To many businesses, it doesn’t matter who organizes an event, as long as it helps them reach whom they want. One result is that publishers are competing for sponsorship and advertising dollars against anyone who puts on events.
A number of news publishers we spoke to who do events argue that preventing businesses from spending money with other organizations is an important part of an events strategy.
For example, publishers shouldn’t want a traveling trade show to swoop into town and take money that could be spent on its own products and services.
Taylor, formerly of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, abhors these traveling shows. He has called them all sorts of names, among them “interlopers.” Why should his paper let a group come into town, get people to spend money with them, and then walk right out with the town’s money?
Take, for example, Taylor and his staff’s defense against the Southern Women’s Show. Southern Shows, the organization that runs the event, is just one of many traveling event groups. Taylor and his team devised an event to combat it.
The team put together an expo for women called “She.” By doing its own event for women — and doing a better job at it, Taylor would say — the Times Free Press gets to keep the small businesses’ money local. The town likes that. It also gets to keep the money in its own pockets. The publication likes that.
The expo approach is replicable. Over the years, the format has become a standard for the Times Free Press — it has numerous targeted expo events for women, brides, kids, seniors, Christmas and more, practically anything that comes in trade show form. Their newest addition in 2014 will be an expo targeted at men, with attractions including a NASCAR simulator, golf simulator, chainsaw woodcarving, whiskey & cigar lounge, climbing wall, fitness obstacle course, lawn mower racing, live music, beer, food, video game truck, eating contest, man cave, that squirrel that skis, Titans cheerleaders, and intertwined, all the sponsors who want to sell to that demographic.
Other publishers find success in expos that mimic traveling group shows, too. For over 17 years, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock has produced a bridal expo for the region. In recent years, its Arkansas Bridal Community product has grown from one show a year to five. Some 150 active businesses may be involved in one event.
Some publishers may think such expo events too large, too removed from news and too hard to do. But, importantly, expo events seem to bring out businesses who wouldn’t spend money with the paper otherwise. In-person marketing matters to many small businesses, many of which struggle with initial foot-traffic and may not thrive online. Positioning themselves in a setting with large foot traffic, allowing for that first “hook,” can be a major selling point.
[pullquote align=”center”]Expo events seem to bring out businesses who wouldn’t spend money with the paper otherwise.[/pullquote]
And again, if a publisher doesn’t provide this opportunity, someone else might.
“Advertisers will advertise [through events] outside of the newspaper, so why not create that event for them?” said Tabitha Cunningham, Democrat-Gazette promotions, events and sponsorships manager, to Editor & Publisher. “Don’t have your advertisers go outside of the company. Instead, reach for new platforms [like events].”
The Times Free Press also usually sells other advertising along with event items like booths. To a business, the packages are alluring. The bundle creates multiple touch-points for reaching desired demographic groups, the cherry-on-top being in-person contact.
To the paper, it’s another possible entry point to further advertising. If a sponsor who just wanted a booth also gets a print ad and then sees response from a print ad, that sponsor may be more willing to advertise with the paper outside the context of events.
When necessary, the Times Free Press defends its turf strongly. The paper had one such encounter with a traveling bridal show that was popular in the Chattanooga area and the South in general. Bridal shows are very common events nationwide. The Times Free Press had recently created a bridal event, so it went all out on drawing attention to its event over the others.
The news organization spent money to bring in a celebrity from The Bachelor and to promote the event, which had to be scheduled two weeks after the opposing traveling show. It hired good-looking men, put them in tuxedos and had them line up along the sidewalk outside the exit of the traveling bride show. Each “bachelor” handed a rose, a la The Bachelor, to a woman as she exited the traveling show. The rose had info about the Times Free Press’ show and the men encouraged them to come.
The traveling show staff was upset, but the actors hired by the paper were in a public space.
The competition, however, went over really well with the brides to be. The newspaper’s bridal show is now arguably the most popular one in town.
Cunningham of the Democrat-Gazette says a news publisher’s leg up over the traveling show is the brand. “Readers trust our brand in the market,” she said to Editor & Publisher. “Others have tried to come in and do their own show—some from out of state—but we live here, and we’re fully engaged with our vendors and their success.”
Force other publications to write about you
Publishers can also use events to get its news competitors writing about its products and offerings.
If a publication owns the conversation with a debate or panel of newsmakers on a particular topic, writers from other outlets will be there. If news breaks, they will write about the news, and the event.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press received significant outside coverage when it hosted an event in 2009 on high school sports with Olympic champion Michael Phelps as the keynote. Staff booked Phelps, seen as a role model for youth, before the story broke about a photo of him inhaling marijuana from a pipe. That news resulted in sponsorship loss for Phelps. But Phelps kept his commitment to the event, and he was able to discuss the news with the high school students. Other local media wrote about the event and what Phelps said, including Local 8 Now in nearby Knoxville.
Another technique to ensure a publication is embedded in an event is signage. Publishers can place a step-and-repeat with the publication’s logo behind where any speakers or newsmakers might get photographed or video recorded. This helps get more logo exposure in photos and videos, similar to how award shows sneak in their logo on the red carpet, or politicians sneak in their logo while out on the campaign trail.
If event space is limited but video-streaming functionality can be implemented, publishers can keep out competing reporters and direct them to follow the online video. In the process, publishers create a more “exclusive” environment at their event.