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Member News: C.C. Eship / NACCE Journal Fall/Winter 2010

Marketing on a Shoestring Part Three: Events as a Promotional Tool – Best Practices

Wednesday, November 3, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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By Melissa Crawford
Director of the Scheinfeld Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation
Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, CA

The single most powerful marketing tool for the Scheinfeld Center has been our Enlightened Entrepreneurship Series. This program helps build awareness of our existence and captures the attention of students and faculty and local small business owners. Securing prominent speakers has helped us establish ourselves rather quickly in the community. After only our third speaker, one college benefactor expressed, "You now have a reputable speakers series!”

Follow these steps to help build awareness of your program or center through events:

1. Create an event to complement other entrepreneurial activities in your community.

Brainstorm with your staff and colleagues about what kind of event will serve your program and community best. We have so many organizations that host entrepreneurial events and speakers in our community that it was tough to find our own niche. We decided not to compete with other organizations, and to instead gain their support by offering complementary speakers. A speaker series that extracts the entrepreneur’s "in-depth story” and give students unprecedented Q&A access to highly successful entrepreneurs serves our college and community best. Also, I honestly do not have the time to be an event planner, so I only do one event in the fall and one in the spring. This seems very manageable.

2. Tap into your local entrepreneurial community.

I have yet to pay a speaker fee. I have been able to hook speakers by convincing them that it is the duty of local entrepreneurs to give back to the community by sharing an evening with community college students. This keeps our event costs to almost nothing. Our local speakers have included Wayne Rosing (former head of Engineering at Google), Pamela Lopker (founder of QAD), and Doug Otto (founder of Deckers Outdoor). Each of these speakers saw the benefit of sharing their experiences with our students, for free.

3. Build a simple event around one speaker.

Most speakers are honored to receive an invitation to speak, especially if we focus the entire event on them. This gives the college an opportunity to extract in-depth material and stories from the entrepreneur. We generally have a two-hour commitment from the entrepreneur, and spend 1.5 hours moderating a conversation with Q&A. At the end is a short networking reception, sometimes with free food!

4. Make your event student centered.

I have to credit the lasting and successful format of our series to our inaugural speaker, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, the well-known retailer. First, he was wholly uninterested in lecturing. He requested a small venue with 150 students or less in attendance, and wanted to do a Q&A format. He had just released his now famous book, Let My People Go Surfing, the Education of a Reluctant Businessman. He was willing to do a book signing. So I built the event around his requests. We had standing room only, and spent an incredible hour listening to his journey from a young and radical rock climber, completely uninterested in formal education, to building a company that blurs the line between work, play and family, and focuses on repairing the planet.

5. Record your event for future marketing.

Creating a library of your events gradually builds credibility and is a very useful marketing tool. Video recordings work best. Upload these to a "Video Library” page on your Web site, create a YouTube channel for your program, and hand out DVDs at tabling events. People can visit the Web site and view the event if they were unable to attend. In addition, we use our local SBCC channel to record the event and then it is broadcast for free on the local TV channel for several months. I am always surprised to hear from random people that they saw my event on TV. We definitely don’t get prime time – but this has proven to be valuable exposure.

6. Use free open source event registration tools.

We use EventBrite. It allows for very user-friendly and easy registration for students and the community, collects e-mail addresses for future marketing, and is free as long as your event is free.

7. Collaborate with other departments.

Our speaker series has received the attention of other departments. For example, when the former head of engineering at Google spoke, he captured the attention of our science and engineering departments. Mr. Rosing is currently building a telescope network with a team of astrophysicists. With my help, the other departments invited him back to speak about his amazing new project. We had an incredible second event, have created internship opportunities and one of our astronomy professors will be doing an externship at Mr. Rosing’s lab.

As you begin to create and offer events, you never know where it may lead. But one thing is certain, you will build awareness of your program.

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