How to Create A Community Event On A Budget

As professionals in the field of communications and marketing, we are often expected to do the impossible — make something amazing happen out of nothing. A number of our clients understand the importance of having a communications professional on their team, but do not necessarily understand what their jobs entail.

I often hear statements like these:

“I need a marketing professional. Someone who can go out and get the word out about me and/or my brand.”

O.K… so you need advertisement?

“I’m really looking for someone who can do my marketing. I want people to understand the value of my business/brand.”

So, a public relations guru might fit the picture.

“Can you make me/my brand memorable? What can I give my customers that will remind them of me and my work?”

Sounds like a marketing PRO could fit the bill.

What do all of these fancy titles and job descriptions have in common? Well, for starters, they need some form of capital to get the job done.

A strong communications professional can pull together skills from multiple practices including public relations, marketing, advertising and journalism to make a brand stand out. However, one thing potential clients seem to forget is that it takes money to get someone who can do the job but it takes more money to get the job done. That can leave the client, especially start ups and new businesses, with a tight budget when it comes time to make things happen.

I’ve put together events and campaigns with the strongest of obstacles. The obstacle that can be the most obstructive is working with a client that has little to no budget at all, but expects to see physical and tangible results. More often than not, I’d tell you to find a new client. In most cases, a smart communicator is able to sense if something is worth building from the foundation. Sometimes the project is worth the challenge, even if it feels close to impossible.

I’ve found that one of the most creative ways to bring about brand awareness and attention at a grassroots level is through community events. After running into a few of the most challenging scenarios, I have figured out a rhythm to make a memorable event happen with as little as $100.

  1. Research — This is the most tedious process. You want to research EVERYTHING. Look up everything you can about the community. Where are people getting their information? Where are they gathering? What activities are important and/or missing and necessary in the community? What void needs to be filled? Who are the major players? What dates are open and avoid conflict with community events or holidays? Make a list of everyone you think could be involved in one way or another, and call each one of them.
  2. Location — Find a location that is cost effective. If you have a storefront, consider using your location. You can maybe consider throwing a party in the parking lot! Just make sure you check with your landlord before setting up the dates. If you do not have a set location, consider a public space like a park or community center.
  3. Set the Date — Pick a date at least four to six months in advance. Give yourself ample room to weed out any conflicts or to handle any other issues that may arise. Plus, this gives people (participants and the public) enough time to clear their own calendars. Less conflict will likely save you money in the process.
  4. Cross Market — This is where you invite your key players. Consider partnering with complimentary businesses and organizations to help raise the awareness of your event. Leverage the opportunity for promotion and community engagement for things like sponsorship (monetary or in-kind), cross market promotion and even items or materials to share the overhead costs of the events. Make participants responsible for their own set-up — tables, chairs, presentations and materials — in exchange for things like booth space, lunch and free advertisement. Get meals covered by involving a local food vendor who could use the extra promo!
  5. Clear codes and check with the city/county — Make sure you’ve got all of your permits. Some municipalities require at least 21 days to process paperwork. So have your vendor list ready, a map of the location, the date, and any other requests like street signage permits.
  6. Promote…For Free — Here is where you can really get creative. Street signage is cheap and easy to do. You can buy blank signs at a store and get artsy with some paint or stencils. This will help drive public street traffic. Also, make sure to send press releases and media alerts in advance to all the surrounding outlets and journalists. Social media is a cost effective tool that has a high reach for almost zero investment. Posting flyers and information in groups and/or advertising to the community can help increase involvement.
  7. Get Thrifty — When it comes to the decorations and the details, you can set the bar really high even if your budget is really low. For community events, you can get balloons, table cloths, table decorations, and tents all for really low prices at stores like WalMart or Big Lots. Stores like Costco love community involvement opportunities, and will often offer snacks and drinks or even cash cards in exchange for some promo opportunities! Grab a couple of speakers and put on your favorite playlist and get the party started!

The most important part is the energy you bring to the event. Your client, the participants, and the community all want to feel the excitement and engagement you bring the table. At the end of it all, the energy will make or break the event, not the budget. Don’t let lack of capital hold you back from making a mark on the community. Get out there and make it happen!

Written by 

Jessica Rafaeil is a P.R. and Branding Specialist that loves working with young artists, entertainers and entrepreneurs.

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