When you think about local marketing, what do you picture?

A small business storefront? An ad in the local paper or clever Facebook page? Perhaps you’re thinking of my favorite: the wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube-man?

Regardless of the form it takes, local marketing continues to grow as a tactic for national brands with an estimated $61.2 billion to be spent in 2016 according to forecasts from BIA/Kelsey. One place we know that money will be spent – or at least 20 percent of it according to our State of Local Marketing Report – is at your local county fairs, home shows, sporting events, bridal bashes and auto expos.

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Our State of Local Marketing Report (Oct. 2015), found that local events were among the most used and most effective tactics.

For the second year in a row, our survey ranked local events as a top-three tactic for local marketing from our list of 29 tactics. That’s more than a thousand responses from local marketers saying local events work for them to sell products and services for national brands. Events were also the second-most-used tactic, with 87 percent of local affiliates saying they’ve used them.

Why are local events wildly successful? (HINT: it has nothing to do with wacky inflatable tube men.)

The reasons are myriad, but it boils down to one thing: TRUST. Meeting customers face-to-face in a place of common interest establishes an atmosphere ripe for local marketing. But that doesn’t mean you can just show up at your county fair with a table and some brochures and sales will fall in your lap. Planning a successful event takes careful preparation and execution. Planning thousands of local events across the country takes careful preparation and execution AND a small army. But it can be done. We talked with our event experts led by Local Marketing and Media Manager Joanna Jones to find out how:

I. Get Started Early On Pre-Event Work

Events work. But they’re also a lot of work if you want to do them right. Start early and follow these tips:

1. Secure Premium Booth Space
Like most things in marketing (and life), the best stuff always comes with a price tag. Such are premium booth locations on an event floor, but you don’t need to blow your budget to get a good spot. Have a sense of urgency about getting the best space you can afford. Work with event vendors early to determine if a spot near the entrance or coveted corner section fits your budget and remember sponsorships for events come with promotional perks beyond the booth (event signage, pre-event media, etc.). At the end of the day, remember that the event planners want your money, so ask them about opportunities outside of their standard packages.

2. Don’t Lolli-Gag on Logistics
Do you need electricity? Internet connections? Furniture? Shelter from the weather? These are all questions you need to be asking months before the event, not mere weeks. Here’s a handy chart for event planning by event type and size. Use it as a guide, but reach out to event contacts for specifics to solidify planning details.

Event Size Event Types Plan Ahead by…
Large
(100,000+ people)
State fairs, Taste-of events, Home/Garden/Outdoor shows 8-12 months
Medium
(25,000 – 100,000 people)
Most county fairs, Auto expos, Rodeos, Music fests, Bridal shows, Sporting and health shows 3-6 months
Small
(< 25,000 people)
Community events, Street festivals, Art/Culture fairs, smaller county fairs 1-3 months

3. Embrace the Event Theme
With only spectacular exceptions, consumers DO NOT attend events just to visit your booth. (Sorry, but it’s better you hear it from us now.) To change that dynamic, connect with event-goers by highlighting something you have in common. Attending a rodeo event? Dust off that old cowboy hat or dress up your booth with a saddle. Trying to attract customers at a food show? Have food samples – even if you’re not in the business of selling food – or partner with a local celebrity Chef. Fitting in means appealing to customers’ interests, so put embarrassment aside and get creative. Just don’t overdo it by being unprofessional (see #4 below).

4. Staff Up to Sell
To move beyond marketing and truly drive sales at an event, you need to plan for it. Rotate a staff of people every 2-3 hours throughout the event so that they’re fresh and ready to sell. Ensure sales staffers are prepped on your latest product/service and appear professional – from a welcoming smile to an earnest handshake. These staffers should embrace the theme of the event, but also represent your brand. At a holiday event, wearing a Santa Hat – as opposed to a full Santa suit – would be plenty.  Back at the rodeo? Make cowboys and cowgirls your sales staffers, but leave the rodeo clown makeup in your saddle bag.

II. Setup For Success At the Event

Event Show Floor examplesPlanning only gets you so far. To execute flawlessly, pay attention to these details:

1. Create a Welcoming Space
The best booths are an experience that event-goers remember. But it doesn’t have to be so confusing that people don’t understand it. An open booth environment works best. It’s inviting. Oftentimes having a place to sit down is enticement enough. Or consider a quick contest that ties your brand back to the event theme (can my rodeo folks say “lasso contest”?). For some events, simply chatting with those passing by is enough. Mobile device down, smile up and say “hello.”

2. Test Your Sales Tools
Depending on the size of the event, take a few days or a few hours before it opens to run a last minute test on any sales tools you’ll need. Electronics, internet connections, contests – whatever needs to work when a customer walks up should work now. This is your “final check” of logistics in item #2 above. Also, be sure to arrive at the event early and know who the onsite event contact is to help out with anything that goes awry.

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Data from our SOLMR shows that local affiliates are integrating local events with other promotional channels.

3. Takeaways and Giveaways
Tchotchkes are king at events and represent another opportunity for you to tie your branding with the local event theme. But think beyond “trinkets and trash” to provide something that relates to your brand promise. Can you represent your product or service with a small giveaway item? Are you giving something that is valuable enough to ask for customer contact information in exchange? Is there a way to tie in social media via a Facebook contest or Instagram photo booth? What makes sense for your business, industry and the event? Answer these questions before you emblazon your logo on 500 Frisbees you’ll later find on the ground.

4. Don’t Forget Day-Of Promotion
A Kevin Costner mentality from Field of Dreams will not hack it for local events unless you’ve got Costner himself helping you promote. In other words, just because you built a fantastic booth space doesn’t mean customers will magically appear. You need to market your booth at the event, specifically appealing to show attendees. Integrate with local media outlets and promote via your own channels (social media, website, store signage, etc.). Event sponsorships usually include signage, program mentions and other promotions too, but don’t be afraid to bootstrap. Have branded staffers walk the event or hold “events within events” to gather attention at peak times. Also, nail down the earlier items on this list to create a fun atmosphere and your booth will promote itself.

If it seems like there are a lot of details that go into event planning, it’s because there are. But it’s also one of the only opportunities to earn face-to-face time with customers in an atmosphere ripe for making the sale — which is exactly what we’re going to cover in part two of this post:

III. Attracting Visitors with Booth Activity
IV. Closing That Customer Deal

That pretty much covers pre-event preparation – is there anything we missed? Let Us know in the comments below.

Lastly, special thanks to Joanna Jones, Ellen Snyder and Marissa Longo for sharing their wisdom with us for this post.