In the days before the internet — this is when the earth was still cooling and bread cost a nickel — telephone poles near intersections and on busy streets were often covered with rusting thumb tacks and the gummy residue of old tape. Why? Because this was where people passed by regularly, which meant that this was an ideal area to get information to those people.
These poles became the holders of cheaply copied signs for garage bands, bake sales and fundraisers, along with the desperate pleas to find lost pets. Some poles held a poster or two, while the prime locations would be so covered with old staples and nails that the surfaces were now more metal than wood. These were the go-to spots for grassroots marketing; when you didn’t have a budget, when you just needed to get information out to a select group of people quickly without cost.
Now there was no way to track how successful this method actually was — few people at the garage sale passed out how did you hear about us, surveys. But the poster-on-a-pole system was easy, it was free, and it was what everybody else was doing.
Now occasionally you will see these telephone poles being used this way today, but they are somewhat rare — you’re more likely to see signs in the grassy parts near stoplights offering to get you out of debt quickly or to buy that old unwanted house, but that’s not the same. The garage band and the yard sale have now moved on to social media.
Social media has become the telephone pole of the internet; a way to get the word out about your stand-up routine at an open mic night, or when the Little League is having a car wash. Why? Because it’s simple, it’s free, and it’s what everybody else is doing.
Now, all of us eventually will need to do some kind of promotion — whether it’s to get the word out about the church’s Easter play, or to help increase membership in the dart league. At some time in our lives, we all need to promote — something. And it’s very easy to think, hey I am never going to do this again, I just want people to know that we are having a chicken barbecue for The Lions Club — so let me put in on Facebook and be done with it.
Yup, you can do that. In fact most people do.
But here is an example.
Next time you are on Facebook, in the search bar type the words WRITERS GROUP. When you do, many Facebook groups will pop up — some from your area, your region, and others will be large country wide groups — some of these will be large groups of 50,000 members or more.
Now if you go on one of these groups, this is what you’ll see. There will first be a description for the group that will say something like — this is the Tralfaz Writers Group. We are dedicated to the craft of writing and of supporting each other develop the skill of storytelling.
Okay, great. Then scroll down and look at the posts. The first one you’ll find will be from a middle aged women showing her face and her book jacket. She will tell you that her book, Vampire School, is now on sale for only .99 on Amazon. The next post will be from a young man talking about his book Space Sylum, and that it’s free all this week with Amazon Prime. The one after that, will be from a college student stating that she is willing to give away a copy of Wispy Danger, to anyone that will give her an online review.
And so on.
And so on.
And so on.
There will be no discussion on prose, or of storytelling, or of crafting a character. In fact, there will be no discussion of writing at all; it will simply be one message over and over, from everyone there — buy my book, buy my book, buy my book. A message that quickly becomes white noise.
But it actually goes beyond that because these people are trying to sell books — to people who are trying to sell books. That’s like going up to people at a bus stop and asking for a ride.
So why do writers to this?
That’s easy. Because it’s simple, it’s free, and it’s what everybody else is doing.
It’s like the old joke where a man sees another man under a street light looking for his lost watch. “Where did you lose it?” the man asked.
“Oh, I lost it way over in that alley. But the light is better here.”
We tend to promote, the way that is easiest — even if the results will be affected.
And when it comes to events, the irony of social media is that it’s great to get information out quickly, but it’s more difficult to track a call to action that involves attendance.
You could have 400 people commit on your Facebook Poetry Reading Event, but that doesn’t mean that 400 will show up, because there is no connection. It’s not a commitment; they just clicked YES on a Facebook page.
So what’s the answer?
THE FOUR PROMOTION METHODS THAT WORK EVERY TIME
1. Don’t publicize. Promote.
There are very few things in life that will make you react — just because you know about them. We don’t hear about a new movie coming out and suddenly want to see it — oh, there’s a new movie? Let’s go. No, we need more information; what’s the movie about, who is in it, what type of film is it? The same is true about grassroots events. If there is a yard sale this Saturday, so what. There is a yard sale every Saturday. How big is the yard sale? How close it? How rare are the items? What does this yard sale have that the one closer to my house doesn’t?
Now that’s a yard sale, what about hearing of events you have no connection to. What if there is an Opera coming to town? So what. I know nothing about Opera and have never been to one — and am probably a little intimidated by then — so hearing about an Opera would have no effect on me.
However, if a friend had tickets and asked me to go along, I might. If there was a promotion for people who had never been to the Opera, to get a reduced ticket, maybe. If the Opera Company approached my employer and offered a special rate for us, I might go. If a radio station gave me tickets and then was going to interview me right after and ask what my first experience with Opera was like, yeah. Or if I knew more about the Opera itself, if by going I felt connected to something I wasn’t before, then yeah, I might go.
There was an old phrase in business back when I started thirty years ago. It said, a face to face meeting, is much better than a phone call. That same rule has changed. It’s now — a phone call, is much better than an email.
We are getting further and further away from our customers. Which means that those marketers that do make a direct connection, have a clear advantage.
An example here is, how many times have you seen kids outside of Walmart asking for money for their Little League team or their town basketball team? All the time. Those fundraisers have a low cost and bring in a lot of needed money for the group.
But how many times have those kids or parents — asked you to come watch a game?
Probably never. They most likely just thank you for your donation and move to capture the next person leaving. They have that great opportunity to market directly to you — to tell you about their organization and get you involved — and they pass it by.
Even if they invite you and you never go — you are now connected to them, simply because you were asked.
3. Create an event — to promote the event.
As much as the word stunt can has a negative connotation to it, stand out events work — walk down Broadway in New York anytime and see how many actors in full costumes, hand you a flyer and ask you to come see them later in the show.
At the Sundance Film Festival, there is a VIP and celebrity shuttling service that actually creates an event in the vehicle on the way to the film. These are sponsored by various companies, so on the way to the film, there will be truth or dare questions and winners are given Ray Ban sunglasses as prizes.
Why does it work? People want to experience new things, they want to see something cool and tell people about it.
Don’t believe me? Watch the Macy’s Parade this Thanksgiving. This event has taken this idea to the extreme, in fact the parade itself has become a very small portion of this event — the bulk is dedicated to the promotion of the latest Broadway shows, and singer’s new albums. It’s presented as if it’s all part of the parade, but in reality this is now one long infomercial.
But one area that actually does a very good job with this concept, are County Fairs. If you go to a fair and go in the areas where nonprofit groups display, they will have interactive events, games, contests, all to tell you about what their organizations do but also getting you quickly involved in it.
Having a community theatre event? Get the actors in full costume to the mall and hand out flyers. Having a penny social? Have an event to try and guess how many pennies in a jar. Having a bake sale? Create a free class where you make your favorite cookies in front of people and give them the secret recipe.
The only limit is what you are willing to do.
4. The side push
Now if there is one method that works better than all the methods combined, it’s the side push.
Here is a perfect example. My publisher recently sold the film rights to a novel I wrote to a film company that is packaging the book as a feature film. The novel is set in 1992 and the story is presented as if the events really happened; the book is only the journals that finally tell that story. In fact, Amazon called the book — the novel that you have to Google to see if it really happened.
The film company wanted to capitalize on this and set out to have a small companion book written; documenting the events as if they were facts — sort of the way that The Blair Witch Project promoted that film. They went out to get some bids from writers on getting a small companion book made that they could give out to potential investors, as well as used to market the film.
So what happened?
Book sales went up. Drastically.
Because all the writers that wanted to be a part of this project, went out and bought the book to familiarize themselves with it — they didn’t do it because they were told to, but for research. But once they did, they felt a connection to it because they wanted to be the writer chosen. Now their creative work — the companion book — was connected to the novel itself. There was a bond and they not only bought it and read it, they began promoting it — writing reviews and telling others.
So how can you create this effect that happened by accident?
Let’s say that your Garage Band is playing an event you’re trying to promote. Post that you need a new logo designed — don’t go to a logo company, post on social media and craigslist that you want to find a local artist that can capture the music in that perfect image, and that you want to have the logo in place for this specific event.
Now promote your new logo search. Post on social media, ask people to give their opinion, give certain designers a plug and provide links to their work and ask for feedback.
What will happen is, that there the artists will first research your music to get an idea of who you are — promotion — then they will go to work and their creative efforts are now tied to your creative work.
Having a community theatre event? Post for a singer to perform at the intermission. Offer to promote that singer on the website and the playbill, and then do the same thing — promote the search.
The key is to choose something slightly different than the event you are promoting. For the garage band, promoting for a singer may not work, because of the competition between musicians. But a graphic artist would want to help the band to help himself.
So however you promote — your yard sale, your band, or your community car wash — do it differently then you have ever done it before. Different is remembered.
And different works.
Because it’s smart, it’s low cost, and no one else is doing it.