In this day of information overload, you have to know the rules of the game to get your event or cause noticed. Any public relations pro will tell you that publicity is a cheaper and more credible way to spread the word than advertising. And the best publicity of all? Word of mouth: When friends start telling friends, suddenly your event is hot.
Determine your primary goal. Do you want people to attend an event? Purchase your product? Make a contribution? Once your goal is clear, make sure all of your publicity materials support it. See 16 Set Goals and 374 Sharpen the Focus of an Organization.
Identify and research your target audience. These are the people who will respond most positively to your message and provide valuable word-of-mouth buzz. Avoid the trying-to-reach-everyone syndrome, which will only water down your message.
Create a Web site. Find a college student or designer who's just starting out to create (and maintain) the site pro bono or on the cheap. Keep the design and navigation simple, and have someone outside your organization test the site and provide feedback. Approach similar sites and set up reciprocal links.
Write a one-page press release with a great hook. Capture the reader's attention with a compelling title and first paragraph, but avoid writing it like an ad. Cover the five Ws--who, what, when, where and why. Include your contact information and Web site.
Prepare a media kit. Include the press release, organizational information, logo, black-and-white print-ready photographs, copies of articles about your event or organization, testimonials from celebrities or past attendees, and a business card. Write a brief, personal letter to the media contact, and put it all in a folder.
Distribute your media kit to the right people. For a local event, start with your hometown newspapers, magazines, news programs and radio stations. Take the time to find the person who reports on your type of event or organization. You can almost always get it into calendar listings if you meet the deadline. For larger scale distribution, enlist a professional service such as PR Newswire (prnewswire.com).
Get friends, family and anyone interested in your cause to post flyers or leave postcards at cafes, stores and libraries. Ask them to wear a hat or T-shirt or carry a tote bag with your logo on it.
Use the Net to spread the word quickly and inexpensively. Send e-mail notices and newsletters that are easily forwarded to others stating specifically what you want recipients to do. Connect with like minds through blogs and discussion groups or become part of a networking group. Check out Friendster.com, MeetUp.com, Tribe.com and Ryze.com.
Also read 373 Plan an Organizational Meeting. If you're not a good writer, find one. Hire a professional or enlist a competent volunteer to ensure that your materials get the attention they deserve. Rehearse any key points with a friend or colleague if you're asked to do an interview or appearance. Call media contacts and ask if they prefer press releases sent via e-mail, fax or snail mail. They almost always have a preference, and if it's e-mail, you save time and money. Ask for digital format specifications (size and resolution) before you send logos or photos. Invent a catchy name or slogan for your event that the press and participants will remember. Include an inexpensive giveaway in your press kit, like a magnet, pen or water bottle with your logo and contact information.
Be a professional. Return phone calls and e-mails promptly and provide requested information. Failing to do so could sabotage your organization's reputation and future publicity efforts.