25 ways to advertise your event for FREE

You've planned your event, the date is set and the next thing you need to do is tell people about it.

Many groups budget for advertising or marketing costs as part of their events, particularly major ones. But how can you get publicity without spending any money? And how can you squeeze maximum value from the money you do have?

Even if you have an advertising budget - no matter what size - you should be looking for ways to leverage that paid advertising with free promotion.

Here are some tips - some obvious, some requiring a little bit of work - designed to help you to get more backsides on seats or people through the gate at your next function. Use these as a starting point and see how many other ideas you can add.

Passing the word

1. Word of mouth
Start with your members and supporters. Use your meetings, regular communications, newsletters, Facebook page, Twitter feed and Instagram account to let them know about your event and encourage them to tell their friends and friends of friends. Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful selling tools because it comes with a reliable, credible endorsement.

2. Tickets
Even better, get the people who are spreading the word to carry books of tickets so that the transaction can be completed in one simple operation. If you do this you'll have to make regular checks to see who's sold how many, in order to calculate how many tickets remain and ensure the money comes in.

3. Email bulletin
Make sure you have your members/supporters/business partners on email and send a mass email to let them know about the event (where, when, why, cost, RSVP etc). Not only is this a very cheap form of communication, it ensures people are notified instantly, and that they can easily pass on the message to others they think might be interested. You can issue a reminder but don't misuse this power to badger people continually - that's known as spamming.

4. Email signature
Add a paragraph to your email signature to let people know about an upcoming event. Try something like this:

    "The Good Cause annual dinner will be held at the Clown Palladium on May 1, featuring Kamahl and Kerri-Ann Kennerley. All proceeds will go towards our new housing program for homeless kids. For tickets or information on donating to this program, please call Tina on (08) 9999 9999 or email goodcause@goodcause.org.au".

5. Fast forward
In your email to supporters, ask them to forward your message to people they think would be interested in your event or to post the information on any site or notice board they think would be appropriate. It's amazing the way people have access to networks that you would never think of or have access to yourself.

The Funding Centre

Line of sight

6. Posters
For local events, whether a fete or a garage sale, use the tried and true poster. Photocopy your event details (preferably onto A3 paper, if your copier runs to it), add colour, and stick up copies wherever regulations allow. (A word of warning here. Many local councils have a zero-tolerance policy on posters on council or public property, declaring even community groups flyers as graffiti, so check first before putting posters up on public - rather than private - property.) Areas with lots of pedestrian traffic or car stops are gold. And remember to take your posters down after the event - it's good etiquette.

7. Shop windows
Many local shops will be prepared to display your information in their window if you ask politely. And even if they don't want it in their window, they might agree to put it up in their staff lunch room. Again, collect your posters afterwards. Don't forget libraries, office noticeboards, cafes and laundromats - basically, anywhere people gather.

8. Signs
Catch the passing trade with a large sign. If you're a prominent local organisation such as a school, you might be able to get a local real estate firm to donate a sign and a signwriter. Otherwise, ask for a volunteer from among your members to put their painting skills to the test. Put your sign up in a high traffic zone and add balloons and flags. (Check with your local council first.)

For a good cause

9. Other people's space
You've got nothing to lose by asking for freebies. Some advertising agencies take on pro bono work for good causes. And because the big agencies spend so much with media organisations, they can sometimes call on favours for space for something they support.

10. Other people's mail
Why not ask for a free ride? Approach local businesses that do regular mailouts and ask if they would mind including a sheet advertising your event in their next mailout. What's in it for them? Research on buying patterns has shown that people respond to companies and products that support community causes, so make sure the businesses you contact know this. For businesses that are unable to support your group financially, in-kind support may be a good alternative.

11. Other people's reading
With enough advance notice, you can chase up the editors of newsletters even vaguely linked to your area, or your area of interest. Ask them to plug your event in their next issue. It could be the newsletter of a school, a local progress association, an arts organisations, a peak body, or a similar group in the next town or suburb.

12. Local politicians' newsletters
Most pollies put out regular newsletters on what is happening in the electorate (some more often than others). You're paying for it, so you might as well ask for a plug. While you're at it, ask whether you can leave brochures or put up flyers in your local representative's office.

13. Local council publications
Most councils produce regular bulletins telling residents what is happening in the district. Most have a section on upcoming events. If you are well-organised, you can get your event listed in a publication delivered to every household in the area. They normally have a long lead time, so you'll need to plan ahead.

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Feed the news

14. News - local newspapers
Your local newspaper is always looking for 'news' to fill its pages, so with the right pitch and plenty of time you should be able to get an article in. Work your media list (find out how at the Media, Marketing & Post Centre: ourcommunity.com.au/mmp) and try out stories over the phone to see which gets the best response. Send your press release out as far in advance as possible, on letterhead, and include professionally prepared photos. Your release should not be written like an advertisement. It must be concise, newsworthy, of interest to the public, and informative, not overtly promotional.

15. News - major papers
The art of getting free advertising lies in converting advertising copy into 'news'. It's much harder to get into the metropolitan papers than the locals, but it's by no means impossible. If you have a big name involved in your event, try to get them to do some pre-publicity, offer a snippet to the columnists, or look for a link between your event and other news. Your first question must always be, 'What's the hook?' And after that, 'What's the story?' And after that, 'Where's the picture?' If you get all three right, you'll increase your chances of getting a run.

16. News - radio
Send your media release to local radio stations as well - to the news desk and also to program hosts. Look for more than one run: aim for multiple appearances, but understand that you will need to think of a different story line for each one, or a different timeslot. One popular way of getting your message across is as a talkback caller - just ring in and give details. Most presenters frown on callers using their time for free ads, but they tend to be a lot more sympathetic if callers are plugging a genuine good cause.

17. News - TV
The problem with TV news is that reporters need footage to illustrate their story, so they tend to report on things that have already happened rather than things that you want to happen. Unless you've actually involved the network as a sponsor, you are going to have to work hard to get the cameras involved, and that means setting up a picture opportunity or TV stunt that is so spectacular, so colourful, so active and so much fun that they can't resist. Failing that, invite the TV stations to the event itself - it won't help you to sell tickets in advance, but it might help your chances of getting a run next year.

18. News - AAP Medianet
AAP is a news service supplying most of the media organisations in the country. It also runs a service called AAP Medianet, which enables subscribers to publish their media releases via the AAP Medianet website for a small fee. The releases don't get distributed (you have to pay extra for that) but you will be amazed at how many players in the industry - people at radio stations, newspapers, newsletters and websites - rely on this service for content, often because they can't afford to subscribe to the full AAP newswire. Even if you get only one interview as a result, it's probably worth the two minutes it takes you to upload your media release, particularly if you have already paid the subscriber fee. For more details visit www.aapmedianet.com.au.

19. Community service ads - newspapers
Most major newspapers run community service ads for community groups as "fillers". The ads do exactly that: they fill space where advertising doesn't quite fit. The competition for space in major media is quite fierce and event plugs are rare - more often the space is used to feature the group itself. But if you produce an ad that points to your website, and your home page features a big reminder of your event, it can't hurt. Most newspapers require completed, properly designed ads, and they tend to fill space in the back pages of the papers, but a free ad is a free ad and every little bit helps.

20. Community service ads - TV
Television networks provide free airtime for community service announcements. Securing a spot can be tough going, so check before you spend time and money shooting an ad. You might provide a simple message to be read out by TV presenters, or you might need to provide promotional video. Check with the network to find out where you should send your announcement and in which format.Even if your community service announcement is broadcast at odd hours of the night and day and doesn't quite have the ratings of the Oscars, it will still be seen. And even if the people who see it they don't turn up to your event, at least they'll know who you are and what you do. Community TV stations are another good option - they may even shoot an ad for you if you ask them nicely.

21. Community radio
Most community radio stations are very keen to support local organisations and tend to be underutilised by groups looking for local media. To find your nearest station, visit the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia's website at www.cbaa.org.au.  Ask the station two questions:

  1. Can we come in for an interview?
  2. Can you help us to record a free announcement to be aired during the week? Different stations will have different attitudes to this. Some stations will be able to assist you to make your announcement for free, some will charge a small fee to cover time and costs, and others won't have the resources to do it at all. But it's worth asking the question.

Alternatively, you could approach the media department in your local TAFE college or university and suggest they help your cause. You get the ad, they get to produce a real ad. Some secondary schools are also very experienced in media production and could be helpful.

22. What's On
Major papers have a "What's On" section in the body of the paper or in a special weekend supplement or in both. This is an often-overlooked resource. One small non-profit told us,

    "Getting your event listed in the Calendar of Events is the easiest and most effective free advertising you can do. In my estimation, if the papers charged the same for a quarter of a page ad and a listing in the Calendar of Events, I would lean towards the Calendar of Events. It works!"

The reason is that the people who read these columns are motivated and looking for things to do. Look beyond the local papers too - many cities have weekly free newspapers covering art, music, museums and events as well as pub bands and movie times. These, too, are read by people looking for something to do. Their readership is young and hip, or at least younger and hipper, than that of many of the more mainstream papers, and if this is the market you want, then don't neglect these outlets.


We have already mentioned email but there are some other online opportunities you should be taking up.

23.Online What's On
Many websites have general calendars of events, just like newspapers; some of these are aimed at particular markets, such as tourists, and some are put up as a public service by municipalities or government agencies. Add all of them to your media list. See our web promotion help sheet for a few of these sites.

24. Facebook
Of course you should use your group's Facebook page to promote your event. But look beyond your own page - there are Facebook pages for almost any issue you think of. Look for the ones related to your cause or event and post your details there as well.

25. Websites.
It might sound like a no-brainer, but be sure to put the details of your event on your website, preferably on the home page. Anybody who hears vaguely about the event is likely to go to your website (or google it) and look for the details. Update your home page regularly - out-of-date websites create a very bad first impression.

Extra tips

  • Always get your copy to the media in good time. Ring up to check submission deadlines, but in any case be prepared a month in advance (two weeks is the absolute minimum).
  • Use the process of promoting your event to build up your media contact list. Record every media contact and its outcomes.
  • Review your strategy. All of these methods, even if you do them all at the same time, have gaps and limitations and biases. If you really need to get bums on seats - and quickly - you may have to reconsider the cost-benefit ratio of paid advertising.
  • Be prepared. There's no point getting publicity unless you are prepared to take advantage of it. However unlikely it may seem that you will be swamped with callers, you need a plan in place to cover this eventuality. Before you begin contacting broadcasters, make sure that you can meet any potential demand for the event (and for your work) that the publicity may generate. Have printed material ready to send to people who request more information about you. If you are unable to respond to all the interest that a powerful publicity campaign may generate, then your efforts will be wasted.

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