Events PR: Harnessing the Opportunity of the Total Solar Eclipse

A sample of eclipse swag for the April 2024 eclipse path viewers in Rochester, NY

On April 8, 2024, a monumental experience will take place across the U.S. during the total solar eclipse. The celestial spectacle will span a 122-mile-wide path of totality across 15 states, giving the roughly 32 million people who live inside it—and the millions of visitors flocking to cities along the path—a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This rare occasion won’t occur on this path again for another 100-plus years.

When something of this magnitude comes along, it can be a gift for businesses looking to capitalize on and create an experiential event that bolsters brand awareness, attracts customers, drives engagement, establishes partnerships, deepens community connections and provides a memorable experience for target audiences that will be talked about well past the event itself.

Finding Dynamic Connections

For some brands, the connection comes with ease—depending on relevance to the industry or the vertical your business falls in. For example, Rochester, N.Y., is on the path of totality, and the area’s renowned museums and science centers can easily align with their knowledge connection to the solar eclipse to host immersive and engaging events and activities. A three-day festival is planned in conjunction with several businesses and organizations that have partnered to make up the Rochester Eclipse Task Force.

Research organizations in your area that have direct connections to the event and consider partnering with them to create a more robust experience. Organizations like visitor agencies and educational institutions make great partners and can help expand your brand’s visibility.

An Unconventional Campaign

An estimated 300,000 visitors are projected to come to Rochester to take in the total solar eclipse. The smart PR and marketing teams and savvy leaders who capitalized on this environmental gift should see a considerable return on their investment. According to HubSpot, 65% of brand owners who use experiential marketing as a strategy see an increase in sales.

Consider leaning into an experiential marketing campaign to grab your target audience’s attention rather than relying on traditional communications tactics to help cut through the marketing noise and repetitive news cycle.

Planning With Purpose

Even for brands that have a more unconventional connection and need to dig a bit deeper to find a way to capitalize on the moment, there is a way. The key is to stay true to your brand, revisit your business goals and develop a strategy that works to serve your target audiences. Less about you, more about them. Your plan becomes your north star, and your target audience is the focus. As referenced by G2, 92% of clients and customers expect and love personalized experiences. Businesses have a responsibility to serve their customers. Do so thoughtfully and purposefully.

If your brand or client doesn’t have an instant connection to the event, don’t panic—it’s time to get creative with your strategy. Start simple: identify your target audience, list your goals and objectives, and decide how you want your brand to be involved in the conversation around the event.

Planning with purpose involves identifying gaps and creatively filling them. Who do you want to reach? What motivates them? Whatever you do, be sure you’re adding value.

Talk Directly to Your Audience

Target audience and market research provides insight that allows you to build your strategy and plan using data. Don’t skip this important step. Nearly three years ago, our marketing firm Dixon Schwabl + Company (DS+CO) began planning a client appreciation eclipse viewing party, inviting partners from across the country to come enjoy the memorable event on a spacious farm in Rochester. DS+CO’s marketing team compiled research on our company’s culture and found that spending time with family was highly valued among our employees. DS+CO encouraged employees who would be hosting clients to bring their families to the viewing party using messaging like “come make memories with us” and “experience the once-in-a-lifetime event together.”

Research is key at the beginning of your planning process. Consider connecting with your target audience through primary research like focus groups or a survey to gather information that will help identify appealing experiences, giving you concrete data from which you can craft tailored messaging that will grab their attention.

Create a Uniquely Memorable Experience

What is your brand’s advantage? In today’s oversaturated marketing space, companies are hard-pressed to have a point of differentiation, but they all have an advantage. Identify yours and be sure to highlight it in your company’s amplification efforts. Identify what your brand is best at and what makes it special. This will lead you right to ideas for how to best leverage the local event in a way that makes sense for your brand.

Create an immersive experience that interests people and gives them a reason to engage with your brand. How can they see, touch, feel and connect with it? Identify opportunities for inclusion. People remember experiences—good and bad—and they share them. When done right, experiential marketing has some element of surprise.

Don't Forget Social Media

Give people an out-of-this-world experience to take to social media. One of the biggest mistakes a brand can make is to put a ton of effort into planning an event, but leave social media as an afterthought. Encourage user-generated content from event participants with branded hashtags, photo booths and a visually appealing environment, food or drinks. You’ll know you’ve succeeded if you see the engagement soar and the conversation last well beyond the event.

Don’t sleep on your social strategy. Platforms are the perfect space for your event to live on long after it ends, so make sure to take advantage of the digital buzz and proactively engage with your target audience via your social channels—both before, during and after your campaign event.

Just as the moon charts its way between the sun and Earth, your brand has a matching opportunity to garner the attention of prospects and reduce the visibility of your competitor. The sky’s the limit.

Nadine General is Managing Director of Communications at Dixon Schwabl + Company.