Planning Events on a Budget

It seems like a dichotomy: You want to plan an event that has strong CSR overtones but you can't because you lack the budget for it. Or so you think. Whether it's sponsoring another company's event or staging your own, there are definite dos—and don'ts—to follow to generate and excite local media attention. Check them out:

Do partner with a successful organization. Is there an organization in your community you read about in the paper often? If so, piggyback your efforts on something they are doing. Can you sponsor an event they already plan? Can you plan something together? It is possible to plan an event entirely on your own, but if there is a shortcut to success, this is it.

Do tell your customers what you are doing. Better yet, ask for their help. Do you need volunteers, donations or people to attend the event? Your customers already support your business and many of them will be willing to lend a hand.

Don’t limit communication to customers only. Share what you are doing with other businesses in your community. Send them a letter or call and ask for assistance. People are generous and willing to help a good cause. It might as well be yours.

Do tell the media what you are planning. Media coverage is instrumental to the success of your event. You want pre- and post-event publicity so make your event something they can’t pass up.

Do consider a radio remote. If the event allows for it, consider having a radio station broadcast live. If people can stop in on the spot to participate, this will be well worth the investment.

Don’t forget PSAs. While many radio stations no longer accept PSAs, you will find those in smaller communities still do. Call the radio station and ask. Then come up with catchy 15, 30 and 60 second spots.

Do use an easy-to-find location. Perhaps the “perfect” location for your event is a little off the beaten path. Resist the urge to use it. Using a location that’s visible and easy to travel to and from will increase participation.

Don’t throw money at an event and expect it to be enough. Actually, employee involvement is a must. Have your people help at the event. Encourage them to talk with customers and people in the community leading up to it. Not only will they help generate interest, but also having employees do this during business hours emphasizes your dedication to the cause – you’re paying your people to help make a better community.

Do make it fun. If you can get people engaged, they’ll want to be there. A good rule of thumb: If it’s something you’d want to attend in your free time, others will, too. Come up with a unique theme to tie it together. This will make the event memorable for the attendees, especially if it’s going to be an annual event. Plus, you’ll be surprised how easily the details seem to fall into place around a theme.

Don’t forget giveaways. Be sure to give people something to hang onto – balloons or toys for kids, and promotional items tied to the theme of the event. Make sure to find something unique – people have enough key chains, pens and mugs, so stay away from those.
Don’t under-plan. If you don’t have adequate time to plan out all the details in advance, don’t do it. A well-planned event is a successful one. And a poorly planned event will actually hurt your reputation.     

Do recognize those who joined your cause. A simple thank you goes a long way. Make sure to thank, personally and publicly, everyone who helped in any way. Thanks should be made at the event, verbally and with signage, and in all media relations efforts.
Don’t make it a sales pitch. An event planned for the good of the community cannot be sales-oriented. Leave your brochures at the office. Of course, it’s imperative to make sure that people relate the event to your company, but this is not the time or the place to actively solicit business.

The key to success is to make corporate social responsibility a long-term effort. One event is not enough to make a difference. Make sure you are helping others in your community throughout the year, year after year.

Financial scandals like Enron have brought ethics to the forefront of American business – and now it’s even more important to show that you are a responsible corporation. Luckily, media outlets of all sizes have noticed and are reporting on it – from Fortune‘s “Global 500” list of top socially responsible companies to your local paper. And, even though you’ll probably never see your company’s name on Fortune’s list, you can and should still show your customers and peers that you are taking steps to improve the quality of life in your community.

Planning an event to demonstrate that you are socially responsible will pay off in many ways – increased brand awareness, employee morale and revenues to name a few. People want to do business with businesses that do good things for others. Strive to make corporate social responsibility part of your company’s culture and you will reap the rewards. Because you live in a smaller community, you are more likely to receive significant, positive media coverage for what you do. Use that to your advantage.

 This article, in abridged form, was written by Katie Tolin, marketing director with Rea & Associates, Inc. The complete article will appear in the 2008 version of PR News' Guide to Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibility. To order the Guidebook, please check back to prnewsonline for details as they become updated.