Guest post: For events, promote the WHY

This is a guest post written by Corwin Hiebert, an entrepreneur from Vancouver, Canada, who specializes in strategic event design, marketing, and creative talent management. His company, Red Wagon Management, produces and hosts CREATIVEMIX – Vancouver’s Ideation Conference. You can follow Corwin at

In the midst of all the planning, we event managers often have the difficult task of leading the marketing effort for our projects. Generating demand for an event is no simple task, but it’s even harder when we spin our wheels promoting the wrong thing. When advertising efforts focus on registration (and ticket sales), they are a liability rather than an asset to the marketing plan because they require the most difficult type of commitment from our target audience: a financial decision.

Event promotions that overly emphasize registration details (price, discounts, deadlines, special offers, etc.) are in fact eliciting the simplest reaction possible: one of dismissal. Instead of trying to appeal to a potential attendee’s pocketbook, we should focus on piquing their interest on an experience they can’t easily find elsewhere. When we message our event in such a way so as to build up their expectations, we can minimize the advertising noise and create more meaningful collateral. Content-rich e-mail blasts, blog posts, tweets, updates, posters, and press releases are far more successful than ones full of registration pitches. By planting in their minds an image or emotion of what they will do, who they will see, and what kinds of memories or benefits they’ll receive, we’re connecting people to the true value of the event, not the cost.

Marketing collateral shouldn’t be that different than from verbal promotion. Think of it this way: if I were in a massive auditorium, standing in front of my target audience, and had 10 seconds to convince people to attend my event, I would not say something as moronic as, “Hello people, our big event is just $25, plus tax of course. So would you please sign-up today?! It should be lots of fun and, if you register right now, we’ll give you the early-bird free drink special package.” Silly, I know! I’d speak to what makes my event special and why people should want to be there; I wouldn’t even bring up the price. Posters, e-mail campaigns, advertisements and the like are a waste of time and money if I spend too much space promoting registration.


It’s common for sales people to be trained to elicit the word “yes” three times from their prospects before asking them if they would like to buy. Event marketing should take on the same tactic. If we can show our target audience that our event will meet at least three of their felt needs, that the pricing is reasonable, and the registration process is simple, then I think collecting their money will become the easiest task in our event plan.

Here are some helpful tips for your next event marketing effort:

1. Smaller is better. Decrease your need for ticket sales; adjust your budget and event space and focus on critical mass.

2. Less is more. Ensure your collateral is simple and visually compelling. Don’t get into the details; that’s what your event website is for.

3. Push it to the side. When sending an e-mail campaign, use an HTML template that has a sidebar—highlight your registration links and details separately from your primary message. With the majority of your e-mail body focusing on building excitement, your invitation will be perceived as subtle yet well-connected to the value of the experience you’re offering.

4. Use testimonials. Promote positive feedback from attendees at a previous event. Make sure you list their names (and their companies if possible)—anonymous quotes are useless.

5. Feature faces. Use images from previous events showing people having a lot of fun (they should be close-ups of faces, not a documentation of the activity).

6. Build partnerships. Develop a small, loyal affiliate base from people or groups who benefit from a successful event. Highlight them, and their stories, instead of always talking about the event. Treat them well, and they’ll become ambassadors who are passionate and motivated to spread the word. Be a fan of theirs and they’ll return the love.

7. Add value, don’t discount. Consider removing early-bird rates or special offers—set the value of the event and stick to your guns. If you need to boost sales, add benefits and give attendees more for their money.

Primetime marketing space shouldn’t be gobbled up with the details about dollars and deadlines. Instead, put the effort into creating a meaningful call to action. Dial down the registration hype and beef up the “why” hype.


Thanks again to Corwin Hiebert for sharing his insights and ideas! Be sure to read his event planning eBook, Eleven and a Half Ways to Help Make Your Next Event a Huge Success. The downloadable PDF is only $3 when you use the special promotional code eventbrite2. Purchases can be made at

And check out Corwin’s previous Eventbrite blog post about charging for events, which sparked some great conversation: Free is a Dirty Word.

About author View all posts


20 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great post, I think too many organizers focus on what’s important to them, like you say, registration and sales and pitch accordingly. Like you say more organizers should focus on What’s In It For Me! i.e. how will attending this event improve my network, build my knowledge, make my job easier, etc. etc. It would be nice to occasionally receive an HTML rich email that wasn’t just a sales pitch but rather something of interest and value to me that I would actually enjoy reading instead of hitting the delete button.

  • Gus – you’re right. If every event plan started by asking the hard questions about meeting the attendees’ needs (and exceeding their expectations) then we’d be in great shape. My frustration is that I see to many event planners focus on decor and seem to be okay with mediocre programing and marketing. Arg.

  • This was so helpful, especially as I am in the middle of promoting an event and tickets are not selling! I know it is a great event, the marketing is missing something. Your article has really helped. Event deatils if anyone would like to give me feedback on my marketing I would really apprciate it. Julie

  • Corwin.. thanks for the info! I’ve been guilty of too much fluff, too many gimicks, rather than simply letting the value of the information provided stand out and make the case. Started creating much simpler registration pages with increased registration numbers.

    I still need to improve in this area.

    Too much information is just too hard to read and too difficult to ascertain value.

  • Ha Ha! I have recently come to conclusions totally in line with your thoughts. But the old way of thinking (which I have never liked) and a little ‘desperation’ to generate sales NOW had me fall in to the old pattern. My eNews sent out 2 weeks ago was all content rich and I was delighted to see the increased interest and some great comments from my subscribers. But the eNews I sent out yesterday is a classic example of what NOT to do. Registration Registration Registration. Thank you for the reminder and I am declaring I am sticking to my commitment to send out communications that fulfill my passions and what interests my subscribers.

  • Hey Craig – we all do it; we all fall into the desperation trap from time to time – it’s those crazy revenue projections that freak us out.

    That gets me thinking that the audience we often take for granted is the re-occurring one. We assume they’re already believers and so we try to create incentives around money – we figure that if they’re likely to return so why don’t they sign-up sooner (we could use the cash flow right?).

    But I’m seeing a increasing trend in late registrations. Sure there’s economic stuff going on but my theory is this: the regulars want to make sure they’re not alone. I have to remind myself all the time, that I’m more likely to attend an event where I know people (or better yet, when I know my friends are going). So we should focus on building campaigns and incentives that target friends of our regulars. [Insert plug for affiliate program here.] However, I’m not a good test case for any of this… I find it really hard to attend events for fun (confessions of an event producer) and no kickback would get me to do otherwise.

    Fight the good fight my friend.

  • Great article! We just had a joint meeting with our ad agency, PR firm and social media group and they reminded us of the exact same thing. They challenged us to ask the hard questions and recommended we define the message. We came in the with the question: “How can we get more people to register!?” and we basically got what is in your article as an answer.

  • Hey Joseph – you sound way to mature to be in the event biz. Good on ‘ya for embracing their advice. The hard part is when you get good counsel at a time that feels a little to late to be useful this time around. Well, there’s always next time. Good luck!

  • very interesting. A recent study by The Guardian highlighted the huge variety of different ways people get to hear about an event and why they decide to attend. Word of mouth, who else is going, distance they have to travel, have they been before etc were all factors – price was important but not as high as you may think.

  • Corwin, thanks for being so clear and succinct – a great example of how we should be when promoting our events. I have started using testimonials in all my Chi Running workshop promotions – prospects not only get a real story, but also the person giving the testimonial gets recognition (especially when I include their URL). It becomes a win-win. Last year I slid into the trap of offering “specials” but this year I have tested offering “bonuses” instead and the approach is working well. Thanks!

  • I couldn’t agree more Hazel – testimonies are a home run! And, like you said, if you make a bit more like an interview and you can spread the word about them a little then it’s a great fit. Way to go!