Across the world, anarchists and autonomous anti-capitalists are constantly at work putting on different kind of events where they live for the purpose of bringing people together, engaging the public with new ideas, and also raising money and building capacity for a wide variety of groups and projects.
In this column, we’re going to discuss some basic ideas about how to promote events and by this we mean gatherings and happenings that take place in a set setting which usually feature some sort of activity that takes about 2-4 hours. This could be a speaker, panel, film, presentation, or workshop. Larger examples would benefit events, music shows, conferences, and festivals.
Our goal with this specific column will be to discuss how to get more people to come out to your events and how to in turn, build up your group and affinities through organizing them.
Keeping Goals In Mind
As with anything, we first have to think about what our goals are when we organize events. First and foremost, we are looking to meet new people through organizing in our community, people that we then can begin to build affinity and relationships with into the future. Hosting and putting on events allows us the space to begin to make these connections, as well as form alliances with other groups, educate and organize those around us, and also fundraise to sustain our projects.
We also have to specifically think about the event we are working on in terms of goals. Does the event represent an intervention on our part in the wider context of a tension, a struggle, or an unfolding reality around us? Does the event intend to bring out people from the community and or neighborhood, or just the same set of friends that always show up? Will there be childcare at the event and will it be accessible to people of all ages and abilities? Will the event be a success for the group that is coming through giving a presentation? These are all things to keep in mind.
Form teams to go out and promote your event in your neighborhood and wider community.
After the event is over, there are also many questions to ask. Did it go well? Were there any problems? How was security? How was the turnout? How much money did you raise? Was there any problems with the police or fascists? Did the crew organizing the event do a good job facilitating and running the event? Did people who said they were going to bring food show up? What could have gone better next time? A post-event debrief often can allow people the opportunity to address these topics and learn from potential mistakes and celebrate successes.
Making Flyers and Promotional Materials
With these goals in mind, a big part of getting the word out is having the right promotional materials. In this section, will will focus on real life, printed materials. And, whether you are a graphic artist or can barely work a photo filter, the good news is that there are a lot of free online programs that will give you the ability to easily make snazzy flyers and images to promote your events both online and offline. Here are some basic online tools that are free to help you promote your events, and while we encourage people to learn how to use Photoshop and Indesign, if you don’t have access to these programs, here are some easy alternatives.
- Pixlr: An online free image editing web app. Think of it as a basic form of photoshop that works a lot like Instagram. This program is perfect for making images to share on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just upload an image and then use the filters and effects to make the photo look how you want. Crop and change the size to fit the dimensions you need, and you can also add text to make it look like an actual flyer with info.
There are many places online where you can make great looking promotional materials for social media and to print out.
- BeFunky: Another free online image editor. This also has a collage maker that is really cool.
- Audiogram: Audiogram allows you to make short videos for Twitter and Facebook that includes a static background image with music and audio speech played over it, with text optional. This is the perfect tool to announce events and add flare to social media about your event. You will need to sign up with email for this one, but it is free.
- Canva: Free flyer making web app. Requires email but is free to use.
- Audacity: Free open source program for making podcasts and recording music. Use this program to record audio sections for Audiogram or other video programs to share online.
In this digital age, people often forget about promoting events offline, however we are in the opinion that just doing online promotion can often be a mistake, and that to ensure the highest degree of turnout, both online and offline promotion is best. Here are some basic ways to promote your events that don’t involve the internet:
- Putting up flyers in businesses windows. Getting a flyer up in a well trafficked store window is a great place to advertise your event. Places like grocery stores, corner/liquor stores, coffee shops, restaurants and smoke shops also often have bulletin boards or places to put down free publications or flyers. Bring tape with you to make it easier on the workers to say yes and be prepared for them to say no or, “I’ll have to ask my manager.” Make a mental note of establishments that say yes and be ready come back to the same spot with the next flyer.
- College campus and community bulletin boards. Campuses and other public places often have bulletin boards for promoting events.
- Hand out quarter sheet flyers and leave them around town. Quarter sheets are simply small flyers that fit four to a page on an 8.5″ by 11″ sheet of paper. These are great for handing out on the street, putting in newspapers, handing out at events, or leaving a stack for people to grab in various spots. Some great places to hand out flyers is at the skate park, farmers market, corner and liquor stores in their free area/newspaper racks, coffee shops, grocery stores, and in front of well trafficked places like Wall-Mart, on campuses, places where students get out of school, the DMV, etc.
A combination of promotion online and offline for events often is needed for a greater turn out.
- Put up posters everywhere. Making flyers and posters will definitely help promote your event and can be put up on phone polls and around neighborhoods. Get a team and go wheatpasting, or simply get some tape or a staple gun.
- Try and get the event listed in the local newspaper or alternative weekly if you think that is a smart thing to do. Many newspapers have an event calendar and will add your event if you email them.
- Get creative! Put up banners, sandwich boards, go door knocking, leave flyers on cars, hold an info-point, and come up with other ways of telling people about the event.
- Go to group meetings and other functions and announce the event, hand out flyers.
- For music events and festivals, for not that much money you can get slick card stock flyers made.
- For big events, hit up local radio stations to get the event announced on the air.
- If you feel it is worth it, issue press releases to local journalists to get the event covered in the newspaper. Generally, getting a story written before hand (thus encouraging people to attend the event) is better than a write up afterwards.
A Few Tips for Online Promotion
While social media dominates our lives and we are bombarded with event announcements throughout the day, here are some tips for promoting events on social media.
- On your social media accounts, make sure you clearly state where and when an event is taking place. Don’t assume that people know where you are talking about. Also including contact information and a website will also help. Make sure your event announcements are clear and also have images and video if possible.
- If you set up a Facebook event page, make sure to share it often, encourage people to invite their friends, and post often on to the page to encourage people to come out to the event, promote, download flyers, etc. Also, make sure that you set the list of people attending the event to PRIVATE, this can be done on the desktop, by EDITING the event page and make sure that the event listing is set to PRIVATE. In the past, police and fascists have used open event lists to harass people.
- For bigger events, make sure to reach out to IGD and your local counter-info page to promote your event on This Is America, as a post on their site, and to share on social media.
Building Capacity for Events
Events serve many purposes. They create a social environment where people come together and discuss ideas and form new bonds. They also create an atmosphere where new people can meet each other and get plugged into a broader network. But events also give established crews and groups something to organize around. Here are some ideas for building up your group’s capacity (for ideas on how to form a group, go here) to put on and promote events:
- When you plan events, as a group go over what roles people will play and what they will do. Who will run the door, collect money, create a flyer and make social media, introduce the speaker, do security, etc.
- Plan as a group to go out and flyer and promote the event.
- Develop a network of people who can flyer and promote events in different neighborhoods, thus spreading the work around and covering as much ground as possible.
- When your group tables at events or meets, make sure to have lots of flyers on hand for people to take. This way, you are building towards the next event and giving people materials to take with them to promote.
- Create and maintain an email list, text blast, and social media accounts which can help bring people out to new events.
- If you are able, consider making a publication or newsletter or website to also promote your events, this way people will have a go to place to learn about what the next upcoming event is.
Closing Thoughts on Breaking Out of Subculture
One thing we should keep in mind when promoting events, is that we often have a tendency to only do outreach and promotion in certain areas, neighborhoods, and cultural spaces. But if we only do outreach and event promotion at certain coffee shops, punk shows, and bookstores, we will ensure that only people that frequent those spaces attend our events. This is why promoting events in a variety of working class and poor neighborhoods is important if we are to grow as a movement.
We must remember that not everyone has the ability to come out to events and spend several hours of their day listening to a speaker or watching a film. Work, lack of child care, no access to transportation, and plain exhaustion often keep people from coming out to events. Addressing these real life barriers is important: providing childcare and rides can be vital in allowing people the ability to attend events, just as is providing a meal.
Let’s also work to rethink what an ‘event’ supposedly has to be. Success just doesn’t have to just look like a packed room at the local infoshop or autonomous community center, it could be a block party, a film projected in the park, a festival outside, or a table set up somewhere in a local park or outside the social services office. Workshops and presentations can take place anywhere, so if we know our audience, there’s nothing stopping us from going to where people are already.
Lastly, lets keep in mind that spaces and groups can be intimidating to new people. Most people already have a perception in their head about what a group full of rabble rousers will look and act like – and often people are afraid to get mixed up in anything that might get them in trouble. With that in mind, we have to work at being personable and real with people, both on the streets, at work, and in our communities, in our autonomous spaces, and in our day to day organizing. With these realities and tensions in mind, we can move forward and work to overcome the real obstacles put in front of us.
Here’s to hoping your next event is a smash hit!