Here are a few ideas about how to get started with publicity:
- Press Releases for Newspaper and Radio
- Email Distribution List
- Online: Websites and Social Media
Most newspapers publish events calendars and most local radio stations broadcast listings of events in their listening area. Inclusion in these listings is usually free, provided the event is open to the public and put on by a not-for-profit entity (most participatory dance and music events fall into this category). To have your event included, you need to write a press release and send it to the station or paper in time to meet their publication deadlines. This can be a great way to reach a wide audience with an announcement of your event. Here's how to do it.
Develop a mailing list of media outlets
Newspapers and Magazines: Look for publications in your area, including arts/culture weeklies, the local newspaper, smaller independent papers, and local or regional cultural magazines. Find an email address for each where you can submit calendar listings. Usually an email address will be listed somewhere on the publications' web site, but you may need to call and ask specifically for their guidelines on submission. Find out the deadline for submissions, how far in advance they like to receive them, and whether they accept photos as email attachments.
Radio and TV Stations: Look for radio stations in your area, especially public radio, college radio, and community radio stations. Find an email address on the station's web site for submitting Public Service Announcements (PSAs) or calendar listings. If the station has a folk music, world music, or other relevant show, contact the host of that show to ask if s/he has an event calendar. Again, you may need to call the station to ask about submission deadlines.
Compile the email addresses into a list so you can easily send your press release to all of them at once.
Writing the press release
A press release should be short and to the point while conveying relevant information about the event. The first one or two sentences should answer the very basic questions: what, where, when, who. Additional sentences can describe the event in more detail, provide brief directions, and encourage beginners to attend. The last sentence should tell people what to do to learn more, with email, web and phone contact information. Two paragraphs is a good target length for a regular (monthly/weekly) event; longer may be appropriate for a special event (ball, weekend, etc.) You can also include media contact information (who the paper/station should get in touch with if they have any questions) at the end of the email.
This sample shows how to write a press release for radio or newspapers.
Newspapers may publish photos of the performers or of the dance style if they are available, but DON'T EMAIL ATTACHMENTS unless you have confirmed that they can and will receive them. You can opt to provide links to a location online where high resolution print quality photos can be downloaded. Feel free to include flowery prose about the wonderful performers if you want, but be aware that most of it may be edited out by the paper or radio station.
Putting it All Together - Timing and Followup
Once you have your mailing list assembled and your press release written, figure out the most appropriate time frame for sending publicity emails depending on everyone's deadlines. You may need to do several batches, for example radio stations and monthly publications one month ahead, weekly or daily publications two weeks ahead. Send it all off, and double check that the papers actually publish your listing. If they don't, follow up with a phone call to see what went wrong.
One very effective way to publicize an event is with a good email list. With an email list, people who have shown an interest in your event can be reminded about when and where it is happening (is it the Third Saturday already!?), who is performing, and anything special that might be happening this time around. This is a good way to ensure the regulars have all the necessary information, and also to encourage beginners to return for their second and third times.
Compile Your List
Ask people who attend your event if they want to sign up to be notified by email about upcoming events. Some organizers walk through the crowd at the break and sign people up; others specifically approach newcomers and ask if they'd like to know about the next event. Make plugging the email list a part of your announcements. Ask people as they pay at the door to sign up on the email list. Some communities maintain listservs (such as a Yahoo Groups email list); if you do this, be clear about the purpose of the list and your policies for Off-topic posts, email conversation vs. announcements, etc. I recommend keeping discussion lists separate from announcement lists, so people don't tune out your important info.
Send one email per event with the pertinent details. Your email can be less formal than a press release, with a personal touch or a bit of humor, but as with a press release, be brief and concise and include all the necessary information, including a link to a web site with directions as well as who to contact for more information.
This sample shows how to write a publicity email for your email list.
WARNING: you can get in a lot of trouble by sending out anonymous, unsolicited or bulk email to people who don't want it. If your recipients repeatedly mark your messages as SPAM, you can lose your email account or cause your internet service provider to be blacklisted. Be very careful only to send announcements to people who have requested to receive them or to those you know personally. Do not share your email list with other people or organizations. Do not forward other people's announcements to your list. Take people off your list if they request to be removed. Do not put all the email addresses in the To: or Cc: field; this will allow their addresses to be visible to everyone who receives the email. Instead, use the Bcc: field (blind carbon copy). This will protect the identity of the list members. Alternatively, use a bulk emailer software such as Direct Mail (for Macs) to maintain your email list and write messages. Finally, make sure to include a statement about how to request to be removed from the list.
There are countless ways to use the web to promote your events, and new tools are being invented every day. You don't need to be a programmer to take advantage of these services; there are many tools that allow anyone to create a web site, or contribute to a calendar of events.
Building Your Own Website
Building your own website can be simple — use WordPress or Squarespace or Weebly — or, if you have volunteer web designer/developers in your group, make your own. Keep the Home Page minimalist: Who, Where, When, plus a great picture of people having fun dancing (or singing, or playing music!). You'll need a What to Expect if You've Never Done This Before section somewhere. And don't forget contact information.
Places to List Events Online
Facebook and other social networking sites have tools for inviting friends and people in certain groups and networks to relevant events. You can set up a Facebook Group (for conversation and sharing) or a Facebook Page (for telling about your group and announcing upcoming events.)
Meetup has been an extremely useful tool for groups who are just starting out, or who wish to attract new dancers. You may get a revolving influx of new, inexperienced dancers using Meetup, so make sure your callers know how to handle a community-style dance, and that your experienced dancers are skilled at welcoming and assisting new people.
Ted Crane's Dance Database the Dance Gypsy and Contradancelinks.com each list regular dances and performers; local and regional folk music societies and dance organizations maintain lists of regular and special events. Search online to find the most relevant sites in your area.
Public radio stations have online events calendars; there are town, city, state, and region-focused listings.
Craigslist has events postings.
Here are some great ideas for posters: