In my opinion, marketing can be one of the most subtly, deceptively difficult tasks you’ll face as a festival organizer. You can have a great vision for your event, recruit talented and enthusiastic helpers, and still feel frustrated in your efforts if only a handful of people show up to experience the carnival of delights, wisdom, and community connection you’ve built for them.
Grass-roots v. National Model
If you look at the history of some of the large, long-running Pagan events in the US and abroad, they have one thing distinctly in common with the smaller events. Almost all of them started as local/regional productions that drew on local/regional talent and support.
Where the “big fellas” went from there varies to some degree, but almost all of them started in the 70’s and 80’s, when there was very little competition in terms of Pagan activities — and only a few sources (all print publications) to find out about them. Marketing those events wasn’t terribly complicated to start with, as long as they had a budget for ad space in Circle Network News or a similar publication. With a couple hundred dollars, your event was now in “national” (and even “international”) advertising space.
This was exactly how I heard about Starwood Festival and PanPagan Festival in the late 90’s. Also, a friend told me about them! Friends also told me about the first festival I attended on the West Coast — Pacific Circle (in its 20th year when I showed up in 1999). They were all going. Went every year, they said, and loved it — to it and PanTheaCon. I never once saw an advertisement for Pacific Circle, and it would be a decade later when I saw any active marketing for PanTheaCon (on Facebook in may 2012).
I share these examples because word-of-mouth outreach has traditionally been HUGE in the Pagan community. In my experience, most people don’t even know festivals exist until a friend tells them about one they’ve attended.
That’s good and bad, Fellow Organizers. It’s good because it’s cheap and powerful. It’s bad because it’s out of your direct control AND … we’re at the end of year two of a pandemic that has isolated our community in terrible ways, making sharing anything an extra challenge.
I am absolutely not a marketing guru. That being said, my team has had some success at finding and drawing the right audiences to our events, and I know part of that is because we are applying some of the basic marketing fundamentals to our approach (without realizing it, sometimes).
According to Make Digital Group, some of those fundamentals include:
- Know YourSelf (your Why, your Strengths, your Weaknesses)
- Know Your Audience
- Understand Your Competition
- Meet Your Audience Where They’re At
Your organization and event aren’t trying to be a clone of other organizations or events that are already putting good work into the world. You’re offering something new and different. Get very clear about what sets you apart — purpose, process, people, etc. If you don’t know what it is, neither will your audience — and it will be easier for them to go somewhere with a clear identity and trusted reputation than to risk their time, money, and presence (which can be vulnerable to many) on your event.
Know Your Audience
Very few things (events, products, books, etc) are aimed at everyone. Even companies that sell super-basic commodities like water and food target their advertising efforts to some “segment” of the population. Fitness enthusiasts. Moms. Tweens.
If you’re reading this article/series, your event is probably for Pagans and/or Polytheists of some variety. Is it for ALL of them? Everywhere? Or is it for Heathens in the Great Lakes area? American Thelemites? Goddess-centric women in Indiana?
Getting specific about your target audience doesn’t mean that you are excluding folks who don’t fit the demographic, per se. You can still welcome folks of other esoteric persuasions from other parts of the country/world. The specificity just helps you know where to focus your marketing efforts.
Understand Your Competition
What other events like yours already exist? Where are they located? What are they doing well? What are their challenges?
The point of looking closely at your competitor(s) is so that you have a clearer understanding of your own organization/event. Your event doesn’t live in a bubble, and you need to see both yourself and your “competition” clearly in order to know what benefits you are offering to the audience you share.
Now, I say “competition” with the deep belief that events and groups in our particular community don’t need to squabble and scrap over the people and other resources we share. There’s enough for everyone. You have the opportunity to work in harmony and cooperation with other nearby event-holders in terms of choosing dates, venues, presenters, etc. By offering the community different experiences and eliminating the sense of conflict and competition, you may find that you truly share the audience (or at least parts of it).
Meet Your Audience Where They’re At
You can’t expect that audience to find you. You have to go into the marketplaces where they exist to engage with them. Maybe that means spending some advertising dollars for social media ads. Maybe that means joining other organizations to do some networking. It could mean posting content related to your fest (images, articles, tips, videos) to social media with relevant hashtags. Or perhaps your audience is best found at Pagan Pride Day, local meetups, and CUUPS groups — or other in-person communities and events in your area.
You’ll probably need to engage in a combination of outreach efforts, but do them based on research (not hunches). That research could be as simple as asking some folks who are in your target audience where they go to spend time with others like them, where they get community news, and how they learn about events, classes, etc.
Social Media & Web Presence
It’s almost impossible to research “marketing” these days without the bulk of the results referencing social media and digital marketing. That’s great in the sense that there is a lot of advice and resources on how to get started, techniques, and strategies for building a social media presence. (It kind of sucks, though, in the sense that it can feel like everyone on social media is selling something — including the folks giving the marketing advice.)
Social media is powerful, ubiquitous, and (pardon my saying so) a bit saturated. You almost HAVE to have some sort of social media presence in order to engage with your audience, but you don’t have to be everywhere doing everything. A) That’s just not possible without a dedicated social media management team. B) It’s unnecessary.
You should definitely have a website to act as a landing page and clearinghouse of information. It is your central point of focus on the web, and as such, it can host blog articles, schedules, presenter bios, FAQ’s, and even ticket/swag sales. You can keep it relatively simple, or you can get very, very detailed. Open source WYSIWYG html editors like Kompozer make it easy — as does WordPress, which offers both free and paid versions. (I’m not getting kickbacks from either of these. I just use them.)
Beyond that, I’d say pick 1-2 platforms where you (or someone from your org) legitimately enjoy posting content and interacting with folks — AND where your audience likes to hang out. I like YouTube and Instagram. Maybe you feel like TikTok and Facebook are the way to go. There are lots of choices available, and platforms come and go over time. (Most of us aren’t using MySpace anymore, right? And I would sing from the rooftops if WitchVox came back — though that was more of a website than a social platform. Still, it had social aspects, and it was a game-changer for many of us in the 90’s and 00’s.)
Whatever platforms you choose, post authentic, relevant content — even if you aren’t posting daily. The algorithms like you better when you use all their features and post frequently, but let’s be real. That’s because the app wants both you and your audience engaged with IT — and its advertisers — as much as possible. You can still reach people, engage, and market your festival even if you post sporadically or infrequently. (Just note that you’ll probably want to post a little more regularly/frequently as you lead up to your event.)
I can’t stress enough to keep your content relevant. It’s okay to post the occasional quasi-spiritual meme, but don’t make it your bread-and-butter. Post some original content whenever you can (which could include quotes or interviews with presenters, event photos, tips, trivia about the venue/event/org, community engagement questions, and so much more).
Print & Broadcast Media
In the Pagan world, the more traditional forms of advertising (print and broadcast) are still going to be very targeted affairs. Luckily, we’ve got some great magazines (print and digital), podcasters, and YouTubers who would be delighted to help promote your event for a far lower cost than, say, a billboard ad or radio spot — and whose audiences are going to be readily aligned to your message.
Again, ask some folks in your organization (or who are members of your target audience) which Pagan magazines, podcasts, and YouTube channels they consume, and maybe try for a mix of both larger and smaller creators.
Create a place for your festival community to keep conversations going. A Facebook group, a Discord server, your own app. There are still “forum” hosts out there, and there are several types of “community hosting” platforms.
You can keep the conversation festival-specific (news and updates) or you can encourage information-sharing, user-generated content, and more. Think of it as a dynamic email list where you can always share your announcements and content.
“Basics of Marketing: 5 Easy Ways to Get Back to the Fundamentals.” — https://makedigitalgroup.com/2020/05/15/marketing-basics/
Kompozer (web authoring software) — https://kompozer.net/
Good Barber (app creation platform) — https://goodbarber.com
“7 Best Community Platforms of 2021 (Software Review)” — https://www.adamenfroy.com/community-platforms
[Laurelei Black is a TradCraft Witch and Aphrodisian with 25+ years experience in event and program planning. Getting her start during her freshman year of college, Laurelei has been involved in campus programming, alumni events, campouts, retreats, and festivals. She is the Co-Director of the Babalon Rising Pan-Thelemic Festival and the Director of the Women’s Goddess Retreat, in addition to being a Director and lead festival organizer for Camp Midian in Southern Indiana.]