In-person events: how to create a buzz? Two writers, a designer crunch ideas

Two writers and a graphic designer swap ideas about how to promote in-person events. A blog by Brian McGee.

In-person events can be the perfect opportunity to make contacts, generate new ideas and – money makes the world go round – garner sales. How best to create a buzz before the event, attracting your ideal customers and partners in commerce and creativity? <Build it and they will come> probably won’t cut it…

Allison Parkinson, a children’s author and illustrator, along with graphic designer Stephen Shillito, kindly join me in this blog to explore a few initial ideas about promoting an in-person event. We’ve done this by e-mail, ironically enough, but hopefully we’ll get soon get together again over coffee and buns.

As it happens, Allison (illustration) and Stephen (design) co-created the branding for #oldfindsnewstories, my emerging Dover-based venture. With that in mind, this blog takes a real-life, in-person event, The Market Dover on Saturday 27 April, as its focus. Right, let’s dive in.

Update: We’re donating to four UK charities… in exchange for newsletter sign-ups

1) Nurture that network

Newsflash: people buy from people. That much is obvious, but it’s worth bearing in mind when we’re thinking about how best to create a buzz about in-person events.

What’s been most effective to promote an event?
Word of mouth, and local networking in person

Stephen Shillito, graphic designer

Chances are, if you’re well connected and networked in your local community — think way beyond business, and to all the things you do both socially and on an everyday basis — you’re already off to a great start in attracting people to that in-person event you have planned.

Still, of course you want to build your following (tribe or community if you prefer) so this blog will explore how we might do this in person and online.

The Market Dover restarts at the end of April – Saturday 27 April. Making a start on promotion about six weeks before is what I aim for, in that ideal world none of us inhabit.

I don’t claim to be an expert at promoting in-person events; here I am in the small-business marketing trenches, doing the best I can. (Mulling, pondering as I do the doing? Yes, there’s plenty of that going on.)

This is the approach I’ve taken on social media:

a. create a listing on my website events page

b. link to it in a recent blog if that makes sense

c. create an event on Facebook

d. create an event on Google Business (refer to the event a number of times in regular updates)

e. add a listing to Eventbrite (it costs £7.99 as a one-off; a monthly plan is another option)

Since moving to Dover a few years back I’ve not carried on with the regular networking I used to do, at least not in a structured sense. Covid happened, other setbacks too.

That was then, this is now. Networking comes in all shapes and sizes, all the same: in my case that includes walking my dog several times a day, sourcing pre-loved items for #oldfindsnewstories, taking trips to my storage container, going out for coffee (and the occasional bun), seeing friends and family now and again.

Chances are you’re much less of a hermit than this human and his hound. You might well be part of a church community, go to pilates or a regular quiz night, belong to a gym, chat to other parents at the school gate, meet up with friends in the pub on a Friday…

Your network might well be alive and kicking already, even if you’re not a member of a Chamber of Commerce or some other structured business networking group.

All those favours and kindnesses you do for others, including the simple act of listening and taking an interest?

A lot of those people who talk highly of you may well also be interested in your next market stall, writing workshop or community beach clean-up. If they’re free, there’s also a chance they’ll be there in person or support you online beforehand.

Whether we prefer to let that happen organically, or give our expanding tribe a nudge in the direction that helps us – thinking about that is partly the purpose of this blog.

Engaging, hands-on workshop? 7 practical tips for structure and success

2) Team up (start early)

The main thing is to think of promotion as a long-term activity. I’m constantly looking for opportunities to tell people about my author events and promoting the next fair or market as soon as the last one has been held.

Allison Parkinson, Tigers Eye Books

“If you want to go fast, go alone; and If you want to go far, go together.” OK, so that African proverb is not under-quoted. It’s popular for a good reason though.

Self-reliance can be a grand thing, but always ploughing your own furrow is not always the best, or the most enjoyable, way to make progress. (Or even the fastest, as far as I can see.)

Enjoyable? Yes. After all, enjoying what we do, including promoting an event that’s part of the doing, can only help our motivation and productivity.

A recent blog: Nano-adventures, mini-wins, mindful moments: 5 ideas

While thinking about how I might promote the #oldfindsnewstories stall at The Market Dover on Saturday 27 April I decided to ask a few other business owners I know, like and trust if we can somehow join forces.

So far a local garden centre, a gift shop and an independent café in or near Dover have agreed to cross-marketing partnerships around the #oldfindsnewstories stall at The Market Dover.

A boat on a beach to illustrate a blog about in-person events

And another thing (to misquote that rumpled detective).

While pitching the idea to your garage about carrying their business cards for a nominal fee, you mention the fireplace business you will also ask the same of. Turns out you and the garage manager have a wood burner in common, supplied by the same local business.

From the archive: Show your local high street some love: 7 ideas (online, offline, out mooching)

At the risk of sounding braggadocious – not the intention at all – right there, your brand values are in action, while you’re out and about stocking up in a nearby supermarket on beetroot pasta (who knew?) and a bottle of Rioja on special offer.

That reminds me: I must keep trying that winebar owner to see if he’s interested in some cross-marketing; then there’s that farm shop too…

Food, farming, frugal living: my focus for 2024. Here’s a flavour

3) In-person “oh, by the way”

So, you’re out and about and bump into Eric, that mate you know through dog walking – it turns out you’re often in the same supermarket too.

(He never remembers your name, but that’s OK, he says its the same with everyone. He knows it’s something to do with The Magic Roundabout. Ermintrude, that’s the one.)

So, there you are by the plain flour, chatting about this and that briefly. As you have your business cards in a nearby pocket, what perfect opportunity to mention that #oldfindsnewstories has a stall at the next market in Dover Market Square.

(Is he your ideal client? Our Eric might hate gardening, abhor terracotta pots, never read a book, have a house already full of preloved artwork, and only ever buy brand-new goods.

Beware broadcasting to all and sundry, it will get you nowhere, marketing gurus have been heard to say.

Fair point, and creating an ideal customer profile – to use the marketing term – is a fine thing.

However, and feel free to shoot me down in reader-comment flames below, I’m also keen at this stage to increase brand awareness (marketing speak, again) of #oldfindsnewstories…)

And so, when I chat to people I know, I tend to give them my card at least once – all the more so as #oldfindsnewstories is local and focuses, as far as possible, on Dover and East Kent.

Business card of Dover-based #oldfindsnewstories

It’s all about creating a community, a loyal fan base of returning customers

Stephen Shillito, graphic designer

<You can look me up on Facebook, for instance.> Like the rest of us, of course Eric (plantophobe or not) has plenty of other things to do. But if he has that card to stumble upon, Seamus to one side of the preloved bookcase, he might just look up #oldfindsnewstories online…

Just because people follow you on social media it doesn’t mean they will automatically see your posts:
the battle of the algorithms.

It seems obvious now but it’s taken me some time to become aware that it’s about creating content that will get ‘picked up’ and alert people. That can be hard to achieve.

Stephen Shillito

4) Shops (and their windows)

A phone-repair shop, also in Dover, has kindly agreed to a three-month trial selling a selection of #oldfindsnewstories stock, including terracotta pots and a curated selection of artwork. In the display, in my mind’s eye: branded mentions of The Market Dover, and future events too, among them:

  • Penge Festival Fete – Saturday 1 June
  • Midsummer Flea at the Margate Caves – Saturday 15 & Sunday 16 June
  • River Garage Safari – Sunday 23 June
  • Dover Regatta – Saturday 6 July
  • Walmer Brocante – Monday 26 August

Posters – small enough to be welcome in many shop windows, large enough to get noticed – have their place too.

If the organisers – a big thank you to Kent Food Hubs CIC for hosting us in Dover on 27 April – have a poster advertising the market, ask them if you can help distributing them.

When a local business agrees to display the poster, why not say thank you in a post on social media, either individually or in twos or threes. If you take a photo of the poster in situ, you can of course namecheck the business and the market.

A rising tide, boats, and all that…

Oh – if you don’t ask – that café in Dover I go to pretty often, where it looks like there might be some display space free… How about a collection of my preloved terracotta pots and a branded mention of the market?

An empty terracotta pot

One of the joys of doing markets and fairs is meeting other stallholders. People are very supportive and will recommend other markets and venues to try. Information is shared freely and generously. This can lead to collaborations if the fit works for both parties.

Allison Parkinson, writer and illustrator

5) And repeat (thoughtfully)

All of that is quite a lot of work though, isn’t it? All of that for just one event? Yes, for sure.

If you know of any shortcuts to building up a new client base, please let us know in a comment below. (I’m healthily sceptical about silver bullets, but try to keep an open mind all the same…)

In the case of a monthly market in the same location, it might just be that one of the best ways to promote future editions is to take part in the previous ones; and keep on keeping on.

Do so blindly, without evaluating how the market and its promotion went (before, during, after)? No thanks.


Hitting on the most effective – and yes, enjoyable – way to market a small business can be quite the challenge.

Next week I start a six-week Small & Mighty Enterprise Programme, helping me develop a 12-month action plan.

I have big plans to enjoy it, by:

  • taking part in the two-hour sessions every Monday
  • carving out time to do the work before Monday arrives again
  • networking with other micro-business owners & sole traders
  • adding updates & comments to the Facebook group
  • letting ideas percolate (while out walking Seamus?)
  • participating in the 1-2-1 & group mentoring

No doubt the six weeks will help give me more clarity and extra motivation to make #oldfindsnewstories into a successful, purposeful and enjoyable business.

Profitable too? Definitely.

For now, though, hearty thanks to Allison and Stephen for taking part in this blog. Who knows, that catch-up over coffee and buns might even happen in Dover.

Tomorrow just you wait and see.


Allison Parkinson, writer, editor & children’s author — 

Stephen Shillito, graphic designer & manager at Rivoli Meeting Room —

Image credits: koresh-mih; geralt; Peggychoucair; Desertrose7; manfredrichter; WolfBlur on Pixabay; Brian McGee

*How do you find out about local events run by small businesses?
What has worked well if you’ve promoted an event like this?
Please add a comment below. I’ll reply to each one.
My target is five reader comments on this blog.
Many thanks.**

The white cliffs of Dover. Final image in a blog about promotion of in-person events.

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