The power of promotion: invite people to your party

Invitation

Even with my tendency towards introversion, I can enjoy a good party. Why not? Past invitations to events have led me to new friends, new jobs, new adventures, and more than a few juicy stories.

I’ve seen social and public sector professionals transform into marketing warriors when they have an event that they need to fill up, such as a fundraising gala or research symposium. Lists get assembled, invites designed and mailed, flyers printed, social media posts shared in multiple forums. Makes sense–no one can attend your party if you don’t invite them.

Yet somehow the same spirit, the same work, the same budget is not often applied when publishing new research, launching a new website, or offering a new service. I’ve never understood why the difference.

Out of the four classic pillars of marketing, promotion gets short shrift in my opinion. It can be hard and sometimes seem intangible, or at least hard to measure. I often explain promotion in terms of a party.

No one can attend to anything you do if you don’t invite them. If we’re talking an actual party, all your housecleaning and decorations and cooking and beverages and music will go unnoticed if no one attends, and no one will attend if you don’t first invite them.

The same holds true for all the other good things your public and social sector work does. No one can enjoy them, benefit from them, tell their friends about them if you don’t first invite people.

A recent article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review details how the Pew Charitable Trusts streamlined their communications organization, structure, and process when they moved the function from third-party vendors to an in-house team. Author Melissa Skolfield outlines the job roles and internal organizations she had to create in the process, and recounts lessons learned. She gives a good glimpse into the roles and responsibilities needed for effective, ongoing promotion.

Skolfield includes an astonishing fact in her article: The Center for American Progress spends 50 percent of its budget on “outreach,” a term I recognize from my non-profit days to mean promotion.

That might be excessive. On the other hand, I sure think more social and public sector efforts could benefit from what might feel like an excess of promotional ambition.

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