How to Publicize Dog Shows and Events
Getting the Word Out Part 2, Attracting "Newbies" to Dog Shows
You’re in the planning stages of your kennel club’s show or breed club’s national specialty. So many details to tend to, committee members to assign, events to plan, judges to confirm — a monumental task by anyone’s standards. The success of dog shows is typically measured by number of exhibitors. Yet drawing an increasingly misinformed public to your show was never more important. The fancy’s reputation and future are under siege. We need a “makeover.”
Part I, in the March issue, revealed a glaring problem in awareness of upcoming shows. A surprising number of respondents to my survey were “unaware” of shows in their area, but would go if they knew ahead of time.
Put the right person in charge of publicity and that won’t happen. Unfortunately this function seems low priority until show time and is often assigned to someone too busy with other tasks to handle it well. Sometimes it’s not assigned at all and the show chair ends up being chased down by frantic reporters the first day of the show.
Planning an effective media strategy begins about two months ahead. It starts with compiling a list of contacts at every newspaper, TV and radio station in the area. Finding the right people at each venue is key. A media “hot list” can be assembled in under an hour and best done by phone.
I’ve handled publicity for many dog events over the years and relished every moment. One fond memory was the last Newfoundland specialty held here in Pennsylvania. I admit to getting an adrenaline rush every time a news truck pulled up … and boy, did they. We enjoyed coverage from all four local TV stations as well as three newspapers both before and during the event. One ran a live TV segment of our draft test on the morning news and a newspaper reporter walked the entire freight haul with dogs and their handlers. Another story covered nursing-home patients given VIP treatment at the show while visiting with Newf therapy dogs.
And that was a show for just one breed. How did that happen? Simple. I got them excited and made their job easy. My press releases (sent a month in advance) explained things in layman’s terms, highlighted activities that appeal to the masses and gave them a frontline contact available day or night to answer questions or set up interviews. Friendly follow-up calls and brief “reminder” press releases submitted the week prior kept the event in front of them.
And no, the publicity didn’t cause an unwanted surge in puppy buyers. Enough reporters got slimed and shed upon, the coverage really helped illuminate the pros and cons of owning the breed. The biggest blunders I’ve seen in publicizing a dog show begin with the first press release. If it’s long and boring, misdirected or late, it gets buried in the sea of 200-plus releases the media receives every day. These folks don’t have the time nor desire to research breeds, hunt down experts or wander around shows looking for something exciting to cover. If they get hooked up with the wrong people, you know what can happen.
Over the years I’ve heard many a fancier complain about being misquoted or, worse, say “the wrong thing.” Such gaffes are avoidable when spokespeople are identified ahead of time.
To create public “buzz” for an all-breed show you need only think like the average dog owner and include attractions they find interesting (also covered in Part I). Baiting the media with such tidbits early on can make the difference between so-so attendance and lines of dog lovers at your entry gate.
In summary, here are ideas for making any dog show a true public event:
> Assign the PR role to an individual who has the time and temperament to deal with the media. Identify your “Publicity Chair” on all show literature and the club website.
> Compile a list of news contacts by calling newspapers and broadcast stations ahead — to ensure you’re reaching the right people (including the community events person).
> Distribute a one-page release with a grabber headline to your list a month in advance of the show. Embed rather than attach the document in email (many will not open attachments). Put contact info at the top.
> Highlight things of interest to the public: number of breeds showing, educational booths, canine/human celebs, obedience/rally trials, breed-specific performance events, vendors with unique wares, etc.
> Consider offering advance tickets as contest giveaways on local radio stations. (This works!) Be available for an on-air interview if asked.
> Line up a list of well-spoken, gregarious candidates for show interviews in advance, such as exhibitors or off-duty judges.
> Email or fax a “reminder” press release a week before the show and make follow-up calls.
> Be prepared to accommodate last-minute requests from the media. This is “soft news” but good news.
Like anything else, we excel at what we enjoy. I believe there’s someone in every club with the spontaneity and passion to do a bang-up job promoting your next dog show. If you have any attendance-boosting secrets, please share them with us. Remember, we are “saving the sport.” If the media can get this interested in a national specialty, there’s even more reason to give an all-breed show advance publicity.
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