A couple months ago in this space, I shared a few thoughts about local marketing best practices for outdoor signage. Let’s look at another aspect of how best to promote a product or event at the local level.

One of the top books of 2018 is a fascinating composite study of corporate leaders, “The CEO Next Door” (Currency Books). After analyzing the management styles, personalities, and business results of 2,600 chief executives, the authors have produced an invaluable compendium of what it takes to achieve desired results, whether in business or in life.

The book is a rich trove of useful anecdotes illustrating how CEOs navigated their way through all sorts of challenges, and how they learned from them to improve their skills and performance, as well as that of the companies they led. The lessons gleaned from the book are applicable to anyone, in any profession, at any level.

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One observation in the book that stopped me in my tracks is what several CEOs told the authors: “Sell the people, not the concept.”

For me, that advice had the ring of recognition.

A few days before reading that, in the course of pitching someone interested in using my services as a PR agency, I said something strikingly similar.

The prospective client on the other end of the phone was an event producer. In explaining how I viewed my role if we worked together, I said: “Your event is your product. You would be my client, but your event is not my product. My product is the target audience of your event. That’s why you would be hiring me. To deliver that product to you.”

As the CEOs in the book pointed out, their job is to influence, through “skilled persuasion,” the stakeholders around them. It’s about getting people—employees, customers, others—to act in a way that serves the overall goals you have set. When you’re selling anything, the potential buyer is less concerned in you or your product than they are in what your product can do to help them. Despite that, we all know sales people who will prattle on robotically about product features without connecting the benefits to the customer’s needs.

The same can be said of hackneyed press announcements, namely those that start out “Workaday Widget Co. is proud to announce the introduction of…” That’s not news. That’s what journalists call snooze. Wake me when you get to the part that explains what that introduction means to me in my workaday existence.

Whether you’re a PR professional crafting a press release, a business owner promoting a sale, or a non-profit posting a fundraiser on social media, the goal is the same: persuade people to take action based on a personal interest. It’s the age-old question people ask themselves when deciding whether to act or to make a transaction—“What’s in It for Me?” (WIIFM).

Even if money is not changing hands, people want to know what’s in it for them. The event I mentioned above is free of charge. But, as the old saying reminds us, “Time Is Money.”

Separating someone from their hard-earned money to purchase your product is no easy task. Likewise, separating someone from their daily routine to attend even a free event takes considerable persuasion.

I told the producer that the name of the event is not the drawing card. To an attendee, and to the publicist, the value proposition is not in going to the event; the value proposition is whatever they are leaving the event with. What will they gain by being there? What usable information will they learn? Will it save them money? Make them healthier? Happier? Instead of focusing on the event as an event, those are the unique “What’s in It for Me?” qualities I work to exploit when publicizing an event to attract an audience.

The common practice in much of the promotional material for local events I come across is that they are inward-facing. As with the Workaday Widgets example above, the headline often is overly concerned with telling you who is putting on the event, or the announcement leads with the title of the event. It’s intuitive to do that, of course, but not necessarily advisable. To spur people to action, the wording you use must be active itself.

If the title of the event doesn’t instantly convey clear value to the audience, you’re squandering the first few seconds of capturing their attention. Instead, the grabber at the top of a press release or a flier needs to be outward-facing. It needs to read the mind of the audience you want to reach. Write it from their perspective as “buyers,” not from yours as “seller.”

Create a compelling “call-to-action” (CTA). Instead of a passive headline that says, “Camp Fair,” try drawing people in with an active, personal touch, like, “Which Camp Experience Is Best for Your Kids? Here’s Your Chance to Find Out!”

In other words, focus on having a conversation, not selling a product.

Forget Marketing 101. It’s time for Marketing 2019.

Bruce “The Blog” Apar promotes local businesses, organizations, events and people through public relations agency APAR PR. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bruce@aparpr.co or 914-275-6887.