A signature event is the platform a brand will use to increase awareness, engage sponsors and community leaders, or raise funds for a cause. This type of event is frequently encountered in the nonprofit industry.
Well-executed signature events help organizations promote their charitable vision and acquire the necessary capital or support to carry out a specific mission. Whether it’s to open a new hospital or for strengthen a community, there are multiple reasons why you may want to run a signature event.
First, signature events will help your brand amass important donors and sponsors with whom you can develop different result-oriented projects. Second, they build up your company’s image as a key stakeholder in promoting the well-being of others and sustaining the growth of the community or city where you’re located. Third, you’ll be able to make your story heard and gain press coverage while advocating for a good cause.
Finally, these events give you the possibility to have a real, positive impact and change people’s lives. In other words, you can both support the cause or mission you’ll be choosing and reinforce your position by communicating yourself as a socially responsible brand. Considering all these aspects, let’s see where you should start when planning your first signature event:
Step 1. Create a compelling narrative
Well-designed stories make people get together and connect to a bigger idea or vision. You can’t just set up a signature event for one cause and expect to raise immediate awareness. These things take time and mastery.
It’s your job to inspire people to believe your mission and want to contribute to it. Only compelling and awe-inducing narratives will get someone interested in your event. Let’s take the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a charity committed to raising funds for finding cures for childhood cancer. The foundation created its signature events around a worldwide challenge based on (as the name of the foundation indicates) shaving heads.
As stated on its website, “St. Baldrick’s head-shaving events come in all shapes and sizes. People are shaving their heads in Hong Kong and Honolulu and everywhere in between—all with one goal: to cure childhood cancer.” Apart from sparking multiple dialogues, the enthralling narrative St. Baldrick’s created is powerful enough to grab everyone’s attention, which in turn has increased the impact of its cause.
Step 2. Attract diverse attendees for the right reasons
Building a signature event means creating an inclusive environment where everyone can participate. So you’ll need to place a special emphasis on diversity and on engaging as many social groups as possible.
Don't focus on one specific demographic - be open and welcoming to everyone who wants to contribute. This will expand your event's outreach and give you powerful allies throughout the entire community. Don’t forget, however, that you’ll have to adjust your message to these different audiences and find ways to inspire everyone. Make a list of the groups you want to attract and design specific marketing actions for each group.
Step 3. Promote your event through marketing innovation
Be willing to shake things up and get creative. Instead of creating dry social media posts on how important your cause is, reach out to local influencers and get them to tell a story related to your mission. Design a content marketing strategy and create appealing video content that is well aligned with the cultural blueprint of the community you’re serving. Build emotional messages that will pull at people’s heartstrings and connect with them through storytelling.
Work with local thought leaders and create interactive content based on their experiences. Moreover, help people understand the difference they’ll make by contributing and attending your signature events through special visualization tools, such as a clock showing how many lives each attendee can change through his or her participation. All these details are important in highlighting the difference one single person can make, which will subsequently lead to more involvement and higher attendance rates.
Step 4. Find ways to engage with your broader community
Signature events are powerful community platforms that have the ability to extend beyond their capacity. Whether it’s encouraging an entire city to take action for a specific cause or reaching out to international influencers to help support your cause (remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?), your story and your mission can grow exponentially.
What you can do is move step by step, conquering different groups, then communities, then an entire city. How can you do that through signature events? By being consistent and running multiple editions, designing an after-event follow up strategy, gaining media attention, creating event-related content, and converting your attendees into your brand or cause advocates.
Step 5. Level up your event to a real movement
Think bigger. Once you get an entire community or city behind your cause, you can grow your event into a real movement. Think about the Movember movement. What started more than a decade ago as a small group of Australians deciding to grow a moustache to draw attention to men’s health issues has now become an international movement that involves millions of participants every year.
Then there’s the International Coastal Cleanup, an international movement based on encouraging people to gather together and clean up the beaches. As you can see, you can grow your signature event to a real movement and increase the number of people who’ll want to support your cause.
Make a real difference in the world
One of the most exciting things about the events industry is the transformational power these gatherings have on people. That’s why we shouldn’t limit ourselves to planning industry conferences or trade shows, professional workshops, or networking events. What we can do is choose a cause we believe in and develop signature events that may eventually lead to a bigger local or international impact and make this world a little bit better.