Promoting your public engagement activity
On this page you will find a few tips on promoting events to ‘the public’, as well as some relevant links to further support your activity planning.
Many public engagement activities are targeted at the ‘general public’, but is this really who you want to reach, and is it realistic? For example, do you want to reach school-age children and families, 18-24-year-olds or maybe retirees? Do you want to reach your local community, or maybe those with an interest in your research area? The more you can define your audience, and develop your objectives and activities with them in mind, the easier it will be to try to encourage them to participate in your event.
Consider the demographics of those who often attend your public events, are they representative of your local or wider community? Maybe you could work with older audiences, through University of the Third Age, for example, or with disabled and disadvantaged adults through partnerships and relevant local organisations. Often the key to engaging with new audiences is to work with a trusted intermediary. The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) provides guidance on working with local communities.
One of the simplest ways to reach your target audience is to go where they already are, for example, Science in the Supermarket; and promote your activity in that space ahead of time. Guidance on working with schools, or science centres and museum/libraries, can be found on the NCCPE website.
- Facebook – If you have an active account where you regularly share content and engage with your followers then perhaps once you’ve shared your event page, you could also think about paying to boost Facebook posts to those in your local area who don’t already follow you
- Twitter – Send tweets to relevant local organisations (restaurants, parks, gyms) and ask them to retweet and share details about your event. Include @The_MRC in your tweets so we can share your event details too. Use relevant trending hashtags or focus on those being used in your local area, for example #Glasgow
- posters and flyers – Local businesses and community spaces (such as libraries) may have a similar audience to your event and will often display posters and flyers. However, there may be a charge for using display posters on outdoor spaces, so do check early. For example, prices for Cambridge City Council
- local media – You can contact your local media (online, print or broadcast (TV and radio)) to get free promotion; a short pitch with event details should be sufficient. Contact details can usually be found online, but you can also ask your university press office or the MRC Press Office.
There are also lots of free event listing sites, blogs and publications. For example, the Press Associate Arts and Events supplies listings to newspapers and magazines around the country. Or consider including an advert in a local magazine or newspaper – this could be based on any posters or flyers you have already produced.
Tips for promoting your event to the press
1-2 weeks before the event:
- create a short pitch: a few paragraphs about the event, the date, speakers who will be available for interviews, opportunities for good visuals - such as video or photos - and why the event is important for the community
- it is always helpful to include context. What does your unit or centre study, how many people will be at your event, why are you organising the event?
- follow up with a phone call directly to the newsroom or the journalist you’ve pitched to.
Do consider using your university’s channels and mailing lists, as well as the MRC Facebook and Twitter accounts (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can find out more about marketing your event on the NCCPE website.
During your event, do encourage sign up to your newsletter, or social media feeds so you can follow up with attendees; this is not only useful for asking for feedback, but can begin to establish a potential audience database for future activities. If you don’t have any other activities planned, or don’t have channels that you want to promote, you can always point people to the MRC website, Facebook page or Twitter feed.
Evaluation, monitoring and recording brings many benefits and should be adopted as a routine part of planning and delivering engagement activities; think about what is it that you want your audience to take away from your event, and how would you evaluate this.
Include event promotion and audience attendance as part of your overall activity evaluation plan. Find out how people heard about your event, and whether they were your intended audience by asking as they leave or arrive.
It can also be possible to digitally track where the public initially found out about your event; for example, different bit.ly weblinks can be used on social media and print materials so you can track traffic to your website. You can also set up alias URLs such as. mywebsite.ac.uk/eventflier vs mywebsite.ac.uk/eventposter - these URLs link to the same page, but you can track which was used.
Other researchers from your establishment or university may have already worked with the audiences you’re trying to reach, perhaps they will already have a list of contacts and will be able to support you in developing these relationships.
Most universities will have departments supporting public engagement, community outreach and widening participation, as well as events management and marketing. You can also get advice about holding events on campus, like signposting, safety, and making it easier for the public to find you. University/science campuses can be quite difficult to navigate, and can be intimidating for those who have never been.
If you don’t know who to reach out to, or where to start, the MRC Partnership Communications Managers can help.