Keep the Excitement Growing: Evaluate Your Promotions

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It’s festival season and there are lots of great things happening on our Main Streets. But after you plan and hold them, what's the most important thing you can do to grow and improve your events? Evaluate them!

Developing specific goals will make you more effective when planning and more objective when evaluating. You can use your goals to help track your promotion and marketing programs. Here are the primary benefits of evaluating your promotions:

  • Demonstrates the event’s reach to current and future advertisers and funders;
  • Demonstrates your ability to reach targeted groups;
  • Allows you to compare events and programs from year to year;
  • Quantifies income generated either by promotions or contributing activities;
  • Determines the cost-benefit ratio of the amount of money and/or volunteer hours necessary to implement the promotion versus the income, good will, recognition, etc., that it generates. (The goal of every promotion may not be to generate revenue—particularly image campaigns);
  • Quantifies a program’s impact on district sales (especially business promotions);
  • Measures the experience and satisfaction of participants or attendees; and
  • Quantifies media exposure of the district.

Gathering information from attendees will help you determine if they had a good experience; gathering information from businesses will help you determine if the event or promotional activity was beneficial to them.

Measuring Attendance

For special events, the number of attendees represents a principal benchmark. Tabulating participants can be as easy as counting ticket stubs or counting people as they come through the door or front gate. If the event takes place outdoors, in a large area, there are a number of techniques for estimating crowds. Typically, you count the number of people in several representative sample areas and extrapolate for the full area of the event. Note that the density of attendance typically changes as the event progresses. You will need to count at different times, and you will need to know how long people stayed at the event.

Conducting Surveys

Traffic counts can tell you how many people came to your event, but surveys will tell you if you reached your target audience and even reveal how attendees found out about the event. Short attendee surveys and post-event focus groups can help measure the relative quality of people’s experiences during an event in order to identify improvements from year to year. This kind of information is best gathered through a survey distributed randomly to attendees.

Conduct a survey at each event to determine where people came from, how long they stayed, and how much they spent (e.g., on food, entertainment, and retail purchases). You'll be able to illustrate on a map the event's geographic draw and quantify the economic impact for your district. You can ask people to rate the quality of their experience according to several criteria. Depending on your planning needs, you might also ask how many people were in their party and other questions to help in assessing your promotion. (Note that a survey at an event should NEVER be used for gathering baseline data about typical Main Street shoppers.)

The Union Square Main Streets program in Somerville, Massachusetts, tracked regular attendance at its weekly farmers market and conducted surveys to gather customer demographic information as well as how much shoppers spent at the market and at area businesses. Union Square learned that the farmers market for each season (June through October) had roughly a $500,000 economic impact, with half going to the farm vendors and half going to area businesses.

Your program should also gather feedback from local businesses owners throughout the year so you can reaffirm the purpose of each event as well as gather input. Two good ways to collect information are to distribute short, post-event surveys and to host an annual meeting with all business owners.

After each event, immediately send businesses owners a short survey that includes:

  • A thank you for their participation/support;
  • Directions on how and when to return the survey;
  • A brief description of the event’s purpose so they understand what its goals were and can use them to guide their responses; and
  • Three to five questions written specifically to gauge their level of participation and satisfaction with the event.

For example, after retail sales/business-generating events, ask business owners questions whether in-store traffic was more or less compared with the previous year, whether sales increased, whether they thought the event was good for their business…and for the entire district. Merchant surveys can be disseminated as a one-page flyer or distributed and tabulated using simple web-based survey tools.
Once a year, all business owners should take a survey or attend a meeting to report on the year’s full set of promotional activities, comparing all of them side-by-side; review the year’s promotional calendar; discuss feedback; and revise next year’s promotional strategy. If done correctly, soliciting business owners’ feedback can generate a lot of good information and support:

  • Ask merchants to rate the sales impact (e.g., positive, neutral, or negative) for all events, comparatively. This will help you determine which events are most productive from the retailers' perspectives.
  • Ask business owners which promotional activities they would like to see repeated in the future and which events they would like to see dropped (and why).
  • Ask open-ended questions to solicit specific suggestions on ways to change existing promotional activities.
  • As part of your analysis, ask merchants which hours they were open during each event—and use a chart to illustrate the percentage of businesses open during key events. (If the hours don't coincide, then the event won't have much impact on merchants one way or the other.)

Tracking Sales

The best way to gauge the success of a retail promotion is to measure its effect on sales. While merchants aren’t likely to tell you their actual sales, they will probably tell you the percentage difference from typical sales for the same day or period of time. If the retail activity includes a coupon or other tracking mechanism, merchants will probably be willing to share with you how many coupons were redeemed. It can be beneficial to select 10 to 20 businesses to help you consistently track data from year to year.  Businesses can be given an identifier number to preserve their anonymity.

Media Value

If you’ve done your communications job right, the media will likely cover the promotional activity in ways that might include news or feature stories, photographs, live television coverage, and the like. (This is in addition to any paid advertising you may have placed.) Clip newspaper articles, print out online blog or media coverage, and record any other media mentions. You can quantify the value of this news coverage by calculating what it would cost to buy the same amount of space or air time for advertising.