During the busy gala season, there seems to be a different gala dinner every night of the week. The events may vary in terms of the menu, the entertainment, the venue and the cause, yet there seems to be one major commonality: the attendees. When you attend these events and look around the room, it seems that the same companies are represented time and time again. Oftentimes the cost of a ticket or table excludes the general public from attending the gala, leaving corporate buyers as the only market for the event. Even then, with competing commitments, scheduling conflicts and financial constraints, it can be a challenge to secure a number of corporate tables for a gala event. In a smaller city, be prepared to get creative and looking beyond traditional businesses to fill the room for your gala event.

In a previous blog article of mine, Marketing Your Association Event Beyond Your Membership Base, I outlined other networks that could be targeted besides the association’s members. Since a public gala dinner is generally not specific to an association or membership group, the marketing of that event doesn’t have that initial target group to work with. Other than reaching out to the usual group of companies that you often see at events, there are other areas that can be targeted to secure new buyers.

Secure a Committee that can tap into new Markets

When building a volunteer committee to assist with the selling of the gala event, try to diversify the group as much as possible. These committee members can then help open new markets. They could promote the event to demographics that were not previously identified or accessible. By having one committee member with a construction background, one with hospitality connections, and one coming from the legal world, your committee is increasing your reach to different networks of people while likely avoiding duplication in contacts.

Another key component to developing an impactful committee is securing the right people. Look for committee members who are excited about getting involved. A good candidate for a committee member is influential within their own businesses or industries. For example, an involved manager or CEO will likely have an easier time selling tables than their staff making cold calls. Committee members with unique markets and personal influence will make the marketing and selling tickets to a gala event that much simpler.

Have VIPs Spread the Word

Depending on the gala event, there could be a VIP in attendance that would encourage new sales. This VIP could be the gala’s emcee, the keynote speaker, entertainers, or the event’s benefactor. These individuals often have large followings that may want to attend an event as a unique opportunity to be in the same room as this VIP. Make it easier for them by drafting some wording to share through their various social media outlets in hopes of extending your reach. This point, and other ways to engage a professional speaker, is highlighted in an interview that I recently conducted with a  speaker:  How to Develop a Mutually Beneficial Relationship with Association Conference Speakers – Interviewing a Professional Speaker.

Work the Cause

The typical gala dinner can be quite similar to the next – cocktail hour, plated dinner, entertainment, live auction, speeches, speeches, speeches. The one thing that can really differentiate one gala dinner from the next is its cause. Attendees want to know where their money is going. How much is staying in the community and how much is going to a national organization. Provide committee members with detailed information about the benefactors and how to use the funds that are raised. Transparency and tying the cause to the community is key.

The cause itself is also an opportunity to identify a new target market. Most charitable organizations will have a mailing list of individuals who receive regular newsletters, etc. Request that your gala dinner be marketed to that list. It should be an easy sell since these individuals already have a connection to the cause.

When managing a gala event in a smaller city, you don’t necessarily have the luxury of endless contacts and businesses to approach for support. It is key to have the right people involved in promoting your event and diversifying asks as much as possible. At the end of the day, the gala event is supporting a great cause. Make sure to drive that cause home and differentiate your event among the others happening around it. With these pieces in play, you can certainly host a successful large event, while in a smaller city.