As real estate developers, it’s easy to think about the physical, tangible elements that go into building a neighborhood or community. We do it every day.
Street Design? Check.
Geotechnical testing? Check.
But what about the intangible things that encourage social interaction among neighbors and, you know, build community.
There are many physical ways to do that of course. Wide sidewalks and large front porches encourage people to get out and meet one another. Garages off the alleys reduces emphasis on vehicles and again encourage people to walk or bike (and hopefully meet a neighbor or two in the process). Schools, parks, eateries and other amenities located in the heart of the neighborhood also foster community gathering.
But another great tool to help build a sense of community is… you guessed it. Events.
When we were in the midst of marketing NorthWest Crossing, our mixed-use traditional neighborhood development (TND) on Bend’s westside, we looked critically at our marketing strategy and decided to move toward event marketing for two reasons: to build a greater sense of community among residents and to invite people to experience the community first-hand.
Over the last decade, we’ve hosted a variety of events in NorthWest Crossing—everything from festivals and farmers markets, to races, movies in the park and just plain fun, giant parties. Every event has a distinct flavor and draws a different set of residents and non-residents. But bringing people together in one place doesn’t automatically create community.
Just like a physical place, events can be designed to have a certain culture, aesthetic and brand. They bring people together for a shared purpose or value. And truly great events will delight 3-year olds as much as 83-year olds.
Here are a few tips on how to develop truly great community-building events:
- Start with BIG ideas. In the beginning planning phase, don’t think about budget, feasibility, or if the city will approve it. Throw all your ideas on the wall, no matter how lofty, and see what sticks. This is a great collaborative process with a team. I’ve found that ideas usually feed off other ideas and even if you can’t execute the really big ideas, there’s usually a creative way to pull it off in another way that is feasible. (Hint: taking risks on big ideas, usually pay off in attendance and ensures the event is successful, even if weather is uncooperative or there are competing events taking place the same day.)
- Develop a budget. After the big idea brainstorm (not before), develop a budget. If you need additional resources, consider a creative sponsorship program and think about potential partners that would align well with different parts of the event or the audiences. No one likes selling sponsorships. But it does help those big ideas get off the ground! Be sure to nurture those sponsors if this will be an annual event. It makes the ask in years 2 and 3 much easier. We’ve had sponsors with us for 10+ years now.
- Hire help. If your resources allow, hire expertise to help with portions (or all) of your event. People that live and breathe events, are worth weight in gold, particularly if you’re not experienced with event planning and execution. It’s their job to think about the things you didn’t know to think about.
- Details, details, details. To really make your event stand out, think about small ways you can elevate the aesthetics, programming and experience for people. Determine where the sun will set to ensure it’s not in your guests’ eyes. Figure out how to reduce lines so that people can enjoy the event instead of waiting to order a beer. Insert surprise street performances. Choose linen table coverings instead of plastic. Think about how to effectively handle trash/recyclables so abandoned plates and flying napkins aren’t what your guests remember. And there are a thousand more details like this to consider…
- Create excitement. Finally, you need to effectively promote your events. Ten years ago, we spent a lot of money on traditional advertising to promote our events. Today, social media has made the process a lot easier, more affordable and more effective. But it takes more than just creating an event on Facebook. Boosted posts that are targeted are extremely affordable. Post regular updates on the event page that generate excitement. Tease the event with contests (free tickets, a VIP experience or a meet-and-greet) and use those opportunities to encourage people to share or tag friends to further spread the awareness. Essentially, you’re already starting to build community around the event before it even starts. You can consider supplementing online efforts with posters and some traditional advertising (like local radio and TV) if it makes sense (particularly if it’s a brand-new event). And don’t forget about your email lists!
Designing and producing great events are challenging. Always evolving. Never linear. And rely on a LOT of details. But when you get it right, magic happens! Connections form. Delight spreads. Shared pride evolves. And when all else fails, you can always attract people with (good) live music and a few cold beverages.
About the Author
Working with sales teams and executive leadership, Valerie develops the marketing plans and strategies for all Brooks Resources-owned companies and developments. Prior to joining the company in 2005, Valerie worked for a Bend-based advertising agency, managing accounts and brands for a variety of industries, from hospitality and banking, to real estate and medical. She has a business degree from Oregon State University.
Valerie is a former board president and member of the Advertising Federation of Central Oregon. She currently serves as an Opportunity Knocks co-facilitator for a marketing professionals team, the administrator for Building a Better Bend and is the Chair of the Family Access Network Foundation board. Valerie was named “Accomplished under 40” by Cascade Business News in 2007 and is a recipient of the American Advertising Federation Silver Medal Award in 2011. She is a Class of 2007 graduate of Leadership Bend. She lives in Tumalo with her husband and two children.