Event Venue Marketing Playbook – In a Post COVID-19 World

by Drew Hendricks
Last updated May 5, 2020

Event Venue Marketing COVID-19
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Last Updated on May 5, 2020 by Drew Thomas Hendricks

COVID-19’s Adverse Impact on Event Venues

If you own or work at a winery, craft distillery, or brewery, the widespread damage of COVID-19 won’t be any secret to you. After all, what’s an event venue if it can’t host events?If you aren’t taking the necessary steps, it’s something that’ll bleed money.

The Current Climate for Event Venues

Without your primary revenue source, suddenly things like affording rent, utilities, and salaries aren’t such a given.

Also, there’s the challenge of handling the events that were supposed to occur during the shutdown. Clients will have likely paid vast portions of your fee in installments and will either wish to reschedule or cancel. Dealing with these customers all at once will put you into uncharted territories.

Due to problems with refunds of deposits (or lack thereof), many venues have received lousy publicity during the pandemic.

It’s incredibly frustrating. But it’s the hand everyone’s been dealt. Much like you’re losing out on earning opportunities, customers are losing jobs and must cancel significant events in their lives.

You’re hamstrung by the grim reality of COVID-19 and government restrictions. Unfortunately, right now, doing your part means NOT hosting weddings, anniversaries, business functions, and other milestone occasions.

The pandemic has forced venue leadership worldwide to lay off significant portions of their staff, as a last resort.

Yet, a silver-lining amid this situation is that your business still exists. You’ve made the tough decisions and have done what you can to tread on these turbulent waters.

And now that we’ve discussed all the incredibly tough obstacles in your path, it’s time to accept the circumstances and look at how your business can keep chugging away. Also, you need to devise a strategy that’ll ensure your venue hits the ground running at the end of the shutdown.

Extracting the Most Value Out of What You Currently Have

Our business landscape, in its current state, seems doom and gloom. Eventually, however, if we all keep doing our part, the pandemic will run its course, and the economy will be up and running once more.

Furthermore, there’s been bailouts and other forms of assistance cushioning some of this terrible blow. While that income won’t come close to equaling what you’ve lost in revenue, it’ll likely be enough to keep you afloat while venues remain closed.

With this income comes an opportunity. Namely, you’re able to invest that money back into your venue.

Here’s the kicker—the way you allocate your government bailout cash can make a crucial difference.

First and foremost, you’ll probably want to bring on as much staff as possible.

Another significant portion of your COVID-19 budget must go to marketing your services.

Marketing Your Venue During COVID-19

Attracting people to your events’ venue is a multilayered process. You need to find customers at various sales funnel stages.

Look beyond traditional methods during the peak of the pandemic to attract your potential clientele.

Below, we’ll examine various marketing methods for attracting people to your venue during COVID-19:

Offer Virtual Tours and Viewings

You can’t host events in your venue during these mass business shutdowns, but can still attract leads and offer viewings or tours.

“Wait, how can we do viewings when people can’t visit our venue?” you might ask.

We live in the digital age, where many online video platforms allow you to provide virtual showings.

Here are a few reasons why this idea is a good one:

  • We’re perfectly aware that video viewings or tours of your venue don’t hold a candle to being there in-person. But providing a video viewing will satisfy many eager people who don’t wish to waste time planning an event.
  • The playing field is even right now, so the only option for EVERYONE is to offer virtual tours. It’s not as though your leads can go to your competitor and see their physical venue.
  • Even if the video tour isn’t enough to convince a lead to book an event right now, it gives you a chance to establish rapport and stay top-of-mind. If you make a good impression with your virtual viewing, you’ll be the first venue a lead contacts when the shutdown reaches its end.
  • Virtual tours are a standard tool used in real estate to attract buyers. Of course, nobody will buy a real estate property without seeing a physical space. Still, it’s a great way to drum up interest when you’d otherwise be sitting on your hands.

Consider Different Revenue Streams

When you can’t earn revenue in the manner you always have, it’s crucial to look for other ways to make money.

It’s time to look at every aspect of your event operations and assess how you can turn it into revenue.

The two items that immediately come to mind are your trademark beverages and dishes:

Selling Your Alcoholic Beverages During Shutdowns:

As a craft distiller, brewery, or winery, you have the advantage of bottling and selling your products. Meaning, you also have the benefit of providing delivery or curbside delivery services to your clientele who order online or over the phone.

In and of itself, this just seems like a practical way to earn revenue and bridge the tremendous financial gap caused by COVID-19. If you dig even deeper into it, it’s also a form of marketing for your venue.

Consider the following factors:

When you’re posting about your products on social media, it can do wonders for your venue’s brand recognition. Plus, in your messaging, you can also remind your audience that when there isn’t a global pandemic, you host events.

It might be a good idea to push more for customer curbside pickups instead of providing deliveries (though you may not have a choice).

Here’s why:

If customers decide to pick up an order of wine or craft beer from your venue, there’s a chance they might not have seen it before. When they arrive, they’ll get a good look at your property and might be enticed into finding out more about what you have to offer.

Plus, during these uncertain times, customers appreciate businesses that are doing what they can to be safe and convenient.

By offering to deliver or provide curbside pickup, it shows you want to ease your customers’ anxieties with your delicious beer or wine. But it also displays that customer safety is your main priority, and that you don’t want them to feel at risk when enjoying your delicious beverages.

Selling Food During Shutdowns:

As much as your best vintage or most exceptional IPA might convince consumers to hold events at your venue at the end of COVID-19, so should your most tantalizing food dishes.

Restaurants far and wide are already providing food delivery and curbside pickup, so why not follow in their footsteps?

This idea can only be executed with a skeleton menu of more affordable items. We suggest large portions, even offering “family size” options, so customers can get several meals out of one order. It’s highly convenient and puts off any additional trips to the grocery stores, which are specifically stressful right now. That’s something that will sit well with your community.

Food can be a unique marketing tool for your venue because of the foodie culture on Instagram and Facebook.

Most of your clientele are adhering to social distancing measures, and they’re bored. As such, they’re more present on social media than before the crisis and more willing to post photos. Aim to capitalize on this behavior—encourage your customers to post pictures of your signature takeout dishes on their social media feeds.

Posting photos of your dishes by itself isn’t enough. Ensure that if your audience is sharing your eye-catching eats with their friends and followers, they’re tagging your venue.

Branded hashtags are utilized frequently by successful brands, as they enhance brand recognition.

How should you go about getting takeout/delivery customers to share your food on Instagram or Facebook in a way that markets your venue?

We suggest offering a special based solely on social media activity. Namely, give a discount to a customer’s for their next order if they perform the following actions:

  • Order a food (or beverage) pickup/delivery from your venue
  • Photograph the dish and post it on Instagram
  • Tag your brand
  • Use your branded hashtag
  • Tag three of their friends

Word-of-mouth will always be the most valuable form of marketing. To further elaborate, Nielsen reports that 92% of consumers believe suggestions from friends and family more than advertising.

If you create a delivery/takeout social media marketing campaign that gains traction, it’ll heighten the chance to storm out of the gates when the shutdown is over.

Host Virtual Parties

As was mentioned above, social isolation has left people bored and looking for things to do.

Hone into this desire for person-to-person interaction by hosting virtual events for your pickup/delivery customers. Provide a personalized link or password, depending on your choice of platform.

Interestingly, there’s already a story of one venue opening a portal to its members to watch parties and other digital events.

Regardless of how you execute a virtual party, it’s a way to provide a perk to paying customers, which means further goodwill towards your brand.

Should You Continue with These Delivery/Pickup Services After the Shutdown?

Whether you should keep up with takeout services after the shutdown depends on a few factors.

Firstly, have you found any success through this measure?

There are an array of ways delivery/pickup can succeed, but also there are just as many reasons for it to fail. It could come down to location, surrounding demographics, and overhead costs.

With that said, if you’ve found that nobody is interested in your takeout services and it’s too expensive, it’s time to say goodbye as fast as possible.

Conversely, if you’ve drummed up some serious interest and good PR with your delivery, why not keep it going?

You’ll have felt the burn of – at least – a few months’ worth of lost revenue and will need to find different ways to bridge the gap. Provided you’re able to execute takeout and delivery without throwing a wrench in your other operations, maintaining those services only makes sense.

It won’t be a massive source of income, but anything extra will help.

Plus – more importantly – it still acts as a form of marketing and a way to attract leads for events. Especially if you continue with the social media campaigns discussed above.

Providing Value to Your Social Media Audience

Online marketing will be one of your venue’s best and only friends during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Utilize your platforms to establish your venue as a beacon in your community by providing valuable tips to your audience.

You can produce content centered around brewing craft beer or vinification, so your audience can DIY their own beverages. Or be whimsical and give tips to families looking to spice up their day-to-day during such idle times. Show them how to turn Friday Night dinner into a gala event or banquet, for instance.

Blogs are definitely a valid form of marketing, especially if you’re consistent and want results with SEO.

But if you’re looking to engage your audience successfully, videos will be your best bet, especially on Facebook.

When you’re creative and produce exciting content, audiences are likelier to share your posts, which will open your venue to new markets.

Managing Challenges with Current Bookings

There have been horror stories with event venues and clients who’ve had events planned during the COVID-19 outbreak.

We don’t necessarily have the answers for you here, but we suggest treading carefully. You’re already walking on a financial tightrope. If a story surfaces on social media about your venue refusing to return a deposit when a couple wishes to cancel their wedding, it can gain serious negative traction.

That’s not to say return everybody’s deposit—it’d be challenging to stay in business that way. Still, you must approach each client, whether it’s an engaged couple, a family, or a company with empathy.

Don’t have a hard-and-fast policy, but look at each circumstance as unique and do your best to work with clients. It goes without saying that your best bet is rescheduling, but understand that this isn’t always an option.

Otherwise, the negative PR might cause lead-generation to go silent when the shutdown has reached its end.

Marketing Your Event Space After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Even after doing all the right things during the pandemic amid all the shutdowns, your venue will still be subject to financial struggles.

Projections show that our economy will be vastly shaken by COVID-19, making people less forthcoming with their spending. Don’t expect seamlessness with lead generation. You will need to roll with those punches and find inventive ways to attract business.

Fortunately, the suggestions we’ve already given will be useful in a post-COVID world. Strategies involving your online presence, community outreach, and gaining traction with your products can all play a role in recovering financially from the pandemic.

Furthermore, the time being allotted to you because of the pandemic can be spent on honing your skills in the marketing methods that we’re discussing.

Your “Basic” Marketing Framework:

Before taking a deeper dive into how you can respond when your business reopens, let’s make sure you’re handling the basics:

Not all venues run the same, but in 2020, these universal marketing standards must be followed:

  • Perform a diagnostic of your social media channels, website, SEO, and other marketing collateral.
  • Update your photography with the best quality images. We suggest taking photos during events that show people engage with your venue and services.
  • Invest in search engine optimization (SEO) if you haven’t already. With the obstacles in your way, you need every advantage. Ranking highly for relevant keywords will ensure you’ll attract more event leads. Google is how people shop and perform research these days, and the first page results capture 71% of search traffic clicks. If you aren’t turning up on page one, vast portions of your target market won’t see what your venue has to offer.
  • Get listed as an event venue wherever it’s possible. Since events tend to be significant financial commitments, many try to put in their due diligence to find the most optimal establishment and go beyond Google. Therefore, you must register onto local venue-finding sites, e.g., www.eventbirdie.com. Beyond that, claim all local listings on Google My Business, Yelp, and TrueLocal, and ensure all your details are updated.

We must clarify that these are the basics that cannot be ignored when your business reopens. It might seem like common sense to some, but trying to get your venue up and running might leave you so overextended that these vital cogs not taken care of.

With these cornerstones of your marketing strategy in mind, let’s look at other ways to market your venue post-COVID:

Safety, Cleanliness, and Sanitation Compliance

We assume your venue upholds stringent standards concerning cleanliness and its sanitations. Unfortunately, the post-COVID world will be paranoid when it comes to these issues and your processes and procedures will be scrutinized.

You must go above and beyond with cleanliness and sanitation standards when the shutdowns end.

Even if you do everything in your power to ensure a safe space for clients, concerns will still be rampant. Therefore, instead of merely complying with regulated cleanliness and sanitation standards, make it part of your brand identity.

The market demands a clean place where they won’t get sick. You must not only supply that demand for a sanitized environment but also make it a clear part of your marketing message.

Do your research and find the best practices for your given region, such as the suggested maximums for people in the same room.

If you’re able to host events with no more than 50 people as per state guidelines, don’t host events with over 40 people, just to be safe. Show pictures of your team, providing people with extra sanitizer. Create videos for social media of your chefs in the kitchen, giving a transparent look at how they’re maintaining optimal cleanliness.

These above suggestions are just brainstormed ideas, but it’s vital to think along those lines. You’ll be selling to people where such things are a top priority, and perception is everything. Being demonstrative will make COVID-conscious leads perceive that you take their safety seriously.

Pro Tip:

Throughout the pandemic, many breweries and craft distilleries have made their own hand sanitizer with their alcohol.

This effort was – at first – used as something to keep employees safe during the outbreak.

Alternatively, we think that such a measure can be pivoted into a marketing strategy once your venue has been reopened.

Yes, primarily, this is a way for your brewery, distillery, or winery to keep guests/staff safe while saving on sanitizer.

But hand sanitizer positioned throughout your venue with branding on the bottles will subtly influence your guests to associate your business with cleanliness. As will taking pictures of these hand sanitizers and sharing it through your social media channels.

You can even consider selling sanitizer for a reasonable price as an added source of revenue.

Local Distilleries Hand Sanatizer
Members of the San Diego Distillers Guild have shifted gears during the coronavirus pandemic to produce hand sanitizer.

Solidifying Relationships with Vendors

Previously, we discussed just how valuable word-of-mouth marketing can be to your success.

Of course, every time you deliver as a venue and exceed your clients’ expectations, it’ll pay tremendous dividends when they tell their friends and family.

But you need to cover all bases right now, and one incredibly valuable word-of-mouth marketer is the vendors you work with frequently. These are the people that work directly with your target market, who would make for the most ideal leads.

Here are a few suggestions we have that should help you solidify your relationship with these businesses:

  • Take inventory of every vendor you’d been working with until the shutdown. Then send each a friendly email asking if there’s any help they need to get back on their feet.
  • Mention your preferred vendors on your social media channels, blogs, or vlogs for services that go beyond events at your venue. For example, suggest photographers for engagement or baby photos, or a DJ who’s excellent for house parties. Show them that your relationship is more than what happens within the walls of your venue.
  • Host an open house event for your vendors to sell their products and services to the public close to the time everything reopens. You’ll be giving your preferred vendors a platform to branch out and reach a vaster audience right when they need it most. Be conscious of cost if you host such an event, empathizing with the fact that your vendors might be struggling due to the shutdown.

Vendors talk and have access to communities that go beyond your reach as a venue. Specifically, Facebook groups come to mind.

The more you reach out to help your vendors, the likelier they are to use their considerable influence favorably for your venue.

Also, vendors are a part of your local economy, network, and community. Generally, if they’re succeeding at what they’re doing, it’s a good sign for you.

Diversifying Your Space

 Your space is a tremendous source of revenue, and within its confines possesses a variety of streams. Finding and maximizing those streams is up to you and your team.

For instance, many wineries and breweries are already creative with the kind of events they’ll host, going beyond wedding receptions and business banquets. Wineries are known to run art classes, for instance.

But right now, thinking outside the box as much as possible is of the essence when preparing for a post-COVID world.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the times when your venue isn’t be used for events?
  • What events could fill those times and provide a steady stream of income?

Perhaps it’s time to market your space in a subletting capacity so other businesses that have lost their offices due to the pandemic can perform their operations.

Or you can diversify your event services. If you’ve only been doing tastings, tours, and weddings, you could open your space to a theater or music community looking to rent performance space.

Maybe you can host a weekly “Food Truck day.” Local food trucks can pay to assemble on your property, during slower periods, to attract the surrounding foodie scene.

Of course, in this example, you must attract a crowd. Otherwise, it’s not worth what the truck owners would pay you. More popular food trucks might not be interested, but those looking for an audience could benefit greatly.

You could also charge an entrance fee, but this would limit your audience.

If it works, though, you’ll have established a steady stream of income when you wouldn’t be hosting your usual events. Potentially, it could also branch out into other opportunities.

It depends on your logistics. Also, remember that these are ideas. You don’t need to follow our thought process verbatim. Instead, aim to think critically about different ways you can earn revenue from your space.

Leveraging Your Current Network

As a savvy businessperson, you know the people, industry-based or consumer-based, with which you have good relationships.

We hinted at this with your vendors, but it’s time to harness these connections. When you do reach out to these people, you can make your needs quite straightforward—a written review of your venue on online platforms.

The power of Facebook and Google reviews can’t be understated in today’s climate.

With Google, if you have an abundance of stellar reviews, it helps your SEO, and your venue will rank higher in searches.

On Google, people typing in “Best distillery/vineyard in *your location/town*,” is a common search query. If your Google reviews are through the roof, you’ll turn up on the first page with your logo on the map snippet.

All it takes is your asking and being politely assertive with your network. If you’re conversing with local entrepreneurs, tell them the favor will be paid back in kind.

Like selling, playing the numbers game is integral to your success in obtaining reviews. Even if you only get 10 positive reviews after asking 200 people, that’s still incredible word-of-mouth collateral.

Be Present in the Community

After the regulations ease up and your business is up and running, your community will be healing.

It’s the businesses that lead from the front and provide outreach to those in need that will stand out from the pack.

We understand the pressing desire to earn revenue and save every penny. But altruism and charity can take you further as a business. 

Get in contact with the necessary governing bodies to see what you can do to help. Whether it’s hosting an event or using your planning skills to help with a town festival, do your best to get involved.

Your venue’s success is dependent on residents in your surrounding towns. Let those people know how much their well-being means to you, and they’ll pay back the favor in kind.

One easily actionable idea for community outreach is starting a relief fund for its members when businesses reopen. The money could go towards local businesses needing help to make rent and pay salaries through the first few rocky months of our post-COVID world, for instance. It’s something that is easily marketed via your social media and other digital platforms.

Embrace the New ‘Normal’

At the end of the pandemic, the world is going to be a different place. Don’t be afraid of these changes—embrace them instead.

You know the principles that go into successfully running your urban winery, brewery, or craft distillery. Those core methods still apply, but with a different set of parameters. Trust yourself to learn those new ways of doing business, and that the quality of your products and services will shine through.

Don’t Worry: Surviving Will Turn to Thriving

The COVID pandemic shutdown is not the kind of circumstance that should face any business. That doesn’t mean you can’t hold on for now and survive as a venue.

If you follow our playbook, you’ll make the most out of your time during the COVID shut down and prepare for the post-COVID world when it’s all over. From there comes the chance for your venue to thrive. Because you’ve already overcome one of the most significant challenges in history.