By David H. Martin

Several months after the events of Sept. 11 and with a brighter economic picture, more and more people are emerging from their cocoons and looking to re-establish connections with the larger community outside their homes. While long-distance air travel has been slow to rebound, this spring should mark a healthy resumption of local civic events, including participation from water improvement dealers looking to make friends and set sales appointments.

We’re not talking about local home or mall shows here. While many dealers budget more than $5,000 each year for paid participation in these, event marketing can help stretch that budget to include face-to-face promotions at local mall shows, street fairs, athletic contests and even hospital-sponsored health events in the same community. According to the International Special Events Society, a not-for-profit trade group, 67 percent of all community events involve sports. Festivals and fairs represent 9 percent; and 8 percent are “cause related,” benefiting charity.

Now is the time to get on the phone to local event organizers. Let them know you’re interested in enhancing their event with an amenity they might otherwise have to purchase.

Free water samples
Getting involved in local grassroots community events can help increase your company profile as the local water quality expert. Event marketing can be inexpensive if you limit your commitments to a realistic level. In other words, try to minimize your cash commitment while maximizing your level of cooperation with the organizer’s goals and objectives.

Whenever possible, target events in need of quality drinking water—these include biking events, marathons and especially foot races of various lengths, from 5K to 10K. Charity-sponsored race/ walks are another natural and will often draw even larger numbers of thirsty participants. Other potential opportunities include health fairs sponsored by hospitals and athletic clubs.

Free drinking water for participants is “currency” you may be able to exchange for typical event sponsorship fees charged to other companies looking for the same exposure. You may even be able to leverage your sponsorship to include additional exposure for your business, through imprinted cups, special signs and media coverage of the event.

Do it for leads & free publicity
Reporters, TV producers and editors frequently cover events because they’re immediate and graphic, with plenty of action and color. When making your business an integral part of an event, your company truck, banners or signs are more likely to be seen and photographed by the local media. Even TV stations in search of “light filler material” for the evening news camera crews that are out to cover local events, especially ones associated with worthy causes.

Some dealers who provide drinking water for local events settle for name-image publicity. They sell themselves short! With careful planning and execution, you can set sales appointments with both event participants and spectators. Some dealers capture leads and set appointments with “free drawings” for a six-month installation of a drinking water system. Others promise free in-home water tests at the time of the visit. Whatever you offer them, along with a free cup of refreshing drinking water, make sure your signs or fliers display clear messages to convey the offer. With athletic events, you may be able to include a coupon in the participant registration packets.

Is the event for you?
Use this checklist of questions to help determine whether or not to participate in an event:

  • Is the event organized and sponsored by a highly respected organization from within the community?
  • Is the primary purpose of the event to raise funds for a popular, charitable cause?
  • Do the organizers have a plan to assure strong participation and community spectators?
  • Have they prepared press releases in advance, for distribution to all local print and broadcast media?
  • Do they plan to advertise the event well in advance?
  • Will they allow you to offer free drinking water to all participants and spectators?
  • Will they permit you to place product signs and displays in the event area? (This is vital if you hope to see your name on local TV news or in the newspaper the next day.)
  • Will the organizers let you capture names and phone numbers through “free offers” or special drawings?
  • Will they provide a list of participants for follow-up calls?
  • Will they mention your product and company name in printed promotional materials and press releases?
  • Will they offer free audible promotional mentions via the public address system? (Be sure to prepare your own 15-second printed promo messages to make sure the message, to be read aloud, is appropriate and informative.)
  • Can you negotiate for the organizers to pick up the cost of the cups or water bottles necessary to dispense drinking water? (Some dealers get by with providing free water, but leave the cost of necessary paraphernalia up to the event organizers.)

If the event you’re considering meets several of the above criteria, chances are excellent you’ll be able to realize both valuable publicity and quality sales leads from your participation. If you’re not comfortable making such requests, feel free to follow a more modest approach. But remember—if you don’t ask, you don’t receive.

Send the right message
Some popular community events provide an added dimension for water improvement dealers—educational interest. Health fair organizers will appreciate “Water and Health” as an exhibit theme. Health club events might be better served with a “Water and Fitness” theme.

When you contact a hospital about participating in their health fair, be sure to emphasize your desire to educate people on the vital roles that water plays relative to diet, health and current environmental issues in the community. When you contact a health club, promise to educate attendees on the importance of quality water and proper hydration to energize workouts.

At health fairs, as well as other events, provide plenty of free drinking water for all attendees. And be sure to use a “free offer” or drawing to help you follow up to set sales appointments.

Plan ahead
Begin contacting local event organizers no later than March 1 for summer and fall events. By offering your services early, you can eliminate any would-be competitors and be able to plan several non-competing events throughout the year. (Schedule them to supplement home shows on your promotion calendar.) Early contact will also maximize the chance of having your company mentioned in pre-event publicity, brochures and ads that typically promote many events.

To assure an effective participation in any promotional event:

  1. Define your objectives,
  2. Pre-plan exactly what you need to do to achieve your objectives,
  3. Make a checklist of your needs—from cups to bottles to garbage bags—and prepare these items at least a week before the event,
  4. Construct waterproof signs and banners,
  5. Stage a “dress rehearsal” for everyone in your event crew,
  6. Write press releases and PA announcements well in advance, and
  7. Review all details with event organizers well in advance for maximum cooperation and publicity.

Community events are a low-cost, dynamic way for water improvement dealers to promote installed POU systems or delivered bottled water service. But without proper event evaluation, planning and execution, you could come away with little to show for your expenses and efforts. Use “free drawings” and special offers to capture sales leads and set appointments. “Building goodwill” is an important secondary objective.

About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing, of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, email: or website:


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