Occasionally (very occasionally!) it may make sense...
Occasionally, it may make sense to have a presence at an event. If you do choose to host an event booth, here are some tips:
1. Be extremely selective. Think about the location of the event (can't be too far from your school), the probable attendees (families of the rough age group you are seeking) and the quantity of attendees (even if it's nearby and aimed at families in your age group, if it attracts 10,000 people, that's no good). Caveat: occasionally, you may want to have a presence at an event to foster goodwill with the host.
Tip: Think about your feeder schools (preschools, elementary, etc.). Consider calling the top ones (or better yet, have a parent whose child recently attended there contact them) and see if they host any sort of event/fair/carnival throughout the year where your school might have some sort of presence. (For example a preschool might have an Easter or Halloween fair.)
2. Location, location, location. Even if you have vetted the event and it's a go, a terrible booth location can really undermine the point of you being there. Sometimes event organizers put "vendors" far away from the actual action. Be wary. Try to find out the general, if not specific, location of your booth before you commit.
3. Plan ahead of time. Make sure you know if you need to bring chairs, table, tent, etc. You may need to order supplies, create decorations, plan your music, determine your activity and create your sign-up. Always do this with your brand in mind. Remember to bring your school banner and snacks/waters for your volunteers. Consider what volunteers will wear and say (nothing wrong with writing out talking points).
4. Choose volunteers wisely. It's tough getting people to volunteer part of their Saturday, I know, but you should be choosy about who will help. You can't have a disagreeable or completely clueless parent be the first impression of your school.
5. Select an interesting activity. Offer an activity at your booth that will draw in your target audience. It's got to be compelling (and of course cheap). Remember, these families did not come to this event to learn about your school so you've got to be appealing at first glance. You will have to be creative. What can tie-in with your brand?
6. Thoughtfully consider what you will give away. Of course you will have brochures or flyers but will you give away something, too? If so, consider something that will appeal to your target audience. Branded merchandise can get expensive and you may need large quantities. Plus, a lot of that stuff gets pitched quickly.
Tip: Your activity can be your giveaway. At one event, our school used small crafting kits from Oriental Trading Company. Kids wanted to make the craft so families came over. The kids assembled the crafts with our help while we talked about our school. Later, we offered small coloring books about our school. An artist-parent created the coloring books with each page containing a simple image and sentence. It was about 10 pages stapled inside a card stock cover. Our district’s printing office printed them. I added our contact information and a welcome message (including lots of testimonials is important!) on the inside cover. The exterior had a pocket that held four crayons.
Tip: Be selective. We decided to informally pre-screen before handing out our coloring books. No sense in wasting them on people wholly uninterested in our school. When someone would approach the booth, we would learn first if they had a child in their life in our desired demographic who lived somewhat nearby.
7. Bring a sign-up sheet. Collect names, email addresses and phone numbers. You can then invite them to open houses and add them to your newsletter list, if appropriate.
8. Evaluate. Be sure to keep track of how many solid contacts you make. This will be helpful in determining the value of future events.
Luckily, as you can imagine, after you have attended your first event, it gets easier. Good luck and share what sort of events have worked best for you. Also please share what booth activities and/or giveaways have been most successful. Giveaways can be one of the trickiest parts. And if you want to read about similar, but different, tactics, click here.