Amidst the tumultuous mid-term election season that closed recently, there was one event in particular that proved to, in addition to creating chaos while “restoring sanity”, serve an ancillary purpose of teaching us about the power of cross-media and grassroots event production. The event we’re alluding to is the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, hosted by Stephen Colbert & Jon Stewart. Although the event carried with it the sometimes disdainful, often witty, and always insightful character of its hosts, the bigger take-away was how an event founded on sardonic apathy was able to draw what CNN claimed was a low-ball estimate of 215,000 attendees.
Certainly, the fame of the host and his contributors was a powerful force; however, more influential and more quantifiable is the grassroots and multi-channel effort that actualized the success of this event. The idea was conceived from both corporate and populous sources, as The Daily Show and Colbert Report producers were actively considering a comedy-skewed response to Glen Becks controversial “Restoring Honor” rally in August, while, simultaneously, members of the popular social news website Reddit were discussing eagerly a Colbert-led rally to “Restore Truthiness.”
The idea came together when Stewart and Colbert announced the event to their broad television audience and designed the program around the input from countless event-RSVPs and contributors on the rally’s Facebook page. While the message of the rally was criticized from both sides of the aisle for being a veiled liberal ploy and for not carrying a strong partisan message, Stewart and Colbert hit home with a lot of Americans by letting both sides know that they believe America needs to “take it down a notch.” The message obviously carried great relevance to the 215,000 individuals at the event.
The big take-away from the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” is that a strong event has to have a name, theme and messaging that resonates with its target audience. Great execution is merely a barrier of entry from an event planning standpoint, with strong, relevant content and consumer interaction and resultant event tailoring being the difference-makers. So remember, whether you’re producing a politically-charged event catering to a quarter-million guests or a much smaller event, focus on your target audience and their interests, promote on as many marketing channels as possible, and keep great content at its nucleus; because, in this consumer-driven world, your fundraising ability is dependent on creating relevance with your audience.