Classic Bike Showtime

Part two of Sump's essential guide to promoting your classic bike show,
autojumble, party or run (
continued from page one)

Keiran Shortall - War Department


Kieran Shortall trades in vintage Harley-Davidson parts and adds a lot of colour to the autojumble scene. Smart organisers would do well to encourage other traders to raise their game and follow Kieran's lead.




Nimbus motorcycle and Hiroko

Good, sharp, characterful images will go a long way to promote your motorcycle show and,  if you handle it right, might provide an additional source of revenue. If you can't take a snap, get someone who
can and use the pictures to promote next year's event. Image is everything.



Ace Cafe - three latterday rockers

One of the great things about having a camera is that it gives you an excuse to get down and dirty. Try and be a little imaginative and find some new angles. Now smile ladies ...



Kempton Park autojumble


Autojumbles can draw huge crowds. But most are under-promoted and unimaginative. Mal from Mal's motorcycles, pictured here at Kempton Park, isn't complaining, mind. But Kempton has its own momentum. If you want your autojumble to become a household name, you've got to get that marketing mojo working.



Brooklands museum - two riders


A little bit of costume theatre goes a long way in the classic motorcycle scene and helps turn an ordinary day out into a day to remember. If you can't afford to discount your ticket prices for likely characters, you might consider throwing in a few prizes for sartorial elegance and flair.




Norman Motorcycle Club

The Norman Club. With a combined age of around two million years, what they lack in hair and hearing, they make up for in knowhow and enthusiasm. If you own one of Kent's finest, or aspire to ownership, these are the guys to talk to. If you're promoting a classic motorcycle gathering and want to increase its appeal, great little clubs like these are the people you want to get on board. Factor the club scene into your marketing plan.




2. Repeat notification

Don't assume that one email or letter or phone call is sufficient to advertise your event. It isn't. Information is commonly lost, mislaClassic bike show signid or simply forgotten. Editors and magazine staffers screw up all the time. At Sump, we certainly do. So plan an information schedule by sending a fresh notification each month. Which means that we're back to those all-important press releases (see above). Press releases don't have to be clever or stylised. You don't have to come over all literary. Just say your piece and head it: PRESS RELEASE. If you're really stuck, send it like a telegram or something.


Classic motorcycle show. STOP. August the whatever. STOP. Anytown. STOP. Starts at 10.00am. STOP. Contact name. STOP. Admission price. STOP. Etc. STOP.


Just make sure you send something. And then send it again.


3. Detailed information

We see dozens of motorcycle event notices where the details are either vague, indecipherable or completely missing. Put at least two contact details on your press release. Why? BecMagnifying glassause telephone numbers and email addresses are frequently mis-typed. Plenty of visitors won't want to travel far without checking details. And if they can't check, they won't go. It's as simple as that.

Include dates, times, clear locations (ideally with postcodes), entry prices, relevant discounts, show attractions, facilities, itinerary, and the organiser contact details. And explain that routes to the showground will be well marked. Then make sure you DO mark them. Good organisation is everything if you want your visitors to find their way back next year. Good organisation sends a clear message to visitors and editors that you're worth bothering with.

Keep in mind that the media are often lazy and indifferent. Many of them are reluctant to use their weekends visiting shows when they've got other domestic demands. So you've got to be very persuasive if you want to drag them out of that shopping mall or bouncy castle or garden or whatever.

Make it easy for them to handle and process your information. And you get bonus points for writing a personal email to an editor rather than firing off blind mailshots at whoever might be at the receiving end. Anything you can do to establish a rapport is good. If you come across as impersonal, you risk being ignored.

Also, don't simply plant a sign in a field saying: MOTORCYCLE SHOW HERE NEXT WEEK (we've seen that a few times). Try and be a little more imaginative, and at least post a website or email address on the sign. If you scrawl a phone number, make sure you answer it, or have an answerphone deal with it. Plenty of organisers fail to do either. It looks sloppy, and it is sloppy. And it's time wasting. Be professional.



Easy Rider poster

4. Posters
and flyers

This means organising some decent artwork. preferably with great photography. But cartoons and graphics are okay too—up to a point. However, a lot of the artwork we see looks very amateur and slapdash, and some of it is in questionable taste.

BONZO BILL'S BIG BIKES, BIRDS & BEER BASH might well appeal to your mates—and that might be fine for your particular requirements.

We're not knocking it per se. But if you want to increase attendance and attract serious show going numbers, think BIGGER and add as much class as you can. The biking season is short enough as it is, so make the most of it by aiming high rather than low, huh?



4. Make the show newsworthy

This can't be overstressed. We've said it above, but it bears repeating. Editors are always looking for good copy or news stories. So make it clear in your press reOld Real Classic Bike newspaperlease what it is that makes your shindig so special. If, on the other hand, you really can't headline anything about your promotion, perhaps it's time to re-think it. Anyone can plant a sign in a field and bring in a hot dog van and a few old mechanical crocks and call it a classic bike meeting. Smart organisers, however, make that event special. They make it an occasion to remember, such as 50 YEARS OF THIS or THE CENTENNIAL OF THAT. Editors are not so interested in asking "what's the event?" as "what's the story?". Editors want to know why they should give free "column inches" to your motorcycle gathering.

We visit a lot of lacklustre shows that have no focus or theme, and generally haven't a clue about how to handle promotional issues. And merely being enthusiastic isn't enough (although that helps).

Even autojumbles can become a special occasion and warrant a headline; such as the attendance of a biking celebrity or the appearance of a special historic machine. So think news, news, news!

Ask yourself this question: what's the headline to my event? BIKE SHOW IN SHROPSHIRE isn't good enough. GUEST APPEARANCE OF ROUND-THE-WORLD MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURER AT XXXXX CLASSIC BIKE SHOW is better. Be creative. And remember to tip-off the local press and motorbike shops too, and then see if you can't put a notice in your local petrol station. Or maybe just outside your local petrol station where bikers have a pretty good chance of seeing it. Keep in mind that on average, motorcyclists are buying around one magazine per month. Or less.

You're well advised to try reaching these riders through other means, not least by marketing your show at other places where bikers come together (High Beech, Box Hill, the Isle of Man, jail, etc).

Keep in mind too that most show visitors travel less than 20 or 30 miles, except possibly to the very big shows. So fish locally through whatever media is available.

One more thing; consider actually writing the news report yourself for the magazine. Plenty of editors are lazy sods and won't do anything unless it's boxed nicely on their desk ready to go.



5. Press passesPress pass

Get the magazines and newspapers on-side by offering press passes, even if entry is free. It's a PR thing, and it can work. It tells the media that you appreciate their interest.

Contact editors and invite them to your rally/meet/jumble, perhaps by asking them to judge your show machines, or (better still) by offering them prime space to promote their own publications. Or give the relevant magazine an opportunity to sponsor your promotion (just don't mailshot them them all at once).

But remember that editors are on budgets (which are usually frittered away on all kinds of self-indulgent nonsense). And they won't invest in your show unless there's a clear return for them. So be generous. Everything is a potential opportunity. Don't waste it. Make the journos welcome. Make them an offer they find hard to refuse.



6. Photo opportunity

Practically all the shows we attend pay little or no attention to providing a decent arrangement in which bikes and people can be photographed. A line of mIwo Jima photo opportunityachines lurking behind a plastic fence or a length of rope is a dead loss.

Bikes parked shoulder to shoulder in a field isn't any good either.

Sure, space can be limited. But magazine and newspaper photographers are always gunning for a great shot. Their incomes depend on it. So help make it happen. Find at least one place where bikes and people can be fitted nicely in a frame. Use banners, or extra lighting, or straw bales, or a podium, or a canvas backdrop, or—better still—provide a great view over the countryside or showground.

Or design/build a "photographic set" perhaps with a traction engine or a Spitfire or just a good looking barn in the background. One great picture can help put your gathering on a news page. So organise that photo opportunity, and make it clear on your media release that you've taken the trouble to do this. In 20 odd years of writing about old heaps (for various magazines), we've never seen the phrase PHOTO OPPORTUNITY on such a press release.

Think about it. Think hard.



7. Show photographer

Get your own smudger on board. Why? Because you can't rely on the mags and rags to turn up, and most won't. And even when an editor or deputy editor puts in an appearance, it's odds on that they can't take a decent picture—and would rAriel Square Fourather see themselves in front of the camera than behind it.

Editors often send freelancers to cover social happenings. Some freelancers are good. Some are less good.

If you really want to build your show for next year, get some decent pictures in the bag; ideally at least one really GREAT shot that captures the mood of your occasion. Forget the dull snaps of petrol tanks and shots of people bending over to count rivets. You need happy, upbeat people enjoying themselves at your motorbike meeting—perhaps with your banner or club logo prominently in the background.

What's that? Don't have a banner? Well get one if you want to be noticed. And if you can arrange a picture that shows the entire showground/field/car park, then do so.

Compact cameras are okay up to a point. But a long lens is what you need if you want to "pull out" images within images. When you've got half a dozen GREAT shots, send them off to the relevant mags and websites with another media release to tell them just how great your show was—and invite them to next year's shindig.

And don't send low-resolution images unless the pictures are going online. For a decent half page shot in your favourite A4 size glossy classic bike magazine, you need a minimum of 3 megabytes (and ideally 5 megabytes or above). Pictures should be well focussed, well lit, with not too many highlights, and not too many lows.

Bright sunlight isn't ideal. Cameras, and human eyes, have trouble with glaring chrome blasting out from around black paintwork. Overcast weather is usually better and gives more balanced light. So if you're snapping away and looking for a great shot, take advantage of sunlight and clouds. And consider a few rainy shots. Or snow. Hail. Anything that captures the moment.

And one more thing:don't rely on the magazine art editor to enhance your image on arrival. Most are too busy to worry all that much. So do it yourself if you can. Make your pictures the best possible before hitting the SEND button.



8. Dress code

BSA bow tieIf you're handing out prizes, make sure there are a few for the best dressed visitors. Forget tuxedos. We're talking about period outfits. Rocker gear. Or 1920s aviator clothing. Or military clobber. Or whatever. Sure, dressing up is a little extreme and foolish for some. But it's wonderfully harmless theatre that adds real pizzazz to an event and makes for more interesting pictures.

Make it clear on your posters and news releases that you're inviting people to "look the part". If you're going to talk the talk, at least try and walk the walk. You might consider including a discount on the ticket price for people who help make your event more colourful.



9. Twitter and Facebook

We're not going to practice what we preach here, because we haven't much time for either of these social networking sites and have never used them ]UPDATE: We've since developed a Facebook page]. But the fact is, this is the future. Well, for now, anyway. At any given time, half the planet is yabbering away and sending messages to each other on these sites.

So if you've got someone in the family who's active on Facebook or Twitter, see if you can get them to tweet or twit or whatever the hell it's called. You could find yourself reaching out to a whole new audience and maybe drawing a new generation of classic bikers.

You might consider using You Tube too. If, for example, you had some guys at last year's event playing football, or jousting on motorcycles, or whatever—and if you've got some video footage—see if you can cobble together a movie and stick it online together with an advert for this year's show.

Overall, don't underestimate the power of thoughtful promotion. There can be a lot of money in shows and autojumbles if you handle it right, or there might be a big bill if you get it wrong. The classic motorcycle scene resides under a single umbrella, but has plenty of groups within groups. If you can come up with new ways of exploiting those niches, and promoting them, you could make a little money and establish a new classic event that will run for years.

Of course, there's risk in it too. British weather is as reliable as the British government. So consider event insurance. It might not cover all your outgoings, but it could take out some of the sting if things go wrong.

Above all else, take advantage of the mainstream press and make sure you offer something in return. And remember the importance of providing that photo opportunity.



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