The Do’s And Dont’s Of Running A Secret Event

Last Updated on July 10, 2022

I did a piece awhile back that made reference to a party hosted by Bud Light in Crested Butte, Colorado. It was a secret event for 1,000 lucky fans of the brand; the culmination of one of Bud Light’s most successful marketing campaigns ever. It also made residents of Crested Butte very, very angry.

“Most residents in the town itself didn’t know [about the event],” notes adweek. “After word leaked out, many of them were exceedingly perturbed.”

The end result of that perturbation was that Bud Light ended up having to pay double what they’d originally agreed upon with the town, bumping the cost of their permit from $250,000 up to $500,000. As a result of all the hubbub, news of the event was also leaked early – which sort of ruined the surprise. Y’know, given that it was supposed to be a secret and all.

Thankfully, the event still went off more or less without a hitch, and Bud Light was all the wiser for it.

Run properly, a secret event can do incredible things for a brand; generating a buzz and making everyone in attendance feel a certain sense of importance. After all, they got invited to something exclusive. They’ve got the privilege of being somewhere no one else can be.

That, in turn, can lead to some pretty good feelings around the brand that’s hosting the event – and these days, even the smallest steps you can take to improve your brand’s image are well worth it.

How can you run a secret, exclusive, invite-only event of your own? What should you do to ensure success – and what mistakes should you avoid?

Do: Have A Backup Venue In Mind, And Make Sure You Can Switch Quickly

If there’s one takeaway from the Whatevertown, USA event, it’s this: you need to have a few additional locations in mind in case your first one doesn’t pan out. This is especially true if you’re keeping things under wraps. Bud Light, for example, had no way of knowing the residents of Crested Butte would approve their event – telling them would have spoiled the secret, after all.

Make sure you’ve at least a few possible locales in mind, in the event that one or two don’t pan out.

Don’t: Just Make Something Secret For The Sake Of It

In Bud Light’s case, they kicked off an entire marketing campaign centered around spontaneity and unexpectedness – around the idea that “anything can happen, and that’s awesome.” This, in turn, resonated strongly with millenials – one of Bud Light’s most valued demographics – and helped the brand’s reputation grow stronger than ever before. There’s a very simple lesson here: it’s useless to run a secret event unless you’ve a strong marketing concept driving it.

Bud’s was the idea that millenials love diving into the unexpected; that they love excitement. Yours could be geared towards giving a few select journalists exclusive access to a reveal related to your brand; or to get people excited about a new product launch.

Whatever the case, marketing’s key.

Do: Keep As Few People In The Loop As Humanly Possible

The problem with today’s world is that it’s extremely difficult to keep something secret for long. Even with NDAs, there’s always a chance someone will leak something they aren’t supposed to – either in casual conversation or through social media. You thus need to keep as few people apprised of what’s happening as you possibly can – according to Bud Light’s marketing director David Daniels, there were people within the company that had no idea where the event would be hosted.

Don’t: Keep Any Details From Your Event Team

While secrecy is incredibly important, don’t go overboard with it. If someone needs to know details about the event to do their job, give those details to them. You’ve nothing to gain by getting paranoid with information about your event. Your event team, now matter how large or small it is, needs to know all the details, always.

Do: Pay Attention To The Buzz Online

This is more related to events marketing in general than it is to secret events in particular, but it nevertheless bears mentioning – pay attention to what people are saying about your event. Are they expressing excitement about what’s happening? Are they making wild guesses as to what your business has planned? Do they seem stoked to find out what you’ve got under your hat?

Good. You can use that. Release teasers, and nudge the conversation forward to increase the hype to a fever pitch. Participate in the conversation, and get people even more excited.

Don’t: Give Away Too Much Too Fast

One of the worst things you can do while trying to keep a secret is to blurt out too many details at once. Not only does this sort of destroy the air of mystery you’re trying to maintain, it also runs the risk of basically blowing the lid clean off your plans. People are pretty smart – if you give them enough information, they’ll figure out what you’re trying to keep close to your chest.

Do:  Market Across Multiple Mediums

Bud Light’s “Up For Whatever” campaign that preceded the party was run across a number of different platforms. Though the website definitely served as the campaign’s centerpiece, the company released TV spots, tossed press kits to journalists, paid for print ads, and kicked off a flurry of activity over social media.  Your brand needs to do the same to ensure it reaches as many people as possible. 

Don’t: Do All Your Marketing At Once

More than any other type of event, a secret event requires a lot of preparation time. You need to make sure you’ve at least a couple months of solid marketing before the planned event date. That way, people will actually have time to learn about the event – and to talk about it.

Do: Consider Structuring It As A Contest

People love competitions – that’s obvious, right? If you’re hosting a secret event, consider running a competition of sorts to determine who gets invited. That’ll make things even cooler for the people who do manage to secure a means of attending.

Don’t: Ignore Demographic Details

It sort of goes without saying that no matter what kind of event you’re planning to run, it needs to be targeted properly. Bud Light would’ve had way less success, for example, if they’d tried to position their campaign to capture the attention of Baby Boomers. Know who you want at your event, and target your marketing based on that.

Keep It Secret

A secret event can be a great way to generate both buzz and goodwill around a brand, provided it’s marketed and managed properly.