How the Economist used social media to launch a new event from scratch


When it comes to marketing an event the Economist has probably a pretty straight forward ride compared to other players in the sector. Such is the pulling power of the brand that a lot of their events are by invite only. However, there still remains the challenge of getting the right people to turn up, and when Michael Oakes, Head of Programmes at the Economist, was tasked with launching a completely new event from scratch this was exactly his main concern

So how do you reach out to a new community that you have little or no connection with? The conference in question, “The Global Crisis of Depression”, incidentally became one of the most successful events for the group in 2014. Michael and his team’s aim was to get the right type of people to the event from different areas – such as policy making, pharmaceuticals, advocacy groups and the corporate sector.

So the team went about the usual preparation: advisory group meetings, leveraging sponsor relationships and launching a direct marketing campaign and so on. Where the campaign really stood out was its approach to social media as a way of connecting with people as well as broadcasting the event beyond the conference venue.


A very chuffed Economist Events Team after winning the Conference Award for best new launch.

“Social media was a very important element of our campaign”, Michael explains. Via the #depressionsummit hashtag the team created a real stir on Twitter. The team started connecting with speakers via their Twittter handles and on the day the hashtag was actually trending, reaching a massive global audience.

The team also made good use of LinkedIn as a marketing channel. In Michael’s own words: “LinkedIn was very important and the marketing team were very active in joining and targeting relevant groups. For some groups we spoke to the owners, directly asked them to come along and offered discounts to encourage them to promote the event to their members.” Incentivising group owners to amplify the marketing message has been a really effective strategy.

And finally, PR played an instrumental role in creating a buzz around the event. The Economist decided to hire an agency specialised in the subject area, which meant that less time was spent on building the relationships and more on creating impactful content through speaker interviews, features and press releases that followed the industry as well as the general news agenda. “It meant we were jumping on what was happening in the community”, says Michael.

Yes, the Economist brand has enormous pulling power, but what the events team managed to demonstrate was how social media can be used effectively to reach out to new target audiences.