15 Tips for Running Successful Community Events

15 Tips extracted from the Community Events chapter with examples on running festivals from the ACCE Chamber Revenue Models Whitepaper (published December 2013).

Compare notes.
Talk to community leaders in areas that run similar events. If possible, visit them. For example, the people in Daytona Beach visited South Dakota to learn about another famous motorcycle event, the Sturgis Rally.

Research insurance options thoroughly.
This includes event insurance, weather insurance and any specialty insurance for your type of event. In Walla Walla, Wash., for example, the chamber purchases balloon-specific insurance. Consider a worst-possible scenario. What will happen, for example, if you opt not to purchase weather insurance, and it pours rain all weekend?

Realize that more than your budget is at stake.
“The first thing you need to do is make sure that you are good enough” to pull off a festival, says George Mirabel. “The last thing you want to do is ruin your reputation.”

Budget conservatively.
Outdoor events are so weather dependent that it’s best to be conservative when forecasting revenues, says Patrick Sheeran. The Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber purchases rain insurance, but drizzle and cool temps can keep people away, while minimal rain may not be enough for the policy to kick in. Conversely, excellent weather in some years may allow you to smash your goals.

Don’t expect to make money the first year.
“You’re breaking down paradigms and you’re introducing people to new things,” says Sheeran. Plus, you’ll run into unanticipated expenses.

Differentiate your event from the competition.
Art and wine festivals are a dime a dozen in the San Francisco Bay area, but many of them feature vendors selling goods they did not make—and even some made overseas. The Chamber of Commerce Mountain View allows only artists who make what they sell to participate in its festival.

Determine if/how an outside compa ny can help.
In Mountain View, Oscar Garcia says his staff lacks the expertise and time to manage a large festival on its own. For this reason, it hires an event company, which assists with event setup and tear-down. The firm’s sales team also has relationships with companies the chamber would not be able to reach, he says. For example, GM Corp.—not a local dealership--exhibited 2014 cars there this year.

Seek input from all members of the community.
In Daytona Beach, chamber leaders asked residents in neighborhoods affected by Bike Week for input. The communication and input from locals helped ease tensions—and turn them into supporters.

Conduct an economic impact statement; it can help build community support for the event.
Don’t rely too heavily on financial support from a city or local business. Consider the potential for sleepless nights, budget woes and last-minute scrambling if that sponsor withdraws support.

Tweak the event slightly every year.
Garcia likens such changes to the role of a new ride at an amusement park: it keeps regular customers coming back. You don’t want to orchestrate an event where someone could compare today’s promotional materials to those from 30 years ago, only to find that the only difference was the ink color, he says. Sheeran agrees. “You can’t rest on what you do,” he says.

Know your tar get audience, and plan accordingly.
Garcia says the average attendee at the Art & Wine Festival is a tech savvy 30-something or 40-something. Naturally, many of these attendees are sports fans. Organizers noticed that attendance dropped off on Sundays, when people stayed home to watch football games. A few years ago, the chamber adopted a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy. Fouryears ago, the festival added the Comcast Pigskin Party Lounge featuring a huge TV and comfortable furniture.

Make sure you understand the event’s soft costs and hard costs.
Do you allocate staff time to various projects? The Tucson Metro Chamber began doing salary allocation about a year ago. Accounting for staff time “can change the sense of payoff on events,” says Mike Varney, president and CEO. An event that once looked profitable may not be as profitable as you think, he cautions.

Realize that your work doesn’t end when the festival ends.
You will still need to put items back in storage, deal with unhappy vendors or customers, get the property back into its original condition and give your “employees space” after they have spent so much time working together, says Shane Moody.

Read more from the Community Events chapter in the ACCE Chamber Revenue Models Whitepaper (published December 2013).

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