What are the biggest challenges for regional events in 2018?

A survey of regional and rural events throughout Australia was conducted in September 2018 to provide us with a better understanding of what their main challenges and opportunities are.

With close to 40 responses, the sample size provides some interesting insights and trends.

When asked what the most challenging areas of event planning are finance and sponsorship came out as strong leaders, not surprising for this volunteer-driven not-for-profit sector.

After this was a very close tie between risk managementmarketing and volunteer recruitment & management

Following is a summary of the results and key insights and finding from the survey analysis.

Attracting and retaining volunteers for our event is a key priority to ensure sustainability.

Although over 85% agree with this statement and many commented that they depend on volunteers, there were some enlightening comments about having an organized team structure to reduce the need for volunteers and the creation of volunteer initiatives that attract of pool of volunteers from outside the region to assist with the event. 

It’s time to think differently about the role of volunteers in events. The role of yesterday’s volunteers is very different to the role of tomorrow’s volunteers. People do want to volunteer and contribute to their community, but they are time poor and need to know that they are contributing in an efficient and productive way. Meetings are out, and new communication methods are in. 

This article from ABC News about volunteers in Tasmania sheds some interesting light on this topic.

Our event has a current strategic business plan that provides focus and direction for the team.

It’s scary to hear that 46% of respondents do not have a strategic business plan. What is driving them forward? How are they keeping their team motivated? How do they measure success? So many questions…

On a more positive it was wonderful to read some comments by mature events saying that after many years they have embarked on a strategic planning process to help guide their future as ‘business as usual is not working anymore’. 

Event revitalization or reinvigoration (or whatever you want to call it) is vital to the success of any event, and the process of analysis and review to develop a strategic business plan will help provide the direction and focus to achieve this.

If there is one thing you do for your event this year, I strongly encourage you to engage an external professional to help you through this process. It will be the best investment you have ever made (you may even be able to access grant funding to do this).

Our event has an up to date event operations manual and 12-month planning timeline that guides all operations for the event and keeps us focused and on track.

Only 51% have an up to date operations manual and planning timeline. WT...?! Event planning is hard and resource-intensive work – it can be very overwhelming and feeds the anxiety bug extremely well if not managed. The fundamentals to efficient and effective event planning are these two key documents – the operations manual and the 12-month planning timeline. They keep everyone and everything on track and ensures that there are minimal 3am wake ups wondering ‘Argggghhh, have I done that?!’.

There were many comments from the survey respondents about these documents being outdated and event committees not having time to develop them. What committees need to remember is that whilst it may take some time to create these plans and set up these timelines, the time invested now will save loads of time throughout the planning process. I can assure you that this forward planning is well worth the effort and time. 

Dedicating time to undertaking a robust post event review process each year is a priority for our event.

I am excited to read that over 75% of respondents agreed with this statement! This is the most important step in event planning. We need to be clear on what our visitors want and expect and be ready to take on board feedback that will allow us to improve and enhance our events. 

Listen to our podcast to hear more about why this is so important and take away some tips on how you can do it efficiently and effectively for your event.

We have good intentions to create fresh new elements for our event each year, but we just don’t have time to think about it.

Overall the response to this was positive, with 45% disagreeing with the statement and commenting on how much focus they place on overhauling and refreshing their event each year :-)

Those that agreed with the statement commented on the lack of volunteers and time and how it’s easier to just rehash the old program. I really hope that these events can see the value in measuring, reviewing and adjusting, and finding the time and energy to reinvent and refresh. Not only will this be good for the event attendees, but it will inject a new freshen into the volunteers and community! 

We rely heavily on sponsorship and grant funding to run our event each year.

68.5% of surveyed events rely heavily on sponsorship and grant funding to run their event. So if we have another GFC and all corporates tighten up even more, that would be the end to many events... Hmm...

I am a big fan of grant funding and corporate sponsorship, but I’d much prefer to see events use this type of funding as a bonus to help grow their event and introduce new experiences and even build infrastructure and assets. 

Events need to understand what their financial goals are. For example, is it to raise funds for community projects? Or is it to reinvest a minimum of $x into the event each year? Knowing their financial goals and targets will allow events to better understand the role of grants and sponsorship. 

We know that risk management is important, but we really just don’t have time to do it properly.

It’s scary to read that 37% of respondents feel that they do not have time to do an adequate risk management plan! The comments from the survey suggest that the importance is understood, but only to satisfy funding bodies and stakeholders. 

Risk management does not need to be daunting or impact on the visitor experience you offer. It is about ensuring that your event can continue to offer a quality visitor experience in the safest possible environment.

Many event committees are concerned that undertaking a risk management plan will only create more red tape and work (which means human labour!) to implement – I appreciate that this is a genuine fear, however imagine if someone was killed at your event and you had not done your due diligence…that should be more of a fear! 

Marketing is a priority for our event because it is all about attracting visitors.

Phew, no one disagreed with this! Everyone agreed to this statement, with some pleasing comments offered around their event being about more than just attracting visitors, and the need to also use marketing to ensure stakeholders and the local community are aware of and supportive of the event. Spot on.

Marketing can be a challenge for some event committees if they do not have the expertise on the team. The most critical thing for every event to do before they start marketing (to help save time and money) is to understand their ideal event attendee. If you know everything about your ideal event attendee, you can focus and target your marketing activity so that you do not have to spend so much, and you do not have to guess so much about what will be effective. 

Do you know who your ideal event attendee is?

We pay a marketing agency to do our event's marketing because it means it is done well and it's one less thing for us to think about.

In my experience marketing appears to be one of the key areas that events will outsource to a specialized agency. Over 50% of respondents disagreed with this statement, commenting that available funds is the prohibiting factor. 

There are pros and cons to outsourcing your marketing. I have seen examples of events that have outsourced their marketing and achieved significant growth in attendance and targets, but I have also seen other events outsource their marketing and lost the authenticity and feeling of the event. My tip is to ensure you find the right fit for your marketing and never lose control. Stay involved in developing the marketing plan and monitor the activity closely throughout the process. 

Our event team has regular meetings to discuss things, but they are often repetitive and a waste of time.

You’ve heard the saying ‘death by meeting!’, right?!

Event committees need to forget about the traditional meeting-heavy management style and start looking at running the business differently in order to appeal to more volunteers and improve overall operational efficiencies. 

40% of survey respondents agreed with this statement, which suggests that many events are still stuck in this traditional management style.

Don’t get me wrong, meetings absolutely serve a purpose and are a way to bond and connect the team, however they need to be focused and have clear purpose. A strong leader and chair of the meetings is essential to achieve this.

Committees need to think about who needs to be at meetings and also how the meeting agendas align with the overall planning timeline for the event. Identify what are the desired outcomes and address them in the most efficient way. 

Think about how you can empower your team to get on with the job without having to attend hours’ worth of meetings each year.

We work closely with our local council and regional tourism organisation to ensure that our event aligns with the destination brand and experience.

It is great to see that respondents value the support of their council and see how their event fits within a broader destination strategy. There is limited value in working with the RTO, although some respondents stated that their council represents them at RTO meetings and initiatives. 

Understanding the symbiotic relationship between tourism and events is vital to leverage partnerships and broader appeal for your event. 

The amount of work involved in running an event is overwhelming. We wish we had a paid event manager.

72% agreed that the amount of work involved in running an event is overwhelming and wish they had a paid event manager. Despite this, there was a lot of caution around losing the passion of volunteers and ensuring that the paid event manager is familiar with the event's purpose and vision. 

Having a balance of a passionate volunteer team and specialised, well-managed paid support is a good solution for events. It is important that events look at their team structure and think about the best place for paid resources and how that fits with the volunteer roles – Getting the balance right can be tricky and requires close consideration.

If finance was not a restriction for your event, what things would you do differently to ensure your event's success and sustainability?

The 33 responses to this question can be summed up under 4 key areas.

1. Employ paid staff 
2. Add new program elements
3. More and better marketing 
4. Produce an event manual

What would you do?

Cristy HoughtonComment