7 ways to make sure your regional event is around for the long-term
Is your regional event sustainable?
Has it outgrown the capability of its volunteer workforce?
Does it struggle to break even financially?
A survey conducted in 2018 by regional tourism consultancy, Tilma Group, showed that regional events are struggling with sustainability and succession planning. Committees struggle to see a pathway to sustainability and growth. Many believe the event has outgrown the community’s volunteer capacity. Many share volunteer attraction and retention challenges, and many are unable to see a future without stress and pressure to deliver a quality event that meets visitors’ expectations.
It is often overwhelming for volunteer event teams to think beyond simply delivering their event. They know how to run a great event and community support shines through on the day, but the challenge lies in strategic planning, and developing operating manuals and efficient team structures.
Events that take the time to develop these tend to be more sustainable and successful – they are not double handling duties, they have clear roles and responsibilities (and an empowered team), and everyone involved understands the event’s vision and the path to achieve it.
Here are seven ways regional events can ensure they are more viable and open the door to growth:
1. KNOW WHAT SUCCESS MEANS TO YOU
What is your measure of success for your event?
Based on your event strategy you should have an understanding of what success looks like for your event and your team.
building community pride
attracting a certain target audience
attracting visitors in low seasons
changing the perception of your town/destination
(An example is Felton Food Festival: the Felton agricultural valley was threatened by a new coal mine. The farmers wanted to put their valley on the map and ensure they had wide support to assist their fight against the mine).
2. SET YOUR EVENT’S DIRECTION
Every event team should have three key documents always up to date, to drive the event’s direction and empower the team:
1. Strategic and Operations Plan
This is the helicopter view. It is important that everyone involved in the event has a copy of this and understands it. You want the entire team driving the same vision! This should be done three years in advance and referred to and updated annually. Bring this out each year at your first meeting and review it and ensure that you are on track…it is very easy to get side tracked. Your team needs to have a vision… a purpose to stay motivated! Your event’s vision should be “improbable but possible”.
2. 12-Month Macro Planning Timeline
This document outlines key tasks, deadlines and milestones month by month. This helps reduce pressure and anxiety for a team so much!
3. Event Management Plan
This is more of your operational elements for authorities.
Having these in place will set the framework for a successful and sustainable event. They provide clear direction and ensure the team stays on track, ultimately saving time and energy!
3. DEFINE YOUR IDEAL ATTENDEE
Event teams need a clear understanding of their ideal attendees and a marketing plan that details how to reach them. Knowing who your ideal attendees are helps you keep them top of mind when you are making business decisions.
“With so many opportunities, how do we know which marketing activities will get the most bang for our buck?” The answer is simple. Before you choose your marketing activities, know who your customers are.
There are certain people you want to see more of at your event – the most profitable attendees who love your event, talk about it, and leave positive reviews on social media. They are advocates and promote your event for you!
Brainstorm with your team about your ideal attendees. You probably know a lot more about them than you think – where they live, where they travel, what’s important to them in life, what they are seeking (e.g. educate themselves, rest, connect with their families, or get immersed in your culture), their lifestyles, interests, internet habits, and purchasing habits.
Use your website’s Google Analytics to find information on your website’s visitors: where they live, types of devices they use, and keywords they search for. Then research statistics for your niche market/s and their preferred social media platform.
Finally, talk to your visitors and ask them what they’re interested in. Send out a survey to previous attendees (Don’t be afraid to: it shows you are trying to improve your event to suit them, and that you care about their needs and putting on a quality event.) And listen to chatter about your event on social media.
4. DEVELOP PLANNING TOOLS
The most critical planning tool to manage your event is a 12-month macro planning tool.
It has four parts:
Pre-Planning (8-10 months out)
Working (1-8 months out)
Event Delivery (1 month out-event day)
Post Event (1 month post-event)
Meeting agendas will link to this timeline.
5. EMPOWER YOUR TEAM
The number one challenge of regional events I speak with is volunteer attraction and retention. Common concerns are burnout, inability to attract younger volunteers and a growing workload.
Rather than trying to attract more volunteers, consider how you are managing your team and workloadto make everyone’s life easier and how you ensure the event is attractive to new volunteers.
There is no doubt that having more volunteers would help but having sound systems and efficiencies can achieve so much!
Create an empowered team by establishing an effective team structure and checklists so everyone is clear on their role.
The most effective event committees operate like a business with clearly defined position descriptions.
Does your committee have a clear structure?
Does everyone on the committee know their role within the team?
In the following recommended event committee team structure there are two key components to the team:
This small team work closely together to oversee the strategy and macro planning. Their purpose is not to manage the subcommittee team, but rather to empower the team to manage itself. If you need to pay someone to ensure you get a great leader, I strongly suggest you consider this.
This is the operational team that gets stuff done. They work independently and create their own little teams to deliver on their role. Think of it like a snowflake – each of the sub-committee portfolio managers have team members with them; a system in which members of the team have shared responsibility for a common goal but work independently toward achieving their own parts.
How we create a team environment that is welcoming and makes people want to join? Make their jobs as easy as possible with good communication and clear direction. Do not overwhelm them with unnecessary meetings and time pressures. Provide opportunities for relationships to be built – research shows that when people build relationships in a team they are more committed and productivity increases dramatically. Allow for fun – field trips, R&D, social times. Once you have volunteers on board you need to keep them engaged and invested in the event.
6. MONITOR YOUR BUDGET REGULARLY
The annual event budget is one of your key planning tools, along with your strategy and timeline. An event committee should work collaboratively to set the event budget and agree on risk appetite. For example, do you want to risk spending more on a headline act as a strategy to increase ticket sales or will you go with the same level of act that you have had in previous years? Or, do you allocate budget to engage professional assistance to help reinvigorate the program and marketing or will you do what you have always done? Remember, the committee is accountable for finances!
A Treasurer manages the budget. It’s important that you have a strong finance coordinator as they are responsible for managing the budget and regularly reconciling and reporting to the committee. Too many events I have worked with set the budget and then don’t look at the actuals until post event – This is scary! There must always be a finance report at committee meetings – monitor, review, adjust, and never ignore budgeting challenges.
Setting the budget is a long process. Set expenses first, based on the event you want to put on (based on demand and feedback) and then look at how to generate the required income. If you can’t, you have to start trimming.
A few things to consider with income and expenses…
An estimate NOT a guesstimate – always refer to actuals from the previous event as the benchmark for expenses. Get quotes when setting the budget…do not guess!
Closely monitor actuals and discuss issues as they come up.
GST or excluding GST – be consistent!
Portfolio managers must manage their budget closely – there are no excuses for overspend.
Changes to budget allocation need to be approved by committee – enforce this! Many little changes can become a big issue.
Be prepared to adjust and adapt, but do not overspend e.g. take some budget from marketing to increase the entertainment budget.
Decide on benchmark ratios e.g. like 5% less than expected income or $500 less expected income = danger and watch closely; 10% or $1,000 less = crisis discussion needed.
Understand your break-even point – how much income you need or how many tickets you need to sell to cover costs?
Diversify revenue streams – reduce risk and reliance on one or just a few revenue streams in case something goes wrong.
Create NSW has a fantastic toolkit full of ideas on how to create new revenue streams.
7. REVIEW YOUR EVENT EACH YEAR
The post event review is the most important stage in the entire event planning process. It will ensure your event is on trend and responsive to visitor needs.
If we keep doing the same-same we will lose traction and market share and eventually our event will not exist.
A few things to consider with the post event review process:
Allocate a position on your committee for post event review
Determine your measure of success
Retention of stakeholders is far easier than recruiting new ones - acknowledge them!
Submit acquittals early
Provide an event report in detail
Data, data, data – you can never have too much – work with stakeholders to gather information on your event. Collect data from
Digital channels- collate feedback on social media, review sites, etc
Volunteers (ears on the ground)
Why do we need to collect this data?
To keep the event fresh based on visitor and stakeholder needs
To ensure we are achieving goals and know how we are tracking based on our measure of success
For funding acquittals and to satisfy stakeholders’ requirements
To maintain the event’s purpose – Why are we doing this? Are we achieving our aim?
To generate community pride by sharing results publicly
How do we use this data?
Analyse data and compile into a report
Communicate results to team, community and stakeholders
It becomes the basis of your planning for your next event: What will we do differently? What new things can we add to stay fresh and in demand? What does our audience want?
‘We cannot rest on our success and sit back thinking that everything is fine as it is. Keeping fresh and listening to our visitors is critical to the events success’
- Cathy Treasure, Event Manager, Parkes Elvis Festival
Read next: How to increase your event's economic impact (and how to measure that!)