Special Event Planning Tips

It’s not enough to identify similar events as possible conflicts, but those that have a regular following and might draw some of the same crowd.

Cox mentions an Earth Day that coincided with the aforementioned Melbourne Art Show that was held 20 miles from the art show. Even though there wasn’t a competing environmental event, the art show drew that demographic because it’s a tried and true known quantity.

Cox also mentions a special baseball event he attended that had the misfortune of being staged simultaneously with an outdoor Lynyrd Skynyrd concert.

“There was blaring music, you’re trying to play a baseball game, and you couldn’t hear the mike because the music was so loud, which was actually pointed at the other stadium. Two different venues going on at the same time, and boom! That was crazy,” says Cox.

The best thing to do is constantly network and stay in touch with as many people as possible who can keep you in the loop and provide direction where needed.

“In a metro area it’s a little different than a rural area, where the majority of attendance is going to come from an immediate vicinity,” says Art Anselene, parks and recreation director for the town of Herndon, Va. Herndon runs an annual festival that’s one of the biggest in the area.

“We attract an audience from the Washington, D.C. area and people from other states. While the largest majority comes from a five-mile radius, we have multiple other communities in the area. We are working with multiple jurisdictions on event scheduling so that we’re not competing with each other for vendors and entertainment — not only other parks and rec departments, but other cities and organizations.”

Event coordination is the proverbial two-headed dragon. Both heads –- representing internal and external coordination -– demand equal vigilance.

“Make sure there’s a good vision about the purpose of the event. How are you partnering with other groups to carry on an event? Are there clear guidelines with the roles and responsibilities of each group you’re partnering with so that there are no misunderstandings in the process?” comments Anselene.

“When you put on an event, it certainly effects a number of different departments and organizations within a community. Make sure everyone is involved in the process and knows exactly what’s going on, whatever changes you work through the process, and make sure everybody has a buy-in to what you propose to do and how you propose to do it so it doesn’t become a surprise to anyone.”

Coordinating with all city departments is an absolute must. Police, fire and other emergency services need to be completely comfortable with the logistics.

Perhaps rule number one is to make sure there’s more than one route of access to the event. Find that balance between too few and too many. And don’t forget to have plenty of bathrooms.

Don’t forget about sponsors. San Gabriel’s Anderson set up a gold, silver and bronze sponsorship system based on how much each sponsor gives. It helped alleviate any sponsor confusion about what they were supposed to give and what they got for their money.

“The highest level was $300 and over, which included their logo on our t-shirt. If you just ask people to give, they’re willing to give, but they don’t know what to give, so it’s good to have some set levels of what they can attain. They want to know what they’re going to get for their money,” says Anderson.

Begin at the End

A continuous refrain from these special event planning veterans –- Anderson, Anselene and Cox –- is the importance of doing immediate evaluation after the event to make next year’s event better. Evaluate, then document and save that documentation for future reference.

“You have to do the evaluation right away when the event is still fresh on your mind. A month down the road you’ve had three other major things events happen and it’s hard to remember specifics. If you can at least jot down suggestions — what worked and what didn’t work — so that a year later, when you’re ready to do the event again, come back a year later you’re able to somewhat remember what happened,” says Anderson.

“I typically write up a description of the event itself and the key people involved — volunteers and sponsors. We list specifics on sponsors, registration, how the date worked for us, and so on.”

The Town of Herndon has an eight-inch-thick manual documenting all previous Herndon Festivals. The manual is divided up by each year, and further subdivided within each year by each aspect of festival operation — police, logistics, entertainment, each committee, carnival, food vendors, arts and crafts, business expo, shuttle bus service and so on.

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