These days, when you put on an event, you really can’t afford to mess anything up. If you do, you risk a costly, potentially irreversible black mark on your reputation. For example, you might remember hearing about the notorious Fyre Festival from last year. Thousands of expensive tickets were sold, travel arrangements were made and commercials were filmed, only for the festival’s organizers to fail miserably in the logistics department. The caterer dropped out, the accommodations fell through and, inevitably, people left the festival in droves. This is an example of how not to run your festival.
On the other hand, think of some of the best onsite events you’ve attended. They were so well-oiled that you probably didn’t even notice the fundamental logistics—performances ran smoothly and on-time, food and drink was easily accessible, ticketing was uncomplicated. The goal of your festival logistics strategy should be to ensure that the festival is run in a simple, straightforward manner—as much as you can eliminate event-goer pain points, you should. Of course, you also need to prioritize sales. When you put effort into creating an event that makes people happy, they’ll be willing to pay a premium and attend again next year.
From getting event materials to the venue in the right equipment containers to picking the perfect ticketing platform, this guide will give you a basic rundown of what festival logistics encompass.
FIRST THINGS FIRST: GAUGE INTEREST
Before you put a single dollar into festival planning, you’re going to want to make sure that it’s something people will be willing to pay for. How do you do that? First, query your existing customer base and make notes on what they say. Maybe they like the idea of a certain kind of event but have ideas for how to break the status quo or add something special. If you already have a well-established base of users or fans, we highly recommend setting up a survey to help gauge their interest.
Next, look at your competitors’ events and dig deep into their successes and failures. These days, you don’t have to look far to find negative reviews. It seems as though a company’s every minor misstep is broadcast in the form of user-generated content on social media, blogs and review sites. In this case, some bad press can be used to your benefit. If you want to create the next Coachella, for example, spend a few hours sifting through reviews to better understand where users felt that the experience fell short. Mark those things as no-nos or come up with solutions to fix them when it’s your time to take a stab at it.
Tip: Start early! Some of the most successful events took years to plan and execute. If you plan to have more than 1,000 attendees, start at least a year and a half in advance.
VENUE AND SETUP
Choosing the venue should be the second task on your festival logistics checklist, just after determining whether or not there’s a viable audience for your vision. The most important thing here is to make a list of qualifications and questions (more on that below) so that you can rule out any no-gos and have a list of two or three feasible options to work with. Here are some other basics to consider.
- Location—You want to be sure that the location is somewhere that suits your goals and, if you envision that a lot of attendees will travel to get to the event, someplace that’s conveniently located near an airport. Once you’ve chosen your venue, you can move onto the next phase.
- Mockup—If you’re dealing with a large area and lots of different activities and performances, then you’ll want to visualize your space with a site map. The most important thing here is to make sure that it’s accurately scaled so that everything is properly laid out when it comes time to set up.
- Organize—One thing people often overlook in the logistics planning department is festival equipment. You and your vendors will undoubtedly be carting electrical equipment, sound equipment, stage setup and booth materials into the venue. For this, there’s no better way to organize than with plastic collapsible bulk boxes.
Here are some questions to ask when visiting various venues:
- How many attendees can the venue hold?
- How many cars can the parking area hold?
- Is alcohol allowed?
- Are there any off-limits vendors?
- Can we set up booths and stages anywhere?
- Are there security requirements?
- Can we bring in our own equipment?
- Do you provide any staff?
- Is there water access?
TALENT, PRESENTATIONS AND EXTRAS
Now for the fun part! You won’t have an event without headliners. While designing your event’s lineup is definitely one of the best and most exciting parts about festival planning, there’s a less-than-enjoyable side to it, too: scheduling. You have to coordinate schedules so that event-goers are most likely to see all of the acts they want to see, without overshadowing smaller performances or events. You can leverage your acts and extra events to grab the attention of sponsors. Offer sponsorship of certain stages and areas of your venue.
- Pitch—The most affordable way to book talent is to reach out to performers themselves. Create a neat, well-organized pitch deck outlining your event and send it directly to your desired performers. For bigger budgets, partnering with a booking agency might be a good way to get your desired acts.
- Schedule—Well-organized festivals depend on smart scheduling. It’s not only key to ensuring that attendees get to see all the acts they want to see, but also to making sure that employees and volunteers are scheduled at the appropriate times. We’d recommend investing in a festival management software for this.
- Enhance—Good festivals are more than just shiny headliners. They also include compelling extras that might make an on-the-fence fan convert to a definite yes. Art installations, water features (key if your event takes place in the middle of the summer), performers and booths will keep guests engaged between big performances.
TICKETING, SALES AND ENTRY
Once you’ve set the date, it’s time to discuss ticketing. To generate buzz for your event, it’s not a bad idea to offer presale tickets to a select few fans or attendees. You can even offer fans early tickets if they help to promote your event by using your hashtag or sharing a post on social media. Make sure that you’re using a reliable, easy-to-use online ticketing platform to minimize customer service inquiries, and offer day-of box office tickets, possibly with a slight markup.
- Attendee Flow—If you’ve ever been to a big event of any sort, you know that getting in and getting out are some of the most challenging parts of the event. Before the festival, create a thought-out plan for how to funnel guests to where they need to go without shoulder-to-shoulder traffic. Identify and clearly mark all exits.
- Scanners—If you’ve sold several hundred tickets, you simply can’t get around it. You’re going to need to invest in ticket scanners to ensure that event-goers get through the gates quickly and efficiently. Some venues may offer available staff and their own ticketing technology for a fee, so this is something to consider.
- Security—Following the horrible events at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas and the Ariana Grande Concert in Manchester, England, festival promoters simply cannot risk skimping on security. Coordinate with local governments and private security companies to develop your event security strategy.
- Payments—Accepting all forms of payment both onsite and online will help boost your sales, not only because it’s easier for customers to lock down tickets, but also because it makes your event look more reputable. Many large events also accept payment plans, which could help boost sales.
CATERING TO THE EVENT-GOER
Did we mention that consumer experience and enjoyment is everything in the event-planning world? Here’s the thing: Event-goers spend a lot of money on their tickets and accommodations, and they often look at such events like a vacation or a retreat from everyday life. You simply can’t afford to make finding services, performances, information and food a hassle, and you want to make sure that every single hour of the event includes something fun and engaging for attendees to do.
- Information—Be sure that your setup includes several informational hubs so that festival-goers get information when they need it. Information booth workers should have maps and informative flyers, but also be able to quickly direct attendees to medical services, lost and found, security and other onsite services. Always make sure that all of this info is easily available on your event website or app.
- Customer Service—Designate a few trusted members of the event staff as go-to customer service pros so that volunteers and employees can direct any conflicts to a specific person. Make sure that you go into your event with a clear strategy for how to handle issues with ticketing, entry, vendors and more.
- Essentials—When you’re scouring feedback of competitors, you’re almost guaranteed to come across one or two complaints regarding event bathrooms. The fact of the matter is, you’ll probably have to invest in temporary bathrooms of some sort, which aren’t always the best. Just make sure that you focus on having enough bathrooms and that you have a team dedicated to keeping them clean.
- Personalization—Last but not least, try to make every festival-goer’s experience memorable and personalized. Make sure that you have event photographers on hand and photo booths available—the more the photos are shared, the more buzz around your event—and encourage attendees to post on social media.
MARKETING AND AWARENESS
Once everything’s prepped and ready to go, it’s time to get the word out. While building up buzz as much as a year in advance is important, marketing your festival doesn’t stop once the gates open. Throughout the planning process, you should be engaging with your social media platforms every day and locking in promoters and press coverage. Treat the festival like a brand in and of itself. It should have its own personality, narrative and goals.
- Authenticity—Rule No. 1 of event marketing: be authentic. As we learned from Fyre Festival—which spent millions on glitzy marketing materials featuring Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid and plenty of private jets—it’s important to be upfront and honest with ticket-holders every step of the way.
- Social—If your target audience is of a digital generation, you simply can’t afford to skimp on social media engagement. Create a hashtag and incorporate it throughout the event. Add it to your photo booth photos, as these are the things users are most likely to share. Offer incentives before and during the festival for promoting the event online. Also, consider developing a “street team” to promote the festival beforehand.
- Livestream—You can maximize your social media potential and ramp up your audience (an important facet for next year’s event) by livestreaming some of the biggest and most well-attended festival events. Be sure to post several updates leading up to the livestream so that you get the most viewers possible.
Festival planning can be broken down into several categories and ticking off boxes beneath each one will help ensure that you create an event that’s well-attended, well-organized and well-remembered. And, the goal of many festivals is to get bigger and bigger, so you can’t afford to take the easy route on some of the most important festival logistics. These tips will help you create an event that knocks it out of the park for double the attendance next year!