Our customers plan and execute hundreds of events every month; earning our respect and admiration for their foresight, hard work, perseverance, and stubborn refusal to try something easier. Anyone who plans and manages events or goes on the road as a performer knows that Murphy was an optimist; something WILL go wrong every night. We asked our customers how they prepare for the unexpected (and inevitable) emergencies and avoid disaster.
With an unlimited budget and a large and dedicated staff, it’s possible to control most – not all – of the variables involved. Unless you are planning a political convention or a sweet 16 party for a billionaire, all of us work with limited budgets and a skeleton staff. We can’t control everything, but we can plan ahead to minimize catastrophe.
Trouble at the Venue?
Eric Owyoung, front man for the ambient rock group Future of Forestry sums up concert disasters: “Something goes wrong at all the gigs. Some speaker blows up, someone left the 9 volt batteries at the last gig, someone put the wrong address on the website for the venue, or someone didn’t read the tech rider and forgot to take out the green M&Ms.” In his experience, there’s always a catastrophe.
His advice? “The name of the game, when it’s tour time, is adaptability. People who don’t adapt well just don’t do well on tour. It has to be about the people and enjoying each moment as it is, not as it was expected to be.” Start with the knowledge that something will go wrong, embrace the disaster, and make the best of the situation. Owyoung comes prepared to perform, no matter what happens.
Unforeseen Conditions the Day of the Event?
The Blackheath Rugby Club hosted a Ladies’ Day Fundraiser to bring in some money for breast cancer research. They planned food, drinks, music, and topless male waiters along with a marquis beside the pitch, but the one detail they couldn’t control was the weather: “torrential rain, wind, and fairly cold,” exactly the sort of thing to ruin an outdoor affair.
Planning ahead helped the club reach their goals, despite unpleasant atmospheric conditions. “Being able to sell tickets in advance ensured the success of the event,” said club member Simon Legg. “If we hadn’t sold tickets before, a lot of people would not have come.” Instead, with tickets in hand, the ladies enjoyed themselves all afternoon. Even those who stayed home had already contributed to the fundraiser by purchasing their tickets in advance.
The University of Toronto Mississauga Environmental Alliance hosted a speaker series to raise awareness about environmental issues. They were excited to feature experts in the field, and to reduce environmental impact by videoconferencing. Less exciting was a lack of publicity budget for a free event.
Issuing tickets for a free event is an excellent way to generate excitement. Student organizer Rohit Mehta realized that tickets were “the best strategy because attendees had tickets in hand with all event details, and felt important to be receiving a ticket.” Issuing tickets was key to bringing in participants, helping people “remember event details, and their ticket was another reason to come to the event. These tickets really boosted our attendance.”
Rules and Regulations?
Large events, or those hosted under the aegis of a large organization, may be subject to a whole host of restrictions or legislation. When Joseph Burton, a student in the Biomedical Science Society at the University of Sheffield, helped organize a charity ball to help send sick kids to camp, he learned that there were “a lot of important rules and regulations that come with using the student finance service.” While Burton wanted to do things by the book, he found that the venue and vendors weren’t aware of his restrictions, were giving him “impossible tasks or deadlines.”
Instead of getting frustrated by trying to conform to two different sets of expectations, Burton suggests calling the disparities to everyone’s attention: “try and create communication between the two teams so they understand each other better. The venue is generally much more flexible when they understand the situation.”
Foundering in New Markets?
What plays in one city might not draw a crowd in some other part of the country. Ryan Cassavaugh, of Cactus Records, points out that promoters really need to research local scenes before banking on new acts. “I have seen too many first time promoters bring acts they love, that have done well elsewhere, but that don’t sell” in his town. If someone confuses “their own tastes, or a band’s reputation somewhere else, for buzz and interest here,” they’ll be disappointed with the turnout.
Sometimes postering the town and putting stickers in every bathroom is not enough. Instead of jumping into an unknown market, savvy entertainers recognize that knowing the local scene is important for ticket sales. “Know your audience. Know your customers. Know your town. Know your promoters,” Cassavaugh advises. While he recognizes that there’s no formula for ticket sales, it always helps to stack the odds in your favor by taking your show where it’s likely to receive a warm welcome.