Written by Emil Lissauer, Senior Vice President of Capalino+Company
Festivals – music, film, food, pop culture, or anything else – bring together like-minded communities of people, with shared interests, for a unique experience… and fun. And for the event organizer this can be a very lucrative prospect. But planning for a large-scale event can be a difficult process, especially in New York City where regulations, permitting and community relations are notoriously complicated.
On May 12th, I joined top festival producers from events including Coachella, Panorama, NYC Food and Wine Festival, and Bonnaroo Music + Arts Festival, at Fest Forums NYC, for a panel on “Producing a Festival: From Soup to Nuts.”
We discussed the holistic approach to developing and producing a successful event, from market and site selection, financing and logistics, to government and community relations, permitting and being a good neighbor.
Everyone brought their own experience and expertise to the conversation, but there were a few consistent themes. Here are my top 5 takeaways from the event:
Location, Location, Location
After you’ve selected your market, the next step is finding a convenient location that’s easy to get to. Think about the audience- what you’re asking them to do, and where and how they’ll need to travel- and make it as easy as possible for them. Important things to consider include transportation methods and accessibility, existing infrastructure, security requirements, weather contingencies, and traffic/pedestrian flow in and out of the venue.
A successful festival not only establishes a destination, but creates a “Consumer Experience” that could sell out tickets months before artist line ups are even announced. You are asking attendees to enter your ‘world’ for multiple days, so plan your space well, consider pedestrian flow within the space, what vendors will be enticing to the market you are entering, stage locations and overall viewing and listening experiences. Creating a memorable event is crucial to your brand’s reputation and will be remembered (and talked about) by people long after the weekend is over.
Hire an Expert Team
From permitting, budgeting and marketing, to staffing and event production, it’s crucial to bring together the best team you can- experts in their respective fields. You won’t be able to oversee every part of the production process, so you have to rely on people you trust to make important decisions.
Volunteers are helpful, but don’t only rely on them. In order to get an experienced team, you have to be willing to hire professionals who have a track record for getting things done in the location you are entering.
Problems are destined to arise; create a plan and assemble a team that gives you the best chance of dealing with them swiftly and competently. Having someone who knows the lay of the land and has a network of people to call when problems arise can be invaluable.
Additionally, your team is the public facing part of your organization that will have the most contact with attendees, the surrounding community, and the people granting you your approvals. It’s imperative that they reflect your vision and represent your best interests at all times.
Engage Your Municipal Leaders Early
Knowing all the relevant codes, regulations, and restrictions of the jurisdiction you are interested in permitting is integral to a successful production. To do any type of event on public land in NYC, or any other market, you’ll need permits… in fact many of them. When you’re dealing with government agencies, you have to consider and plan to accommodate the specific regulations of the area you are permitting and be flexible with your overall plan.
Doing this and working within their constraints takes creativity and patience, but working with the City can pay dividends in achieving long-term viability of your event. You don’t want to be surprised by anything later that could really could affect your budget and in turn your final product.
Some of the City and State Agency’s that may require permits and signoff for events in NYC include: Mayor’s Office, Parks, DOB, FDNY, MTA, DOHMH, SLA, State DOH, DCA, MTA, EDC, and MOME
Community and Government Relations
Having support from the community and local government can make or break your event, especially in a crowded market like NYC.
When you’re entering a new market, you have to understand the municipality, jurisdiction, codes, rules and regulations of the area. Hire a government relations firm to help you navigate this bureaucracy and forge relationships with key decision makers at government agencies, influential community leaders, elected officials and any other stakeholders affected by your event.
Incorporate Corporate Social Responsibility
Create an in-market strategy to establish your event as a contributing and committed member of the community you operate in. Implementing a strategic Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) agenda can be a crucial way to build a reputation as a strong corporate citizen.
Startup festivals looking to compete with established companies are leveraging CSR as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition. Use charitable giving, volunteer events, community-oriented activities, and public and private partnerships to provide opportunities to the surrounding neighborhood. Make your event good for all involved, the attendees, the vendors, the artists, and the neighborhood that hosts them.
As a result, local elected officials and community stakeholders will be more committed to your event’s long term success and will be willing to support your project.
Our client, Founders Entertainment, has done an excellent job of establishing themselves as good neighbors operating in New York City, by building authentic relationships with the community and community leaders, connecting with elected officials and providing a positive and memorable experience for attendees. The relationships they’ve forged have allowed them to grow and thrive in the market with two marquee events, Governors Ball and Meadows Music and Arts Festival. Read the case study here.
Bringing a new festival or new event into an unfamiliar market is quite an undertaking, but if done properly and with the right team the rewards can be substantial as well. Proper planning and strategy can make or break your festival. Please consider all the above when planning your next event and when you assemble the team working on it, please know we are always here to help or provide any guidance you need to be successful in this endeavor.
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