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Best Practices in Event/Festival Planning

By Sharon S. Strausbaugh, Marketing Manager, City of Belleville

Belleville, Illinois celebrated its 200th Anniversary in 2014. It is a community that is proud of its German heritage, and its history, traditions and progress.

Part of Belleville’s mission is to provide the important services that make it a safe and secure place for people to live, work and play. Because the city understands the importance of quality of life for its residents, it also provides pristine parks, walking and bike trails, and fun, family-friendly events and festivals.

Belleville’s beautiful parks and downtown streetscape provide ideal venues for events. The downtown Public Square in the heart of the city provides an ideal location for hosting many of its most successful events. The success of these events is the result of careful planning, teamwork and attention to details.

The following overview provides some of Belleville’s best practices in event planning.
 
DECIDE ON THE KEY ISSUES FIRST

Organize a Planning Committee
Successful event planning is a team effort before, during and after the event. Whether Belleville is planning to host an event on its own or is co-sponsoring with another organization, event planning begins with the coordination of a committee, including a lead or chairperson.

When organizing the team, look for volunteers. Belleville is fortunate to have an outstanding volunteer base of individuals and groups who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get involved. Whether it is a city-wide clean up or an annual festival, volunteers are an important factor in its success.

Depending upon the type and size of the event being planned, team members may also include representatives from various city departments, including the Police, Fire, Sanitation, Parks and Recreation, and Street Departments.

Determine the Event Objectives
Whether the objective of the event is to increase awareness, generate revenue, attract new visitors, provide an opportunity for socializing or some combination of all of these, it is important to establish an objective and set goals to accomplish it.

Make the Event Stand Out
Many of Belleville’s most successful events, including Art on the Square, Chili Cook-off, Tour de Belleville and Christkindlmarkt, have unique identities that help set them apart from other events and festivals. Their distinctive logos, themes, websites and Facebook pages are designed and created to make them stand out.

Select a Date
Weather is a major consideration in selecting an event date. It’s important to choose the right season of the year. Seasons prone to severe changes in the weather require emergency evacuation plans.

If an event is going to be repeated annually, it helps to establish a specific week or weekend for the event. Belleville’s Art on the Square is held annually the weekend after Mother’s Day, and the annual Chili-Cook-off is always planned for the first full weekend in October.

Decide on a Venue or Location
Consider site accessibility and the availability of parking. Depending upon the location, site approval may require permission from an individual or business, the city, the county or the state.

An example of this is Belleville’s Public Square; a very popular event site. Requests for permission to use surrounding property for equipment storage or event parking must be approved by several private businesses and the county. Requests for permission to reroute traffic access on Illinois Route 159 away from the Public Square must be approved by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Easy access is important whether you are pulling a cart loaded with supplies and equipment, or pushing a stroller or wheelchair. It is also important if emergency medical services require access to the event. The St. Clair County parking garage, several public parking lots and street parking are within walking distance of the Public Square.

Plans may necessitate requests to use other city resources such as barricades, sand bags, electric panels, trash and recycling totes, picnic tables, and security in and around the event site. Requests for the use of city property require the approval of the city council.
 
CREATE A DETAILED MASTER PLAN

After the key decisions have been made, it is important to discuss all of the details and to include them in a master plan of action. Establish sub-committees to help plan key elements, determine the duties and responsibilities of these committees and create a timeline for accomplishing all tasks.
 
ESTABLISH A BUDGET

Determine event expenses. Invite individuals, businesses and organizations to become sponsors and help share the costs. Establish sponsorship opportunity levels to cover costs such as entertainment, printed programs, tents and banners, food, and signage, and offer to display sponsor logos on programs and fliers in exchange for sponsorships. When businesses and organizations partner with an event, they also help to spread the word about it.

If city services are requested or required, it is important for event organizers to know the costs for those services and to agree to reimburse the city for them. Services that are typically required are police presence, street closures and site clean up.
 
PROMOTE THE EVENT

Look for avenues to promote events using no-cost or low-cost resources, including Facebook, Twitter and websites. Banners on city streetlights, posters and fliers in merchant windows, and promotions on business marquees and in newsletters are very effective marketing tools. Depending upon the size of the event, purchasing radio ads, billboard space and print ads may be a wise investment.
 
KEEP GOOD RECORDS

If events are planned to occur on an annual basis, taking notes and keeping records before, during and after an event is extremely important. Records become valuable resources that can be passed on to subsequent planning committees. Records from one event can also become a valuable framework when planning a new event.

Records should include details on income and expenses, contact information for volunteers, vendors, sponsors and donors and registrants, and comments or feedback the event received. Event notes may include plans that need to be altered, as well as plans that went better than expected.
 
EXECUTE PLANS AND ENJOY THE EVENT 

Even the best of plans can go astray at times; especially during first-time events. Unless an unexpected situation requires an emergency, last-minute change, always stick to the original plans. Implement necessary changes when planning the next event.

When the planning is done and the event begins, go and enjoy it. Experience the event from the perspective of a participant or attendee. It provides the best opportunity to see if everything is going as planned.
 
SCHEDULE A FOLLOW-UP MEETING AFTER THE EVENT

Important event details are easiest to recall immediately following an event. Schedule a follow-up meeting as soon as possible to compare the outcome of the event against the original goals and objectives.

  • Did the event generate the proceeds that everyone hoped for?
  • How was the attendance?
  • Did the event bring out residents and visitors?
  • Did we receive the comments and feedback we had hoped for?
  • What should we change when we plan for next year?

THANK THOSE WHO MADE THE EVENT POSSIBLE

A very important element in bringing closure to an event is saying ‘Thank You’ to everyone who made it possible, including committee members, sponsors, donors, volunteers and staff. Just as websites and social media are useful in promoting events, they are also great avenues to use to thank those who made the event possible. When people know their time and effort has been appreciated, they are more likely to become involved again.

Belleville hosts a variety of annual events and festivals including parades, 5K runs and walks, concerts, ceremonies and outdoor markets. From closing the streets before an event to cleaning the streets afterwards, careful planning, teamwork and volunteers make them some of the most successful events in southern Illinois.

For more information on Belleville’s annual parades, events and festivals, call (618) 233-6810, or visit belleville.net/eventscalendar.

 

Sharon S. Strausbaugh is the Marketing Manager and Website Administrator for the City of Belleville, www.belleville.net. Contact Sharon at (618) 233-6518, ext. 1245, or sstrausbaugh@belleville.net.