When planning a new event, whether it’s a small on-site pop-up dinner or an international beer festival that has the potential to draw crowds of thousands, the first question you should ask yourself is, Is my event a sound idea? Adam Dulye, the executive chef of the Brewers Association, was one of three event-planning experts who came together to share tips for creating successful drinks industry events in a learning session at BevCon 2017 in Charleston, South Carolina. In the Secrets of Event Success session, he explained that “people often have blinders on when considering an event,” which can make that first question tough both to ask and to answer. He believes the blinders need to be “ripped off so that one can honestly evaluate whether there is a true need for the event.” Seriously—does your town need another beer fest?
When BevCon’s founder, Angel Postell—who is also the the founder of Home Team PR and Events in Charleston—was contemplating launching the now renowned drinks industry conference, she said she conducted research to find out whether any other conferences brought together beer, wine, and spirits. She said she also polled beverage professionals to see if BevCon would satisfy a need for them. The responses led her to move forward and execute her plans for the conference.
But Vanessa Driscoll Bialobreski, the founder and managing partner at Farm to Table Event Company in Columbia, South Carolina, pointed out that in some cases event planners are hired to create events for their clients regardless of whether they think the event is a “sound idea.” In her job, she must respond to specific demands and requests from clients, taking their vision for an event and seeing it through.
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Once you’ve decided to host an event, you need to nail down a date. The speakers discussed the importance of finding out what other events will be taking place at the same time in your area. For example, in Columbia, where Bialobreski is based, there are only few weekends in the autumn when all-engrossing University of South Carolina home football games are not being played, so if she wants anyone to attend her events, she has to pick her weekends carefully. There are other considerations that go into selecting an ideal date—a football-free weekend isn’t necessarily the best weekend to organize an event (especially since there are likely to be many other competing event planners that have waited for the same weekend to host their events), but it’s one that Bialobreski certainly takes into account.
By being aware of other events that are occurring in your area and coordinating with other local event planners, you increase the chances that the event you want to schedule won’t compete with others—and that your event will be well attended. Postell recommends that you collaborate with fellow event planners and PR agencies on scheduling to avoid competing with one another and saturating the market. She reminded attendees that visitors bureaus, which post online calendars of what’s happening locally, can be a helpful resource. For events that draw out-of-towners, Postell said it’s also important to take into account holidays, weather patterns, and other special circumstances, such as the total solar eclipse this summer, which affected Postell’s choice of timing for BevCon 2017.
The next consideration is one of the most crucial: the event’s budget. Since this part is so vital for success, it’s a good idea to hire someone who does budgeting for a living so that you don’t end up making any mistakes—skimping on the number of Porta-Johns, say, to save money, said Dulye. You need those Porta-Johns.
You also need to budget for the unexpected, said Postell. For example, if you’re hosting an outdoor event, be sure to allot funds for tent rentals in case of rain.
If you’re not holding the event in your own space, you need to think about where you’re going to host it and what capacity you’re looking for from the venue. As Dulye pointed out, you don’t want to cram a large crowd into a small venue or drown out a gathering in an overly large space. Postell also underscored the importance of choosing a large enough event space and managing operations for the event so that people can be checked in swiftly, saying that she “hates lines, as they indicate poor planning [or] too many people for the space.”
Sponsor money can be tempting (and sometimes necessary) to boost your event’s coffers, but Dulye encourages event planners to take a hard look at whether the company with the money fits the branding and scope of the event. If craft beers are the focus, for instance, a commercial brewery or food manufacturer would not be a good fit—and could undermine the event’s long-term success.
Once the why, when, and where are established, the next phase is branding, marketing, and creating buzz. Social media is crucial, said the speakers. If you don’t have the time for regular and consistent posting to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it’s wise to hire a team, as Postell did for BevCon. With this in mind, Dulye suggested getting everyone involved—from the chef to the beer maker to the guests—excited about the event so that they will create and share in creating the buzz. And keep in mind that the buzz shouldn’t stop when the event is over, said Postell, who added that she works to keep it going all year by continuing to post about it on social media and by organizing pop-up BevCon events.
Once the event has been successfully executed, take some time to assess what worked and what didn’t. Do it as soon as possible so the details are fresh in your mind, advised the speakers. “Even if it’s painful,” said Bialobreski, explaining how she felt when she used to plan national events and had to show up at an 8 am meeting for a Monday morning review of the weekend’s festivities. If you don’t do this, Dulye warned, you may forget an important detail that will come and “bite you in the ass next year.” Follow-up should also entail sending evaluations to participants and thanking sponsors.
If you follow these steps based on the expertise of seasoned event planners and your event is a success—congratulations! If you decide to host an annual event, Dulye recommended changing up the details a bit to keep it fresh—and successful—from year to year.
Diana Pittet owns Night Owl Hospitality, a cocktail catering company in Asbury Park, New Jersey, and is an adjunct professor at New York University, where she teaches a graduate class on the history, culture, and politics of drinking.