Planning Public Events - Case Study Tips & Tricks

I have been planning large scale public events since I entered into the event industry 10 years ago. At first it was a daunting prospect the thought of thousands of people attending one of my events and all the things that could go wrong. Every cable, fence pole and sand bag became an automatic trip hazard and threat. I found myself constantly scanning the area like a swivel headed radar machine. It was funny to say the least and at first, ok maybe a little bit stressful. 

Producing a public event does not need to be the source of  anxiety and event stress.  You just need to ask the right questions when you start the planning process so you do not end up in an Oh No  head smacking situation a week before the event.  

I am going use one of my latest events Grovefest as a case study for this breakdown. Grovefest was a 2,000 person community festival held in Austin this past July. We had (6) food trucks,(2) ice cream vendors, stage, band, face painting, entertainment, education tents, first aid stations, games area, inflatable pirate ship, inflatable racing hamster balls,  info desks, nature walks and even a petting zoo. 

WHERE TO START

1. Truly understand your event and what your clients want to get out of it. What ROI (Return on Investment) do they want to see. For Grovefest we had two goals: 1) Connecting with the community to showcase the new architectural drawings for the park. 2) Keeping in touch with attendees post event. 

2) Data Collection. Make sure you know what data the event needs to collect and come up with a strategy to do this. It is one thing to check-in 200 guests in a conference room but quite another to check-in 2,000 in the middle of a field with no internet. How do are you going to record their details, store them and use them later?

3) Why did I start with ROI and Data Collection, should't we just jump right in to dealing with logistics? That is one way to do it but I prefer to understand exactly what my event needs to succeed and plan the event entirely around those goals. All the logistical planning is impacted by these decisions and it is better to understand this at the beginning and save yourself the time of re-planning whole sections later on down the line. 

LOGISTICS

I break my events down into a categories. How many attendees, where is it being held and how long and when? Once I know that I get down to the nitty gritty -  Is there power, water, shade, bathrooms, roads, parking, overflow parking, bike parking, places guests can't go and are there any danger/security issues? Do I need permits, how much food do I need, how will that work, do I need tickets, how do we give out the tickets, what kind of food do people like to eat.........

For Grovefest I had a field. A really nice field but a field set off the road in the back of a TxDOT facility building. 

Challenges: No power, no water, minimal shade, no bathrooms,  parking but it was far away and far from the road with no line of sight for attendees, lots of city permitting needed and the question of how to serve 2,000 servings of bbq and tacos in 3 hours.  Plus with a very wet spring we had high grass, snakes, bugs and poison ivy. 

Pros: Big field, can stake tents in the field, can drive across the field in a truck and golf cart, trails for the nature walk already built, large parking lot nearby and an amazing group of company volunteers. 

BREAK IT DOWN

When I first saw this list I definitely sighed but I broke down each of the challenges into sections and dealt with them one by one.

1) Power -  make sure your vendors know and work with you on their power needs. Get a vendor you trust to bring your generators and always have a extra can of gas on hand.

2) It's Texas, if there is no shade make shade. Seriously. 

3) Garbage and Bathrooms - yes they are expensive but they are needed and required along with hand washing stations if you are serving food. Always think through the garbage and recycling plan. For most public events you will need to get dumpsters, trash cans and implement a recycling strategy. 

4) Free and easily accessible water is key to a successful public event. We had bottled water and huge water towers that could dispense 1,000 cups each. 

5) Parking - good news we had a big lot, bad news it was a trek for guests with small kids and the elderly.  The solution was golf carts and Bike Valet. The bike parking was the biggest hit of the event and allowed anyone close enough to bike right in and have a safe place to leave their ride while they enjoyed the festival. 

6) How to find us - Lots of signage with parking arrows, feather flags and volunteers at the entrance guiding people to the parking area. 

7) Grass, bugs and snakes oh my - Luckily, my client was awesome and took care of this with an incredible maintenance staff. But I did go out to the field on multiple site visits with the team to make sure the correct areas were mowed and poison ivy areas were marked. 

8) Safety and Security - For any large public event I always recommend having a first aid station onsite. I use SWEAT here in Austin. 

9) Food Service - This could be a separate blog post entirely but think through the following things: How much food do you need, how will it be served, if you are having tickets how are they given out, if you are taking payment who is doing that and how does it work, do you need a health permit, how much food can each truck serve in a given hour ..... 

10) Staffing - Go through every staffing sheet three times and make sure you have enough volunteers and/or staff to cover each position. Also, make sure all staff have plenty of water, shade and breaks. 

11) Finally, make sure you send your vendors as much information as possible. From floor plans and timelines to checking-in the week before this will make the event run so much smoother. Example, I didn't realize the gelato cart needed a generator as all the other food truck vendors supplied their own. Since I had checked before hand I was able to get one so there was gelato for everyone! 

Thank you Brio Photography for all the great photos!