How to grow your event

Events are very powerful “marketing tools” that can cut through your audience’ emotions by allowing them to experience your brand and what you have to offer in a way that nothing else you do marketing-wise has the power to do. If done well, they create high levels of “love” for your brand, create loyalty or at least retention, and transform the audience in your best ambassadors. That’s why, skills and creativity in event design, marketing and management are critical.

The Cellar Door Festival has become a fixture in the SA’s calendar of events

In my marketing career, I have planned and organized many events of various nature from 50 to 10,000 people. Large product launch events for Komatsu, Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC)’s family fun day, Regattas weekly activation, the new Adelaide Convention Centre 4-day launch and many others… They were never an isolated activity, but rather a promotional vehicle as part of an integrated marketing plan that served a specific purpose.

At the Adelaide Convention Centre, where I was their Marketing Manager from 2010 to 2016, we disrupted the system and began creating and marketing our own public events, a first in convention centres. That’s how the very successful and much loved Cellar Door Festival (CDF) was born.

Making sure everything works perfectly at an event is part of the job, right?

Over 5 seasons, we took the CDF from 3,000 to 10,000 visitors; won 14 state and national awards, including Bronze at the Australian Tourism Awards in the Events category; made it a profitable event; added an increasing range of experiences within the festival itself, such as master classes and long table lunches; created strong sponsorship relationships over the years and attracted many creative collaborations with some of the best and most passionate food and wine producers. Thanks to my connections in China, I even took the CDF to China at no cost in 2014, at the Guiyang International Alcoholic Beverage Expo!

How did we achieve and maintained so much success over the years? Here are some of my tips based on professional experience.

Give people something different

Nowadays, especially in larger cities, there are uncountable options on how to spend our money on entertainment and leisure activities. What will make people want to come to your event instead of someone else’s? Unless you provide something different or something new that will highly appeal to your targeted audience, you will have to work much harder on getting that audience to spend money to buy a ticket to your event. You may feel very excited about your new genius event idea, but make sure your idea actually appeals to your targeted audience (which you know exactly who that is, correct?).

With CDF, we clearly wanted to appeal to wine lovers. I identified three segments within the “wine lovers” category, but what they all had in common was the desire to experience the best wine South Australia has to offer. And that’s exactly what we gave them. We brought the wineries from the regions to the city, removing barriers such as distance, driving, limited time and cost. It worked really well for a couple of years. Then we needed to give our increasingly large audience something new to come back to. So year after year, we have come up with new ideas on how to refresh and expand on the value proposition, by adding additional food & wine experiences (long table lunches, masterclasses etc) and broadening the range from wine and food to include beer and gin. The CDF has kept on growing to achieve and remain at visitation capacity since 2015!

Carefully select the dates of your event

Calendars can get clogged with all sorts of activations and events. Mad March in Adelaide is the typical example and ongoing debate. Be clear about what barriers may limit visitation based on timing of the year. This would depend on the type and purpose of the event you are planning. Some questions you need to ask are:

  • Are there already too many events happening in town?
  • Is school holidays going to affect visitation to my event?
  • Is the event clashing with something else on the same day/night?
  • Is the event tied to seasonality, such as for example vintage season (wine) or early-bird to Europe (travel)?
  • Is there a gap in the calendar where I could fit my event?

I believe that one of the (many) reasons why the Adelaide Cabaret Festival is so successful is because it happens in June, when there isn’t much else happening in Adelaide and it’s cold outside. Then there is summer, where in Adelaide perhaps too much is happening.

Deliver the experience as you intended it

I am specifically referring to the day of the event itself, when all your (and your team) hard work and planning comes into fruition. You envisioned the event and planned the logistics of it, but this is the day it all happens.

To deliver the event experience just like you intended, the event team must be 100% on board. All of them, from security to volunteers, collaborators, staff, sponsors… So, some non-technical tips are:

  • Clarity of information is essential. Brief your team on a regular basis during the day on anything that requires attention, have a system in place to let them know what is going on, how things are progressing and what is required out of them rather than spending the day running frantically around the venue to keep everything under control.
  • Lead the team by displaying excitement about what is about to happen and making them realize they are playing an active role in something big, where they contribute to a piece of the outcome.
  • Don’t make it an ego-driven event where the lights are all on you. It’s not about you and you are not the queen (or king). This will only demotivate your team, who is not interested in loving you as much as you love yourself. I see this happen a lot in “glamourous” events. However, people want to feel cohesion with others and naturally be part of a team, and you are the glue that can hold them together and lead them towards a successful event day.
  • Reward your team after the event is over, regardless of the outcome. Take them out for a drink or meal and debrief. Listen to their feedback. And if you can afford it, show them your gratitude with something material…always appreciated. I remember the time I got a bottle of wine as a thank you for delivering a very successful event that was worth about $500,000. It was just a $50 bottle, but I felt so special that I couldn’t wait to break that record again!

These are just some tips, and clearly a lot goes into planning and delivering an event. One of the most important aspect is certainly the financial budget and management, which can blow out of proportion and lead to disaster. Don’t be a FYRE, the greatest party that never happened!

Need more specific advise? Get in touch and let’s talk.