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Festivals & Events, Vendors & Entertainers

Planning a Fair, Festival or Event

Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Why a Fair, Festival, or Special Event?
Fairs, festivals, and special events are staged for many reasons. Besides being informative and enjoyable, they provide a number of important benefits to the community.

Here are a few popular reasons to consider when planning or justifying a festival:
  1. Events encourage a sense of community pride and cohesiveness. It's not often that everyone in town gets invited to the same party. Fairs and festivals provide a rare occasion for the whole community to relax and have fun.
  2. Events may have certain educational values. For instance, important historical events can be taken out of the classroom and brought to life through skits, costume contests, reenactments, and other commemorative events.
  3. Events are ideal occasions for artists and crafts people to demonstrate and exhibit their skills.
  4. Events provide a showcase for new ideas in music, art, drama, and sports.
  5. Events focus on the broad spectrum of the state's culture.
  6. Events stimulate travel to a community and the surrounding region. This encourages the community to grow and prosper by attracting dollars in the form of tourism, and in some cases, new industry.
  7. Events can also be used to celebrate a holiday, season, or a historical event.
  8. To raise money.
The key to the success of an event is that goals and objectives must be identified and defined. An undefined or vague purpose is a near guarantee of festival failure. "To celebrate the town and its people" is most often quoted as the purpose of an unsuccessful event. While this is permissible as an umbrella goal, event organizers need to clarify more specifically the measurable objective(s) of the event.

Tip: When things get tough, nothing keeps you going better than a strong sense of purpose.

Writing Objectives

An important step in planning a successful community-wide event is to write objectives or goals for the project. The list of objectives should basically outline what is going to be done, who is going to do it, who will benefit, and what specific results are desired. Having a written list of objectives will help planners keep within the boundaries of their goals and will help recruit individuals and groups who identify with the planners' specific aims. The list of objectives also is an important evaluation tool-a yardstick by which to measure the event's success. Objectives provide a focus for the entire planning process and should be determined before moving ahead with the project.

If you have multiple goals, list them in order of importance so your perspective will not be lost. By setting priorities, you increase your chances of accomplishing the most important goals. If you don't set priorities, you can spread yourself too thin in an effort to reach every objective, and odds are you will wind up meeting none of them.

Your strategy needs to address long term goals and immediate plans-both at the same time. Do not put these off until the last minute. Planning includes a realistic budget. Even though this will be a task for the finance committee, each committee needs to submit their individual budget.
Choosing a Theme and Name It's not good enough to hold a plain generic event anymore. The event must have a theme-a main idea or concept to provide a solid base for a variety of interesting and promotable activities. Develop a theme that gives your event a unique identity and prevents it from being a carbon copy of other events. The theme should be indigenous to the community's personality, legends, natural beauty, or other attraction.
  • The theme gives the event an overall focus.
  • The themes give the participating groups a common point from which they can develop a cohesive program of activities.
  • The theme gives the event structure.
  • A catchy theme makes publicity much easier.
Whatever the theme, it must be something to which the local community can relate and that is either unique or has enough interest to attract visitors. Because events seldom are instant successes in drawing tourists from outside the region, planners need to ensure that the theme and activities of the event will attract local residents as well.

Event themes can be categorized into several general types:
  • local history
  • ethnic or cultural
  • agriculture
  • aquaculture
  • holidays or seasonal events
  • arts, crafts, and hobbies
  • music and drama
  • industry
  • natural resources
An event's name should be one of its best selling points. It needs to be catchy, memorable, and tied in with the event's theme. The name also needs to be short, but that may not always be the case.

There's something to be said for choosing an unusual or even bizarre name; people certainly seem to notice it. The "Irons Ox Market and Flea Roast" resulted when the words "market" and "roast" were transposed. No doubt this festival owes a good deal of its success to a rather uncommon title. One last thing to remember about names: try to pick one that can be used year after year. It's one way of helping the event become a local tradition and establish good public relations over time. Also, by sticking with the same name, many of the event's signs, banners, and other promotional material can be used again. Do not overlook these money-saving strategies.

Tip: Don't hesitate to contact other established event organizations who have already worked their way through the rules and regulations and know how to avoid the detours and pitfalls. Usually they are more than willing to share their expertise and contacts.

Date and Time

Timing is another important element to consider when planning an event.

What time of year should the event be held to best meet the objectives and purposes for which it was organized? On what dates will the event least conflict with other local programs or those of nearby communities? What other local/nearby programs could be incorporated into (rather than in conflict with) a new event? Three nearby community events may be more attractive to tourists than one. How long should the event last-several hours, one day, several days or more?

Choose your date well in advance! Any successful event should be planned at least a year in advance, if possible. Lists of fairs, festivals, and special events are available from the Association of Fairs and Exhibitions, and the regional tourist associations. The sooner you choose your date, the sooner you can start spreading the word about your event.

The weather is a key factor and one which you cannot control. However, by playing the averages, event organizers can pick a time with a reasonably good chance of acceptable weather. Look over the weather trends and plan accordingly.

From the beginning, set an alternate "rain date" or alternate indoor site in the event that bad weather forces a change. Likewise, a lack of snow for winter festivals also requires a contingency plan.

The purpose, theme, name, and date are crucial items for any event, but the committee's work is just getting started once these matters are settled. The budget must be drafted, entertainment planned, and publicity coordinated.

The same goes for security, food and beverage sales, and sanitation facilities.

These topics and others are discussed on the following pages.
Remember the 5 P's of Planning:
Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
First decide what you want to accomplish and then organize.