Patrick Riley and Sarah ConiglioWe all know the state of the economy is stressing the finances of cities and jurisdictions. How is this situation affecting event planning? And how can event planning professionals work with these entities to overcome the challenges that come with budget cuts?

Not too long ago, it was much easier to work with local communities. Often times, they were happy to donate sites and/or discount permit fees for worthy causes. Then came the economic downturn.

Gone are those donated sites and slashed permit fees. Now, all events — including those for nonprofits — usually incur many of the same charges as for-profit entities.

It’s no surprise we’re starting to see more cities and jurisdictions that don’t even want to host events. They see events as headaches that simply tax their infrastructure and resources. Plus, there’s the ever-present threat that any event could involve inclement weather, increased traffic or other problems that create even more costs than anticipated.

Many communities don’t even have a special events department anymore. As a result, they might lack the in-house expertise and bandwidth to host events.

Dealing with the New Reality
Any event planner must be prepared to deal with this new reality. That means building up your internal resources and being able to take on more of the work, because the locality isn’t likely to pick up the slack.

The big lesson for event planners is that relationships matter more than ever. Get to know the local police and fire departments, parks and recreation, and other city officials. Also, educate them on the importance of your organization and its mission. Explaining, for instance, that your event will raise money to clothe 5,000 needy kids this winter will help get officials on your side.

Strengthening relationships will make it easier for you to work with the community when issues arise and creative solutions are needed. For example, we recently held a challenge event where the local fire department typically hoses down mud-caked participants after the race.

This year, however, the local fire department couldn’t commit any of its fire trucks for this purpose. Because we had established a relationship with the fire department early on, we were able to work out an alternative: A nearby fire department came over to do the honors instead.

One nice way to fortify key relationships: Enlist participants and other supporters to thank the fire department, for instance, for providing coverage for this year’s event. You can also be proactive in protecting a site whose future availability is in doubt (e.g. encouraging supporters to share their concerns with the city council and other relevant agencies).

Sponsorships a Possibility
How else can you be creative when working with cash-strapped communities? Some might be willing to become sponsors in return for good publicity. Example: a city or a police department that covers the event has its logo featured prominently on T-shirts distributed to participants.

Of course, you might find some cities that just don’t have the financial wherewithal to host your event. In that case, you might consider looking toward suburban communities that have a stronger tax base and greater resources.

“Patrick and Sarah’s Experience Hub” blog posts are featured monthly. Directors of production projects Patrick Riley and Sarah Coniglio each have many years of hands-on experience in almost every aspect of event operations and production.

Would you like to speak with an expert in event development and production? Please email Patrick or Sarah today.

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