By Patrick Riley
Congratulations. Your board of directors just approved the budget for your event to expand to a new market, or you have a group of volunteers that have agreed to help with that awesome DIY event in a nearby state, or the new event concept is performing really well and you’re getting enough interest from sponsors the next city over that it’s time to set a new date. Whatever the reason, launching a new event series is both exciting and daunting. We’ve been lucky to work with amazing organizations as they expanded regionally and nationally and have learned a few lessons both good and bad that are worth sharing.
Where to go?
If you’re adding new cities to your roster it’s either very simple or can feel like throwing darts on a map. The simple decisions are when you have an obvious area your organization serves and an audience waiting for you to come to town. Even when the decision is easy, make sure to ask some of the following qualifying questions so a year from now you’re not saying, “What happened?”
The first step to finding a location is identifying your target audience. Who is going to attend and fundraise? Why are they going to feel connected to your organization and register for the event? After you define your participant profiles, make sure your audience is located in the markets on your shortlist. We often look at the size of the MSA, demographics and economics to see if we can engage and activate enough people to register, fundraise and attend the event.
The most important consideration in expansion is operational readiness. Does that city have a strong board or volunteer network that will help your organization launch your event? Do you have resources in that market who have enough bandwidth? Do you have a large house list to which you can communicate with in the city or a large local Facebook following? And finally, Stakeholder. Spend time in the market making sure these networks, staff, boards, volunteers and sponsors are engaged and feel ownership for making the event a success.
Be conservative in building your pro forma. Know that most fundraising events take at least two years to grow a base of participants and fundraisers to begin to pay off that investment. Spend time from the beginning defining your participant experience on the event. The event can’t be an afterthought if you want to grow your base and have people return the next year. The event should reflect your organization and feel like a natural fit. And cultivating your sponsorship relationships at the beginning often takes more time than planning the event.
The great benefit of doing the same event in multiple places is the ability to spread costs and become proficient at doing one thing multiple times. Make your event a cookie cutter not a snowflake. When you begin to customize too many components of your event you lose this efficiency. Create a standard signage package that can travel to all the events. If you design it well with travel in mind it will be cheaper to buy once and ship than have multiple signs in multiple cities.
Develop a standard asset package that can travel. Every event needs zip ties, Sharpies, and donation forms. Don’t pay to store your assets in five different locations when we all know that many of those items must be repurchased the next year when you go to do inventory and can’t find the stapler. Secure national or regional vendors who will give you better pricing for multiple events.
As you look across your organization, it’s also important to consolidate roles and responsibilities to create efficiencies. You could designate one person to secure vendors and secure assets, another to focus on contracts and jurisdictions and another for planning and operations. Your staff will become highly skilled and be able to support your expansion.
Scout and adapt
Here you go. You have your budgets, your project plan, your marketing plan, your network engaged, sponsors interested and staff excited for the expansion. You begin to scout potential sites for your location and that new market that seemed perfect just let your event manager know that the city implemented a moratorium on new events. [record scratch] This is not the end. Lean on your network, consider a new date, and think about St. Paul instead of Minneapolis. Be adaptable. You might need to go with the next market on your shortlist. Expansion into new places is always uncharted territory. Get to know new people and set expectations that you’ll spend more time getting up to speed in the first year than it takes to produce two events in markets you already know.
Hire the right people
Expansion often means you need new resources. Be ok being a little behind until you find that staff member who knocks your socks off. Call references. This one is short and sweet but don’t settle.
What have you learned the hard way as you expanded into a new market(s)? Launching a series is thrilling because of the challenge and all the new relationships you’ll make. Have a great new event and make sure to sample that local delicacy while you’re in a new town.
Patrick Riley, Vice President, Account Director at Event 360, has more than 15 years of event experience, with a focus on developing great client relationships. He is practiced in all aspects of event operations – from marketing and advertising to planning and event execution. Patrick uses project management best practices to create amazing event experiences for participants, volunteers and our client partners.