We are excited to introduce a new blog series in which we explore the off-season as an event production company, and ask the question, is there really such a thing as downtime when you produce events? Over the next three weeks, you’ll hear from people in various departments on how they maximize their time during the off-season. Cheryl Stern and Katie Zupancic kick us off as they discuss why There’s Really No Such Thing as Downtime.

January has arrived and your team has finally wrapped up all the loose ends from 2015. Congratulations on making it to the off season “downtime!” Though in reality, while your day-to-day looks a little different without events actively happening, you’re likely to be just as busy as ever – spending Q1 knee-deep in planning to make 2016 your most successful year yet. During this downtime, you need to be calculated, productive, and strategic: What worked in 2015? What didn’t? What can you do better?

This planning probably didn’t kick off when you returned from the holiday weekend on January 4, 2016. Based on deliverable timelines, the to-do list for this downtime likely began in the middle of last year’s event series. For example, our Marketing and Creative Services teams were juggling MuckFest® MS 2015 with 2016 plans way back in June!

With all of the steps involved in the creation of marketing strategy, branding, collateral, website redevelopment, social media strategy, public relations planning, sponsorship, eCommunication strategy, participant tools, and content development… what happened to the downtime?

Truth be told, there’s really no such thing as downtime. It’s a beautiful myth that we keep alive year after year to help keep us going. There’s so little downtime, in fact, that we’ve struggled to find a spare moment to write this blog about how there’s no such thing as downtime. (Oh, the irony!) Instead of perfecting this blog post, here’s a glimpse at what we’re busily working on:

Overall Marketing Strategy
What platforms will we use to market to potential participants? Will we reach past participants on the same platforms or need additional ones? How much of our budget should be allocated to each platform? When will we market to them? All of these questions are currently being addressed in our overall marketing strategy.

Branding Refresh
Logos, taglines, and fonts – oh my! Though these elements seem short and sweet, a considerable amount of time and discussion goes into determining what is working and what isn’t, what is stale and what still has some life left in it. And since these pieces must be determined before any other creative work can begin, locking them down in a timely manner is key.

Collateral Development
While the collateral needs will differ from event to event, it’s a safe bet that there will be a variety of flyers, posters, postcards, palm cards, and other materials needed each season. So, once the look and feel for the year’s campaign has been determined, building out these collateral pieces will quickly follow – especially if printing/shipping time must be factored in.

Website Refresh
For our Creative Services team (and, of course, IT) this is likely the biggest challenge – and most time-consuming activity of Q1. The planning stage began last summer and the project has steadily increased in pace until reaching a fever pitch at launch time. Whether simply refreshing copy and images for the new year, or doing a complete overhaul to improve user experience, the time and care invested now will pay off down the road.

Social Media Strategy
Though social media is timely, the off-season is a great time to plan campaigns. In addition, your event series likely includes event-related materials that are geotargeted leading up to each event. The off-season is a terrific time to refresh and version out these materials.

Public Relations Strategy
While the majority of local public relations pitching happens closer to the event based on the news cycle, we use the off-season to prep press releases, media alerts, and media lists. This is also a great time to research the deadlines for long leads. They can often happen four to six months out from the event!

Sponsorship Strategy
Sponsorship kits, pitch desk templates, and execution plans need a yearly refresh, updating design and content. Consider checking out competitor sponsorship materials for new ways to optimize and for new ideas to merchandise.

eCommunication Strategy
Even when not making substantial changes to your overall eComm strategy from year to year, the complexities involved in creating a multi-event email calendar cannot be overstated. Coordinating the dates for recruitment, fundraising, and volunteer communication is not something to rush through. This is the foundation of your eComm work for the next twelve months. It needs to be solid.

Participant Tools
After nailing down the tools for staff to use for recruitment, teambuilding and fundraising encouragement, it’s time to get tools in the hands of the participants. From posters to eCards to team tracking worksheets – our participants’ ultimate success is dependent on these resources.

Content Development
While content generation is an ongoing process throughout the season, the lion’s share of website and email content is created and finalized during Q1. Which reminds us – we’d better get back to it!

Though the downtime for marketing and creative teams quickly fills with a long list of deliverables, the timeline won’t feel as intimidating if you set expectations with all departments involved in the planning for 2016. By being strategic, you can use this metaphorical downtime in between event seasons to take a step back and see the places where changes can 1) make big impacts for your participants 2) positively impact your event overall.

When not playing the role of participant in everything from 5Ks to marathons, Cheryl works as the Brand Manager for MuckFest MS, helping to deliver a meaningful event experience to others.

Katie works on marketing and sponsorship for MuckFest MS, the FUN mud run in support of a world free of multiple sclerosis. She also enjoys exploring the city of Chicago with her tiny puppy, Annie. Connect with her here: LinkedInTwitter.



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