General Planning Guide (or, some stuff to think about first)
Planning a major event is a huge undertaking. There are hundreds of variables that all impact each other, and the list of things to do never seems to get smaller. Such is the life of a student planner. Between school, clubs, friends, and work, striking the balance between your various responsibilities can be a daunting task. The purpose of the article to help take some of the stress out of one piece of your life: your major event. Although everything discussed here will most likely not apply to everyone, we think it’s a good guideline to get started.
Part One: Why the Heck are we Doing this?
Whenever you plan a major event, whether it’s a concert, comedy show, or lecture, you should always start with the most basic question: why are we doing this. Although the answer might seem simple, it isn’t always. Are you trying to generate revenue? Is there a target audience? Does the event have to fit within a theme? Are there restrictions on your event? Are there things you have to do? Are there things you cannot do? Always know the ‘why’ before anything else because ‘why’ determines how, who and when. You might be surprised where you answer leads you.
Once you know ‘why’, you can then focus on how, where, and when. These pieces of the puzzle have their own questions. How are we going to appeal to the target audience? Where can we host the event? When is the best time for it? Are there other events that might conflict with ours? Do we have the resources we need (we’ll talk more about that later)? Again, answering the basic questions first will help you get a clearer vision for the design of your event. You might have a great idea when you sit down to start to plan your show, but after factoring in all the criteria you need to meet, you may need to redesign your project. The best programmers understand this and realize the important of being flexible. The path to a great show isn’t always a straight line.
Part 2: When do we talk about Who?
It’s always great to have an idea when you start as to who you want to see. However, as we’ve shown, there are countless factors that impact the artist you can get. Once you determine the scope of your event, there are still several other components to consider before you figure out who (or what) you bring to campus.
For better or for worse, money drives programming. That being said, knowing your budget is one of the first pieces of the puzzle to consider once your finalize the design of your show. Furthermore, keep in mind that there are always unexpected expenses that come up, so be conservative when figuring out how much you have to spend. A $100,000 budget does not mean you have $100,000 to spend on an artist. Production, marketing, staffing, catering, ticketing, and dozens of other items eat into your budget, so be cautious. Work with your team to estimate what each piece of the puzzle will cost, add ten to fifteen percent, and then back that off your total. The amount that is left is a good starting point for the amount of funding you have available for talent.
Venue and dates
You can have all the money in the world and no restrictions on content, audience, or revenue, but if you don’t have a place to put the show its all for nothing. Securing dates and a facility can be the most time consuming (and sometimes frustrating) part of the live event experience. Why? To be blunt, chances are you are stepping on someone else’s toes. 99% of the schools in the country do not have dedicated concert venues. That means you are using someone else’s space. Therefore, you need to work around the schedules of potentially dozens of other organizations, teams, and clubs. You need to plan early, be flexible, and be inclusive. Work with different organizations to find dates and locations that work for everyone, and don’t be afraid to consider “non-prime” dates. Again, flexibility is the key to success.
Part 3: Ok, this is boring. I want to book an Act.
Once you connect the dots internally, you can start to discuss artists. Think about who will accomplish your goals, fit within your criteria, and accomplish what you need to accomplish. Maybe one large act is the way to go, or maybe a festival better suits your goals. Remember that the artist(s) you bring are there to accomplish something for you, so always consider if he/she/they will be able to do that. You might like a particular artist and know they sell extremely well, but will that artist meet your goals? Looking the big picture is extremely important when choosing an artist, so don’t lose sight of the end goal.
Part 4: Fine, I listened and found the Act I want. Now what?
Now its time for the business side of event planning to kick in. You need to talk to your colleagues, advisor, and other included staff and work on making an offer to whomever you want to pursue. Every school has a different approach to making offers, so make sure you know what is important to your school (insurance, timelines, school riders and paperwork, university policies, etc. etc. There is no such thing as too much information). As you gather your information and get ready to put everything in writing, remember that once its in writing, its binding. Don’t send an artist anything you aren’t prepared to honor. No one likes when lawyers get involved, but they might if you can’t/won’t/don’t honor what you tell an artist you are prepared to do. Again, make sure you are following the necessary guidelines and have connected with everyone who needs to be involved.
Part 5: I’ve got my act, so now what?
It may seem like you’ve done a lot, but you are just getting started. Once your artist is lined up its time to connect the dots and get ready for show day. You need to gather your staff, prepare your marketing, work on the contracts, prepare the facility, and finalize about 5 million other things. Delegate, manage, and stay focused. Its important to have a strong dedicated team working with you, and remember that its your responsibility to see this through. Rely on the people around you use all your resources. Major events are successful because of the team behind them: not because of one person.
Part 6: Can I enjoy myself now?
Absolutely. The point of this general article is to show that planning an event is a significant task. We’ve only scratched the surface of what is involved, but we hope the ideas outlined here demonstrate, in general, what is needed to get to finish line. You can’t get to the finish line though unless you enjoy it, and you wouldn’t be doing this unless you want to. When I was a student planner I always found the best part of show day was to stand in the back of the venue and see everyone having an awesome time. That’s why I did it, and I’m sure that’s why you do it as well.