You guys, my job just hosted our first event since COVID-19 became a thing and let me say, it was a BLAST! I wanted to share a little bit about this day, about my job, and the event planning process during the pandemic.
If you don't know, I am the event manager for the local tourism department. My degrees are in sport management, which yes, this doesn't "exactly" go with my major, but I am fortunate that many of the events I plan are actually sporting events. That is, until Cars for Canines!
My boss had a great idea last year to do a car show with food trucks, vendors, etc all to benefit our local animal shelters. We began planning the event in January and went for "Pistons, Pints, and Paws" as our event was going to include craft beer. However, we all know COVID has altered pretty much everything for this year so we altered our event to Cars for Canines, excluding the craft beer tastings for this year. I was beyond excited to plan this event, but also apprehensive due to the fact that I was not as familiar planning non-sporting events let alone planning events during a pandemic. Nonetheless, by the grace of God the event went off without a hitch! So let's break it down a little bit.
About the event: Cars for Canines happened to host a car show with food trucks, live music, and pet friendly vendors all to benefit our local animal shelters. With a variety of things going on, there truly was something to do for everyone in the family! As the planning process went on, we wanted to provide the community with something fun to do while staying safe.
The event planning for Cars for Canines, and really any other event we work with, was entirely paused from March - early May. While in the moment I wasn't too stressed due to not having a lot to do, as time went on I grew a little more anxious because I began to feel so behind. There really wasn't anything I could do though because like me, most people were working from home, not working at all, or totally uncertain if they could participate in an event. It was also difficult to recruit due to the fact that this was going to be a first time event and organizations tend to be leery to participate in/sponsor events that they don't have a strong baseline of how big the event truly will be.
Late May- late July
Heavy sponsor and vendor recruitment.
As a non-profit, we don't really have tons of money to invest into events, especially when this event wasn't to make a ton of profits. Recruiting sponsors is difficult as is, but recruiting sponsors during a pandemic felt nearly impossible. Our intern Ivy, and I took about 2.5 months to call and follow up with over 100 different organizations to potentially sponsor or even be a vendor. A majority of the responses we received included not having the funds to do so, not wanting to be at in person event, etc. And we understood. Each no we received hurt a little more, but we also had to remember everyone is struggling at this time. Fortunately, we were able to finalize 7 sponsors, 3 food trucks, and 10 vendors! This truly was more than we every anticipated. I also wanted to note that we provided all our vendors/sponsors with tables and chairs and they could rent a tent if desired. You want to your vendors and sponsors to feel like they are receiving what they're paying for!
During these months we also began working with a local car club to plan the car show portion of the event. This included no only venue planning, which frequently changes due to electricity needs, number of vendors, number of cars expected, and so on, but also acquiring door prizes, good bag items, and ordering signage. As we planned the venue layout, we had to work with several local agencies to have traffic control items, electricity for food trucks and the car show, trash boxes, and a COVID safety plan.
A huge way to recruit people to your events is through marketing, advertising, and promotion. We promoted Cars for Canines through a variety of platforms including social media, billboards, newspaper, and flyers. I truly believe a majority of our guests came via specific ads over word of mouth, general knowledge, or websites. Strategic marketing is extremely important for events because you have to know who your target market is and how they stay informed on things.
Event month is truly hit the ground running. We have to tie up any loose ends, finalize our venue, see what materials we still need, recruit volunteers, communicate with all sponsors, vendors, volunteers, and guests, and basically stay on top of things.
Let me be the first to say, volunteers are the backbone of any event. My time before my current job, I served as a volunteer coordinator, and let me just say it can be extremely difficult to recruit people who want to help with little to nothing in return. But when you are a small organization and have many moving parts to an event, volunteers are essential. I also strongly encourage providing volunteers with something tangible to take away. We typically provide volunteers with a shirt, food and beverage of some kind, and if a group, we often will provide a donation.
Another really important aspect of events is communication. Clear and consistent communication with all agencies involved is the most important aspect to make sure your event runs smoothly. Without great communication, you will face many issues on event weekend.
Event weekend is of course, the craziest part of the event planning process, but it is also the most rewarding. Typically, venue set up occurs the day before the event. We were fortunate to place all our venue signs and traffic control items up on Friday, as well as any rented items like tents, tables, and chairs. Due to possible inclement weather, we had to wait on a few set up options until morning and there truly are just some things you don't want to set up the night before. On event morning, we arrived fairly early, about 3-4 hours before the event began and set out the remaining venue items and fix anything that got messed up from the night before. When the event begins, we make sure all our volunteers, vendors, and guests have everything they need and put out any fires that come up. It's important to know any and every aspect small to large about the event and the venue. People will ask obscure questions and you will want to alleviate any concerns or things they may want to know.
Hosting a large community event during a pandemic was slightly terrifying. Not only are you afraid that people won't show up or participate, but also you face the fear that someone might get sick at your event. The fortunate thing for our event is we were at a large park where people could safely social distance and have fun. We had numerous sanitation stations available, encouraged mask usage, and had traffic flow items around the entire park. Generally, people wore masks and kept to themselves and I really think people were excited to get out and about!
If you're still reading this, I want to share a few pictures and successes from this past weekend! I know that was quite the run down of event planning, but I do want to share some insight about what I do and what it takes to plan an event especially during COVID.
We had far more vendors, food trucks, and sponsors than we could have imagined for a first-year, pandemic event.
Our main reason for hosting the event was to benefit our local animal shelters and encourage pet adoption. Both shelters brought many dogs that needed homes and I believe many dogs were/are in the process of being adopted!
While we don't have a final number, we will be able to provide a substantial donation to both animal shelters in town! (Stay tuned)
All our food trucks and vendors had successful days and enjoyed the event.
The car show had over 90 cars participate.
We did not have to reschedule the event for weather (which I did not mention before, but this WAS a huge concern)
Everyone seemed to have a great time! We are fortunate to have heard only positive things about the event. Yes, there are always things we can improve on and do better next year, but for a first-time event, it could not have gone better!