Five Ways to Keep Your Special Event Special

Think about Mardi Gras, and New Orleans comes to mind. Pamplona evokes images of the running of the bulls. Times Square in NYC seems to own New Year’s Eve. I noted several other cities with events but the big televised ones with strong brand identity were at Times Square.

Christmas in Kailua-Kona includes hula performances at the Hulihee Palace and a street fair with local products and music.

Christmas in Kailua-Kona includes hula performances at the Hulihee Palace and a street fair with local products and music.

Special events help create a community or heritage site brand. But there are some ways you can make it more likely that you will own a lasting special event that makes money and builds brand.

  1. 1.    It should arise from your sense of place, your history. When you copy an event from somewhere else, you are not likely to become the place identified with the event. And they have more history with running the event profitably.

2.    It should show off what you normally do as a community or organization.  Great events bring people from other places to your site or community. If the event shows off local vendors, craft products, unique dining and lodging and regional music and art, they may be back. If you are bringing vendors in from everywhere (state fair kinds that sell at everything), souvenirs from other countries, generic food and music from a distant culture, you are diluting your brand (unless your event is intended to have an international flavor). People associate music and art with their favorite experiences and they buy souvenirs to recall the event and great times.

The Sticky Rice Festival in Shibakawa, Japan, celebrates a local food and the people in the community.

The Sticky Rice Festival in Shibakawa, Japan, celebrates a local food and the people in the community.

3.    Repeat and improve it each year. You learn from a specific event if you do it each year and profits grow with better concessions, promotion and experience enhancements. Doing a different kind of event on the same dates each year will leave you working too hard and making less money. Repetition lets you build the tradition and the inventory that supports it – decorations, props, storylines, etc. Avoid Haley’s Comet, Leap Year and centennial events unless you have lots of money to spend. New events require investment and don’t necessarily build a lasting relationship in the community or at the site.

 4.    Place it with a holiday or dates that people want to be out and about with their families and friends. In the U.S., spring break, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day and Halloween create opportunities for longer events that can be strong in branding and allow larger numbers of people to attend.

Children learn the Swedish tradition of dancing around the Christmas tree at Skansen, a unique outdoor attraction in Stockholm.

Children learn the Swedish tradition of dancing around the Christmas tree at Skansen, a unique outdoor heritage attraction in Stockholm.

5.    Build a strong partnership with the most appropriate local or regional media – radio and TV especially. They will usually trade ads and promotion for being linked to a winning event, especially if it supports their community or favorite nature center or museum. Businesses will co-sponsor with money or in-kind gifts of transportation, food or lodging if they are carried on all the ads in the right way. Try to hold the event with base costs covered at the start so all profits support the hosting organization or community.

Brand and sense of place are reflections of people feeling an emotional connection, an intimacy with a place, the people and the unique experiences there. You can plan events to strengthen your brand or just let them happen and hope they work. We recommend that you plan your events with natural and cultural heritage as key settings. And if you need help, let us know.

– Tim Merriman

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