The growth in this dog-focused festival is such that it now runs over three weekends in three glorious venues.
Conceived to be as much fun for dogs as for their owners, DogFest has expanded rapidly over the last six years from a one day event to three full weekends and is complemented by a roll out of en masse dog walks around beautiful country estates. Capitalising on Instagram influencers (both human and canine) and celebrity ambassadors, the event has a phenomenal draw. We talk to head of marketing, Emily Foulkes.
Describe your event and how many people it attracts?
DogFest, which is now in its seventh year, is the UK’s biggest festival for dogs, and has grown to include three venues. It is the ultimate day out for dogs and humans alike! The DogFest brand has grown from strength to strength, starting as a one day event in 2014, to three two day events across the country attracting over 70,000 visitors.
It returns this year for three weekends in stately homes and grounds; Hertfordshire’s Knebworth House on 2–3 May, Cheshire’s Tatton Park on 13-14 June, and Bristol’s Ashton Court on 20–21 June.
Last year were the largest DogFest events to date, attracting thousands of visitors over three summer weekends. The three 2019 shows attracted sponsorship from leading pet industry names and over 540 exhibitors.
Explain a bit about your venues
The selection of the venues is the most important element of the event’s production, offering a great setting with an exclusive element along with parking and accessibility options.
What is the event’s history and what made you decide to run it?
Dogfest was born out of a desire to bring together people who love their dog(s). The first event took place in 2014 and the brand has grown year on year.
How does the relationship work with the venues you hold the events at?
Our relationships with all of our venues are vital. They have the local knowledge that is so useful to us and the experience of hosting other events, providing vital intelligence to make sure the visitor experience is seamless. We work in partnership with the venues and treat them as an extension of our team to get the best out of the spaces. Each one is slightly different.
How did you find applying for permission to run the events?
At one there is an existing licence that we use and at the other two we apply for TENS licences for each premises. The majority of our activities do not require a licence so there are not necessarily the same processes for our events as there would be for a concert, making this one of the most straightforward elements.
How have you planned the layout of the events?
The circulation of the audience to all parts of the event is vital. Owing to the nature of DogFest, it features a number of rings and have-a-go activities that dominate the central part of the event with traders filling the perimeter.
The DogFest team has been working with each other for many years as the events have grown. For each location, we use existing suppliers and source new ones through recommendations or visiting trade shows. For such a big show, we actually have very few structures. We use clear span marquees, saddlespans and smaller 3x3m structures.
What provisions do you make for power, lights and sound?
Power for the entire site is provided by an in-house supplier. They provide for all of the traders as well as the various rings and feature areas throughout the site. Sound is handled by Aztec who provide all of the ring PA as well as the sound for the stage.
What ground protection do you use for cars and footfall?
We use various products from GT Trax to ensure the ground is suitably protected. They have fantastic response times and their products are really versatile.
How do you manage admissions and visitor safety?
Visitor and animal safety are an absolute priority for the show. We have an Animal Welfare Officer working with us all year round as a consultant to advise on best practice and to ensure the safety of the dogs attending.
We manage the overall strategy through the Event Safety Management Plan and usually we engage with the local Safety Advisory Group for the assistance they can offer. We communicate with all of our audience through social media and through our website to ensure our safety messages reach them. We have a Health and Safety Advisor who is on site throughout, and through our show team we continually monitor all conditions on site and react accordingly. We also employ the services of a security company who assist us with crowd management on site.
Giving owners advice on how to care for their pets on site is a vital part of the show management when we have particularly inclement weather, like in 2018 when we experienced a heat wave. We have a dedicated on-site vet and the whole event is designed to care for dogs’ welfare, but the car journeys to the events and keeping dogs cool are elements which we try to ensure we influence with our ticket buyers.
What entertainment do you offer?
The main attraction is the dog friendly attractions, entertainment and activities for dogs to get involved in. Each day DogFest sees The Fun Dog Show, a participatory event where dogs can compete across a number of categories, leading to the chance to be crowned Best in Show, or the best celebrity look-a-like at the event. Dogs can get involved in hay bale racing, test their ability and agility on a variety of courses, and make a splash over at the dog diving pool.
The event also features a Dogs with Jobs area, where visitors are invited to meet some of the most remarkable working canines in the country. The Hound Hangout is the place to say hello to some of the most famous dogs of Instagram, housed in a stylish space, designed for its photo opportunities and hospitality for its owners.
For those with younger dogs, the Puppy Zone is the perfect place to teach them some basic skills and introduce them to new sights, sounds and sensations which they’ll experience in everyday life.
Wellbeing and education are also at the heart of DogFest 2020, with much of the show content focusing on health and the emotional wellbeing of dogs and their humans. With everything from first aid training, nutrition advice through to the mental health benefits of getting outdoors with a dog.
Do you have any celebrity involvement?
Celebrity appearances are also at the heart of DogFest, with Noel Fitzpatrick and Clare Balding as regulars at the event, which is a massive pull for fans of Supervet. Talks and presentations of the main show features are a key element to their show activity.
Our ambassadors are a major pull for our visitors who value their expert opinion and also watch them on TV. We have changed up how they get involved with the event throughout the years and work with their management to ensure they can bring their own passions to life through the event. For example, this year Clare will be interviewing rescue dog charities at each of our locations as she is passionate about the cause. Giving her insight alongside the charities will make a great piece on stage content.
We have also worked with dog trainer and Britain’s Got Talent’s 2016 finalist Lucy Heath to film our video series with Bought By Many that provides practical tips and advice on topical issues.
What retail partnerships do you have?
Each DogFest event offers a shopping experience as a central element, with a Retail Village featuring hundreds of well-known brands, bespoke producers and food and drink for humans and their dog(s). These partnerships act as a natural extension to the event’s marketing as each one has its own following of dog owners, which when amplified together give them a good reach in their ever-expanding niche.
How do you publicise the event?
Marketing is a vital element of DogFest’s success and the team manages all the influencer engagement, feature creation as well as driving footfall to the event. We have an in-house marketing and communications team, who work alongside our PR team, Plaster. Publicity-wise we work with both national and regional press, who run previews ahead of the show; we offer ticket giveaways to select media, as well as working with influencers and bloggers which is increasingly important for the success of the event on site and for future years.
2-3 May, Knebworth House, Hertfordshire
13-14 June, Tatton Park, Cheshire
20-21 June, Ashton Court, Bristol