Jim Davey, MD of Redwood Event Solutions, discusses the ideal timeline from event idea through to event day, and what planners can do when time is of the essence.
The saying ‘there aren’t enough hours in the day’ couldn’t be more true when it comes to event planning and organisation. As any event professional knows time and of course budget are two of the biggest impacting factors on creating a stand out event. Reaching the key milestones in event planning with time on your side is the dream, but things don’t always work that way.
Whatever the size or type of event, the planning timeline takes an organiser from the conception of an idea through to the event itself and, as event professionals, we can agree that when time is on our side there is real value in working through each timeline stage and giving it the attention that it deserves. However, being able to get into the details is the goal but not always the reality.
By putting in the planning hours we’re better placed to create an event that fits with the vision and the all-important budget. And the more solid a foundation built, the more creative everyone involved can be in the long run.
At Redwood Event Solutions, we have worked with almost every time frame imaginable when it comes to planning. For some events we’ve had over a year to consider, finesse and create, while for others we have literally had a matter of weeks – still delivering to the same level and quality.
The luxury of time affords space to get into the finer details, to consider what exactly we are trying to achieve, what the journey is and how we can do everything we can with the show. Putting on events is a huge privilege and we should never lose sight of the fact that people come, have an incredible time and attach moments of their life to them. That’s pretty humbling.
When time is of the essence then decisions have to be made. Sometimes just making the decision is the most important thing to do. That is when having the right team on board to be able to make them is invaluable.
STAGE 1 – The Idea
12 months+ before the event
Like most things in life, it begins with an idea. When an event organiser has a great concept and is at the beginning of planning, that’s typically when we will get a call.
With experience across a broad range of events from large green field festivals to high end bespoke installations, foodie festivals to live music and everything in between, we often get called in at the ‘idea’ stage to start mapping out what the event will look like, how it could work and for venue considerations.
In an ideal world, we like to be involved from the very beginning. By being involved with the initial conversations and brainstorms for the event, we often save our clients time and money by bringing our experience from previous events to the new brief. If it is a site that we’re familiar with or we have experience in that type of event, we can instantly offer advice at this early stage that could help shape the event’s DNA.
More often than not, we already have existing relationships with the relevant authorities around the UK to help grease the wheels and get the ball rolling, which means we can start the channels of communication earlier, based on reputation and trust.
At this point, we very much become part of our client’s team, where we ensure that all operational plans and requirements are underway so that they can focus on the event content, ideas and creative.
STAGE 2 – Site Feasibility
12 months+ before the event
Having worked at a number of stately homes, public parks, farming estates, private land and green field sites over the last four years with Redwood, and 16 years across my career, finding the right site for a new event or relocating an existing one is a big decision.
Whether it’s a foodie festival celebrating local produce, a community sporting event offering participation in bike rides and runs, or an open-air cinema showing the classics, you need to consider what is going to work well on the land and spaces you have available. Any existing facilities, infrastructure or services available on site could make life a lot easier in the long run.
A feasibility study of the site is an extremely useful tool at this stage, and we’ve conducted these for the likes of CarFest, Pub in the Park and some exciting new events for this year at Bowood House to ensure that there are no unexpected ‘surprises’ once we commit to a site.
By assessing everything from the drainage, soil type, existing services, the all-important hard standing and road networks through to larger commercial concerns like local demographic and travel logistics, we can give each client a clear, practical and solutions focused assessment of the proposed site. At this initial stage we can clearly outline if the site works, and its strengths, weaknesses and challenges. In short, if it is a good idea or not.
This phase can run in conjunction with the creation of the event concept and can indeed shape the content – knowing what can and can’t be done on the site will focus and tailor the event team’s plans.
STAGE 3 – Event Planning
12 months+ before and ongoing throughout the planning process
A first draft of the site plan really starts to bring an event to life. We create Auto CAD drawings for every event site we build so that we can visualise how everything will fit together. Physically being able to see what goes where, in what quantities and starting to envisage a patrons’ journey or experience is incredibly valuable.
Until you have a site plan, there is no physical representation of the event. Once drawn, it begins to come to life – visualisation is a powerful tool and really helps to focus attention and efforts.
While the site plan will change and develop in the lead up to the event we try to limit the number of major changes, unless absolutely necessary, to avoid impacting the rest of the site layout on a regular basis. Our experience on site planning, event logistics and crowd management means we work with clients to update and finesse site plans, offering advice on best practice and how they could adjust sites to work even more efficiently.
Of course, having a site plan drawn to scale will also give very specific details of the equipment needed and will help with the specification of each element.
STAGE 4 – Event Specification
6–9 months before the event
Whether it’s a brand new event or one that is expanding/evolving, specifying the type and quantity of equipment needed can be a series of make or break decisions. Either under or over ordering is an event manager’s worst nightmare and can have differing implications depending on what you end up with too little or too much of!
We use the age-old carpenters’ mantra of “measure twice, cut once”. We also ensure that we have a sensible and considered contingency in hand for key items such as fencing and trackway.
While there are the must-haves, and what seem like the nice to haves, this can quickly change as weather forecasts or ticket sales alter in the lead up to the event. Not having enough trackway or woodchip for what is shaping up to be a soggy, muddy festival could hugely impact the enjoyment of your visitors and mean they don’t return the following year.
Being involved with events from the get-go means we can build modular blueprints with specification requirements, offering clients the option of using this framework to create the event or leaving us to manage all procurement and operations while they concentrate on the event content and look and feel of the show.
Getting the specifications right for the first event, or as an existing one changes, means that we can help keep budgets tight and consider the value of each purchase and what it brings.
STAGE 5 – Engaging with the Local Authority and Licensing
6 months+ before the event
As we all know, event planning runs alongside health and safety and licensing requirements so it’s important to ensure that while the event concept and content is coming together, the nitty gritty of legal matters and health and safety requirements are being progressed and managed efficiently at the same time.
In an ideal world, licence applications should happen as far out as practicably possible; we suggest a six month minimum. This gives a good period of time to build a working relationship with the local authority and to undertake the license process including notice periods. The absolute minimum amount of time is technically 28 days. Providing there are no objections, and you have followed the process, the license may be awarded. If there are notifications, then you have to head down the hearing and mediation routes.
We’ve secured licences with the tightest of deadlines and with some rather extenuating circumstances. While this undoubtedly adds a bit of spice, there really is no substitute for proper lead times and planning. This involves everything from attending Safety Advisory Group (SAG) meetings and liaising with stakeholders involved with the event, through to dealing with the emergency services and planning for potential incidents.
It is incredibly important to remember SAGs are working groups and there to help guide your plans and offer assistance. They are not always in the business of marking your homework or rolling out the red tape. Use the forums well, engage with the members properly and build relationships. In our humble experience, there is no substitute for pre-empting the SAG meeting by distributing detailed and thorough plans (event safety management plan, site plans, operations docs etc.) in advance of the meeting. This gives the SAG members the chance to get up to speed with your proposed event as well as you demonstrably showing them that you know what you are doing and are professional in all that you do. Trust begins to be built at this stage.
STAGE 6 – Picking your A-Team
6 months+ before the event
It goes without saying that having the right people and a strong team in place is the very backbone of a good event. Having the right team in to oversee, manage and co-ordinate it, both in the lead up and on the day(s) is vital to its success.
We are lucky to live in a country with a very established event industry and a huge wealth of experience both across in-house teams and freelancers – finding the right people for the job cannot be valued high enough.
At Redwood, we work on the full sliding scale when it comes to teams, from putting in the full event team to deliver on every aspect – site crew, H&S officers, production teams and more – through to fulfilling specific roles where there are gaps in established event teams.
STAGE 7 – Event Build
One week+ before the event
Event size dependent, the build of an event can start anywhere between a week and a month before it opens. Across this time, it is key for the production schedule to run on time and have the right people on site to oversee the build effectively.
STAGE 8 – Event Day
Once everything is in place and the event site is ready to open… it’s show time! When it comes to event day/weekend, it’s about making sure that everyone on the team has everything they need to do the best possible job. While we all expect to put in longer shifts on-site (usually somewhere around the 16 hour mark) it is more important than ever when you’re walking tens of miles every day and having to be ‘on alert’ for long periods of time, to make sure that the team is looked after, eating regularly, sleeping, and taking breaks.
STAGE 9 – Event Debrief
Two weeks post event
Once the event has finished and the derig has happened, a key piece and the closing part to any event, is the debrief. How did it go? What could you do better next time? Was it a success? The more you capture and consider straight after the event, the better. If it’s scheduled to be an annual event, then you don’t want to forget what you’ve learnt between the end of one show and the planning for the next one.
We always recommend a debrief meeting with the client within two weeks following an event. Running through everything that went well, not so well and where things could be improved provides a vital learning opportunity for every event whether it’s year one or year five. There is always something that can be tweaked or made better. And so it should be – events are constantly evolving, and we should always strive for the very best!
Pub in the Park – May 2017
For the inaugural Pub in the Park, we were approached with the idea in late November 2016 and started working with the client to draw up budgets and operational plans.
We drew the first site plan draft in December 2016 and began to get a feel for the layout and flow of the event. We produced multiple iterations and captured an accurate layout of everything on site.
In December 2016 we had the first SAG meeting with the local authority, presenting plans and arrangements and began to build relationships ahead of the license application.
In January 2017 the license applications were made and the notice period of 28 days passed without representation/objections. The Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TTROs) were also submitted to the local authority.
Event equipment specifications were produced and went to market for all infrastructure and services. In March 2017, the second SAG meeting took place to run through finer detail of plans and give each department/member the chance to comment and offer guidance.
In early May, we were on site to mark out and build the show as per the site plan and production schedule ahead of the Event Live phase.
Within weeks of the event, we had a debrief with both the client and the SAG with all learnings from the first event.
When Time is Not on Your Side!
1. Make a decision, don’t overthink it too much or introduce too many options. Choose a path and get started
2. Prioritise the big things, feed them into your project management process and get on with it
3. Agree a timeline, document it and work against it; transparency is key
4. Be realistic, keep calm and remember that you are really rather good at what you do.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim Davey is managing director of Redwood Event Solutions, a provider of event planning and infrastructure, health and safety services and site management. He has over 16 years’ experience in event production, operations management and safety consultancy, working on events of all scales right up to some of the largest and most challenging in the world. www.redwood.events