Getting the Plan on Paper

Planning, ignore it at your peril says Carl A H Martin.

Aerial top view of crowd of people standing near the stage on concert on summer day
Photo: Getty Images

Several years ago I was asked to be involved in a question and answer session at a festival association meeting. The question of planning arose and the more the discussion developed the more blank faces I saw. I was shocked.

Basically, there is a good reason for planning an event; it ensures the artistes/athletes and/or other participants and the audience are safe, comfortable and happy. If people walk away talking only about the event, and not the venue or infrastructure, you have achieved your object and people will return for future events. A win/win situation.

Since working at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), Glasgow, in the eighties (yes I am that old), whatever the event we produced a General Information (GI) document. This document included all the available information about the event and was revised on a regular basis up until the event itself. It was shared with anyone and everyone that could possibly be involved both within and outside of the organising company.

Glasgow was not the first to issue a document such as this, Wembley has to take that credit, but we ‘relocated’ and improved it. Whoever worked with it and moved elsewhere took it with them, all over the world. Please God GIs / event schedules, or whatever name is now given to them, are still in use!

A GI is not a bible as there always needs to be flexibility in any operation, but it is there on the day in case one or more essential people are not, due to circumstances beyond their control. That way others can take responsibility and be in ownership of all the facts.

I strongly recommended you develop a GI for any of your events, but before you begin, you must get as much information on the requirements of the event as possible. The event coordinator (or whatever fancy title you give them) is the essential person when planning and running the event, they are what the title says, the coordinator. While they will not have the specialist knowledge of a lot of those involved, they ‘coordinate’ those needed to produce the event and are the ‘go to’ person, the one person to deal with, which saves an awful lot of confusion.

Of course if the event is larger, or running longer hours than is safe for one person to control (a very important element to consider), there will be a team of coordinators, but they are still the essential core!

Once a decision to go is made, whether the event is promoted in house or externally, planning/design meetings should be started immediately, with a minimum of one a week at least, and continue on a regular basis.

Those that need to be included from day one will be those involved in managing the event and operationally such as those responsible for power, sound and light, water and waste, staging and production, venue cleaners, in house security, the relevant stewarding/security companies and box office personnel. Also include outside agencies such as local authorities, the police, ambulance and fire brigade and other relevant folk. If it is a sports event, for example, then you need to involve the local and national, sometimes international, associations (speaking from experience, good luck if you are trying to organise any of these!).

The point of these regular meetings is to ensure the event’s requirements will be met, the venue will be able to run efficiently, any local, national and international laws are met and the police, ambulance and fire brigade are reassured and in place, as necessary, on the day.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, we also have to be sure that protection is in place against potential terrorist action. Martyn’s Law will mean that UK venues have to have this in place – your security company, the Police, local authorities and possibly other agencies will give advice as to what is required.

The GI referred to earlier should be started immediately after the first meetings. Initial items could be as minimal as the event name and dates, the organiser’s details, the coordinator’s details etc. The coordinator must then ensure that additions/revisions are made on a daily basis, if necessary, and that the GI is issued to all those involved, both internally and externally.

Further items that should be included (but not limited to) are event timings, projected attendance, areas in use, keys, car parking, cleaning, water, waste, power, staging, barriers, draping, lighting, first aid, security, firemen, fire extinguishers, furniture, internet, radios, food and beverage, merchandising, signage etc. There are more subjects but it all depends on the event.

Those receiving the document must notify the coordinator as soon as possible of any changes or clarifications that may not have been previously discussed. There are, of course, other meetings that will take place outside of the regular meetings, these will typically be with specialist suppliers, staging, power, audio visual, stage design, etc – all these details must be included in the GI.

Outdoor stages
Photo: Getty Images

Looking after your manpower

There is another side of planning that is unfortunately ignored, even today. That is the manpower required and the working schedule. It is a fact that people even today, particularly in the festival industry, see it as a badge of honour that they work impossibly long hours and not just for one day – more often for the length of the event.

Safety is naturally one of the most important factors of a sensible working day, but probably more important is the health, both mental and physical, of those working on site. No one should work more than 14 hours a day, be it for one day or for the time required to produce the event. After this time the body and mind start to go downhill rapidly, by 18 hours the person is as dangerous as a drunk driver – they can kill! Not only themselves but others.

Sufficient time for your team to rest is also essential, preferably in their own rooms, that way other folk aren’t putting temptation their way with substance abuse. It happens, not always because the people are bad but it is their way of ‘relaxing’.

The suicide rate in the event industry is horrific, as is bad health. Last year a band’s production manager I have known for years told me he had recently looked through the list of people he had worked with over the years and more than two thirds of them had died before they reached the age of 50.

Another friend, a production person who has recently quit touring because of stress, told me he had been to 14 funerals of people he’d worked with who had committed suicide in the past year.

No one should be made to work long hours and promoters/organisers need to have sufficient budgets to avoid this. Fortunately the industry seems to be coming around to the realisation that we have to look after folk. We all need to keep reminding ourselves and others.

Arranging sensible schedules is not difficult and is a major responsibility; it’s good to see that common sense is becoming common! The touring production side of the industry is also aware of the problem and it was enlightening to hear that the production manager of the one of the UK’s top bands had told their management that this year’s European tour was not possible because of the number of dates in a short period. The management responded and the tour dates were revised – very positive.

Another point to be taken into account when planning is to think of the audience (and therefore the crews). With the cooperation of promoters, it is possible to start an event in a fixed venue on time and to finish at a reasonable time, of course the artistes also have to be persuaded, which is maybe a bit more difficult. But if the event starts at a reasonable time then it can finish by 10-10.30pm, latest. So, this allows the audience to get public transport, which helps towards sustainability, and the venue and production crew to get dismantled and finished at a reasonable time so as to give them a good night’s sleep. Of course, things are a wee bit different for a festival but working personnel still need to be thought of.

One last thought, when you have done all these things and the event has gone swimmingly, keep your GI and meeting notes, have a debrief and record it. Next time the planning will be a lot easier!

If you need more clarification you can contact me through the links provided. Have a good one!



Carl A. H. MartinCarl A H Martin is a member of the founding team at Event Advice Agency (EAA), which was set up with the primary aim to support and advise the live events industry and in particular event organisers. EAA brings together a consortium of senior industry professionals, each with many years of experience and knowledge specialising in specific areas within the sector. With an extensive network of high-level professionals at hand, EAA can deliver a full support solution for any sized event. /

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