The Devil’s in the Detail

John Radford runs though the essentials of pre-event planning

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” This classic quote is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, but many well-known leaders both past and present have highlighted the need to plan carefully and comprehensively in order to achieve the goals required.

It is no different in the event industry, yet do we really plan effectively and comprehensively or are we simply paying lip service to this key requirement in the vain hope that “it will be alright on the night”? If we get it wrong the results can be devastating, so planning appropriately is a critical part of event management.

As an event production company, we often become involved with events where the end product has been clearly defined but the roadmap hasn’t been properly considered or clearly communicated. The devil is in the detail; don’t come unstuck. Planning makes an event successful, so consider it carefully.

Photo: Kyle Baker

For many, the goal is to develop a profit-making event, while others just want to break even or maybe create a charitable fundraising model for many years to come. Whatever the goal, the need to create a comprehensive budget is vital. Have you really looked at what is needed for the event or have you become blinded by the more exciting ‘wow’ parts and forgotten the mundane elements such as litter picking, way finding signage or fencing?

It’s easy to focus on the creative and exciting aspects and lose perspective on the need for a holistic approach to the event by considering every aspect – some of which will not be seen by those attending the event but are vital to its success.

As a starting point, create a list of everything that you would want to have on site or that you will need to make the site operate effectively. Think about what you need in advance of the event, such as licensing, venue plans, site visits, and what you may need post-event as well such as litter picking, remedial work on access points and venues or cleaning up roadways. These elements can have a major impact on the budget but are often forgotten as they don’t constitute the core of the event in the minds of some. Create that checklist and make sure all those elements are covered.

Manpower quickly eats into budgets so make doubly sure that any human resources have been costed effectively. Are we taking shortcuts and not allowing for safety provision, medical staff or sufficient toilets for the numbers expected? Have we considered the ramifications of these shortcuts on the overall event if they are omitted?

Laptop working
Pic: Getty Images

Contingency – have you included a contingency figure in your budget? Be honest with yourself and your ability to cover every eventuality. Be realistic and allow a decent amount so that you know you can bring in that extra toilet unit or additional walkway lighting without a big impact on your cost control. Remember though to include those elements the following year so they don’t appear in your contingency again but are planned for properly. It’s understandable to make errors in learning but unforgivable if repeated time and time again.

Use event experts – they may cost in the short term but they can ensure that your budget is appropriate and may save you money overall through their contacts and industry network to the benefit of your project. Use professionals with the right qualifications and experience in key roles such as a safety advisors or site managers. The short-term cost gain can be vastly outweighed with potential very costly failings later in the day, which can also have potentially costly and damaging effects on your long-term branding and reputation.

Think long term; it is rare for any event to make profit in year one. You need to plan for a three year cycle with the aim of financially breaking even in the first year while you establish the event brand to customers and potential sponsors alike, which will then allow you to look towards profit for years two, three and beyond.

Learning and experience
There is no substitute for learning and experience. Get out there and look at what other people do and what makes their events unique or unforgettable – is it the venue, the staff, the creative elements? Go with an open mind and sometimes simply taking the time to sit and watch how a site layout works can pay dividends in your planning phase. It’s certainly not about copying or repeating, but by understanding what can work – or maybe doesn’t work.

The wonderful thing about events is that you never stop learning and developing innovative solutions that assist in evolving your event into something truly amazing. Many staff in the industry started as volunteers on events, building up experience and a network of knowledge that can then be brought to bear in their roles as professionals.

Visit industry exhibitions and consider what products or services are available to assist you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and listen to those industry panels that discuss topics such as wet weather contingencies or crowd management. Use all that learning to ensure your plans add up.

Taking all the above forward, you can now develop a more detailed plan of what you will need to generate from income sources in order to cover all the elements. Are ticket prices too low or will you need some financial sponsorship support in order to cover all those needs? Have you remembered to account for VAT on goods and services and the impact it will have on ticket revenue?

Have you looked at the competition within the market for the same guests? Both location and date will play a part, or are you creating something so unique that you are creating a new customer base? Outdoor events take place 52 weeks a year so take time to do in-depth research on who else is running similar events and when. Research their prices and determine whether there is a need in the market place for another event; what can you do to differentiate your event and really engage with the audience?

Is there a rush to get your vision to market or would an extra year in planning prove beneficial? Taking that extra 12 months may allow you to plan and develop a better overall event or allow avenues of funding to be developed and managed. Is there a deadline you need to meet or do you have flexibility in the timeline?

How much time do you have? It’s a common theme that promoters often try to produce an event while simultaneously holding down a day job. Commendable, but ask yourself if it really is realistic to plan effectively when you may have so many other issues pulling on your time.

Two minds are better than one. In any case, it may be ‘more minds’, so if there is a team sitting behind the event then share the workload. Allow others to take on some of the responsibility and planning. Distributing the labour will not only help keep things moving but will also give you an opportunity to share thoughts and ideas.

Plan regular meetings across the project life cycle and utilise technology to ensure everyone involved has access to the planning process and information. Collaborative working will pay dividends with individuals able to question the rationale behind certain decisions or ideas and ensure that your planning can stand up to investigation.

With the right amount of planning your event will be safe, successful and memorable for all the right reasons. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from the right people and try to remember the original reasons behind your event. It can be easy to lose sight of those early creative visions that first led you down the event road, but persevere and add something special. Do something extraordinary and be remembered for bringing something fresh and exciting to what is already a truly amazing industry.


About the Author
John Radford runs JR Event Services and has worked in the event industry for over 20 years. He provides event management and event safety consultancy services for a broad spectrum of events from single day and city centre cultural events to week long music and dance festivals. Visit or call 01275 406760 for an informal chat.

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