Tell Your Story!

Event planning is the trickiest for some and easiest for others. Imagining the finished product. What does everyone involved experience at your event? How does it feel when you’re there? What’s the ideal testimonial they give to you after it’s all said and done? What features and offerings do you have to share?

If you’re doing this for the event’s sake, you know your sport. If you’re trying to make money, you may not. Now it’s time to pick the needs for your location and pick your sport. These two go hand in hand. Anyone can put on a 5k just about anywhere, but to put on really awesome events the location should dictate the course. You want your event participants to be wowed. Location, paired with sport, is what matters.

Bottom line:

  • Is venue location key to the success of my event?
  • Can I find enough of my target demographic in this venue location, or will the event itself compel them to travel long distances?
  • Just how challenging should the venue’s terrain be for my demographic?
  • How big a location do I need? Do I need to account for parking, festival, vendor space, or other space-hogs?
  • How will I build this space out? Will it fill up or feel vastly open (be careful with open events –if a venue is huge and doesn’t feel full, that emptiness can diminish the experience for event goers)?

In the initial stages, it may be tempting to keep coming up with elements to your story. Fight this urge. We will talk about this in the marketing chapter but, for now, just know that the more you have to say, the less your audience will listen. Complex event stories are not ones people will sit and listen to, even if there’s so much more. Boil it down to one or two ideas. Most people do not care about the subtle details that will become important to you. We’ve had clients become obsessed with photo-op backdrops while expressing no interest in executing the afterparty they were heavily promoting.

Practice explaining your concept to friends and family. If they “get it” you’re golden. Better yet, writing your mission down succinctly will help you connect with other parties down the line, from sponsors to participants to web designers.


Validating Your Idea- Is it Weak?

How do you know if your idea will fly? Ask yourself this at every milestone in the event planning process. A lot of people have brilliant ideas, but brilliant ideas to you may not be brilliant to others. It’s time to put your ideas out into the world.

You are now an artist. You are putting your work out into the world and others are criticizing it. We get it. It’s scary.

Remember, events aren’t just about passion and creativity. They are about money. You’re either fundraising or you’re making this your job. Just wait until you get to race day. You’ll be forking over your hard earned money, looking back at all the stress and work you’ve gone through, and you’ll realize that the only people about to have a good time are the people who came to enjoy your hard work.

So what is validation? It’s finding people in your demographic, and then pitching your idea and price to them:

“So, I have an idea: [Explain idea]. Is this something you would make a priority to do?”

Listen carefully to their response. Then ask:

“This is how much I think I would need to charge for my idea. Would you pay for it? And would you sign up today?”

If you hear excuses like “I need to check my schedule,” your idea is weak. It may not be a good idea or it may need refining. People who aren’t ready to fork over money immediately are also telling you something about the event or its pitch. Don’t commit until people say, “Yes, I am so there. Take all my money. I’ll start training right now.”

True validation is getting three people to buy tickets to your event the minute you tell them the idea. No amount of Facebook likes or supportive friends equal the power of ticket compulsion.

If Your Idea is Weak

The best products identify a need. This need may or may not be understood by the customer. In business this is called a “pain point.” A pain point makes someone squirm. A great example of this is the mud run boom. It answered a couple needs in the general population, namely: “Running is boring,” “I don’t feel connected to people,” “I don’t do anything noteworthy.” Mud runs are “happenings.” They take a traditional 5k or more run and make something happen. Something which relieves people’s boredom and makes them feel accomplished. Running marathons used to have the same power, but like any idea they lost their steam overtime. Now we have mud run marathons and more!

Sit down with your idea. Look for ways to fill people’s concerns. If you’re interested in running, ask the people you think would run your race what bothers them about running and races in general. Ask them what the best things are. Ask them what they wish was a part of that experience. Then provide it. Remember to incorporate those provisions into your message. Don’t leave registrations on the table. If you have a feature, ensure people know about it! We’ll return to this soon.

If you find you don’t have a pain point but your idea is still not motivating people, and you need and want to do this event, pay close attention to our marketing section. A compelling campaign can make all the difference.


Who Are You Targeting?

Set out the primary reason for your actions. That is “make money”, “do something awesome”, or “raise awareness.” Determine who it is you’re trying to sell to. Your event is going to be aimed at somebody. That somebody is going to shape the feel of the whole thing. If you’re aiming for rich men in their 80s, your language and visuals, along with the course and prizes, are going to be different than if you were aiming towards a gaggle of teenage girls. You may say, “Everyone is my demographic.” Wrong. Think about Apple vs Android. Are they targeting everyone these days, or do they know their audience and cater to them?

If you’ve never had to do this, there are a number of demographics research tools on the Internet. You can also ask similar event principals about their experience. For instance, it’s surprising the number of women events are attracting, yet some events only provide male-sized t-shirts (shirts that don’t get worn, don’t get exposure).
You need to get specific with who you are talking to and designing around. You’re not just saying “men in their 40s with road bikes.” You need at least one other qualifier:

[demographic 1] + [ demographic 2] = nicely focused audience member

Your event can have more than one audience, but you need to know this before you start as it will inform everything from venue to date to details about the event.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What is the age range (and median) for events similar to what I want to do?
  • Is there an age range I specifically want to target?
  • Is there a target gender?
  • Is this an easily accessible sport with low entry fees or not?
  • How much money should my demographic make to be able to comfortably afford my fees?
  • What interests does my demographic have (we know they like to mountain bike, but do they
  • also have a Honda Civic)?
  • Is there crossover that I can target (e.g. do they just love minipigs)?

Where do I find them (doing laundry at the laundromat)?Once you start to ask these questions, you can do research with tools like Facebook advertising and statistics websites. Getting ahold of sponsorship packets from similar events is also useful. These demographics not only help target your event, they attract sponsors.

It’s also a good idea to create a mascot alongside your logo. More on this later.

The Birth of an Event

Events happen for two reasons. Either it’s a way to generate money or awareness, or you would just like to see this event take place. Most people think events are a mix of both. From the beginning, the smartest thing you can do is decide what the event really is to you. That will help you.

If you’re doing this event for money, your primary concern needs to be making money. That means you need to draw enough people from the community to make it worth your while. It means not draining your time, money, and enthusiasm. Organizations looking to make money need to have solid connections in the community the event targets and that the event isn’t part of a saturated group because you’ll never cut through the establishment, no matter how awesome you are.

It’s important to understand the market you’re entering – the participants, the culture, and the language. It’s your job to learn that culture. Attend similar events. Talk to people who go to these kind of events. Listen for their struggles and concerns – be prepared to solve them.
If you’re doing this for the love, be careful. The same concerns apply, but for a different reason.

Events don’t make money easily. While that may not be a concern of yours, losing money will be. Sometimes an event doesn’t exist not because someone with the knowhow and passion just hasn’t done it, but because it just won’t fly. Another pitfall of “doing it for love” is that many directors are just racers that love races. You’ll need to turn out something more if you want to be a well-oiled, efficient machine. You need to think about a lot more than racer experience or how awesome a course is. Those don’t make a sustainable event, even if we all wish they did.

Events succeed because of your business acumen. Great events fail because of lack of promotion and wasteful execution.

Keep the why in mind. Know your purpose before you do anything. It will help you design the event, market it, and keep going long into the night when your bed is calling you. If you’re the writing type, now is a great time to start a journal and explore what you’re looking to get out of this. If you’re not, assemble a bunch of friends and talk it out. Take notes! Make a big ol’ note to yourself that you can look at in good and bad times. Remember why you started this!

Small Events Wishlist for TBID

Today I sat in my annual tourism board meeting to support our request for local funding. The thing that kept coming up again and again is how small events (aka, put on with shoestrings by a non-professional team) needed more support, support, support.

TBID committees are a huge win-win. They are regional (city, county, state, even country) organizations that are usually comprised of engaged community members and hoteliers looking to bring tourism dollars to cities and put “heads in beds.”

Heads in hotel beds = more money for the local economy, and sometimes a lot more. It’s good for everyone. Hoteliers will tax themselves and then use the funds to stimulate tourism.

The first thing an event planner needs to know is about that – because that’s some solid feed money for a well organized event. But they have to put it toward marketing, and you have to be pretty good at marketing to convince them you’re worth their money when everyone wants it, too.

Anyway . . . the one thing I know after doing this for a long time is that most event producers are crappy marketers. You get into event production because you love that aspect of it. If you build it, will they come? Not these days, when there’s a million different things clamoring for your attention at all times.

So, how can TBID up their game?

By providing one piece of crucial support for event businesses: a concierge.

As I’m sitting there listening to complaints I myself had at one time, and at the same time, felt my brain churning in ways in which I could help these people (but I can’t, because my time is extremely finite these days), I settled on the concierge idea. Someone whose job it is to know what events are going on, who the city is supporting, and helps event producers support each other.

Mostly, because I have a lot of resources, I wanted to run up to everyone presenting and offer something – but it just isn’t realistic. What if someone else did it for me? Paired nonprofits with event producers, sponsors looking for exposure with the right events, knew where to find resources. . .

For example, TBID generally has a table at events, why not have someone that contacts people for collateral and helps guide what it could look like? This same person would know what’s going on, and which events would be useful to cross promote to, and send out emails and social media ready images for groups to use. Someone who is like, “Oh, you want to do this? I know the people to do it, meet so and so.” TBID could even solicit events, I haven’t seen that often, to support those that they already do – want a multiday thing? Help people combine forces! Connection in the community is so key!

I’d gladly have that service instead of the money we get to promote our events. While we are pretty good at marketing, nothing like networking already ripe markets to make them effective. And this is where event planners are weak on time even though it might be the most beneficial thing local events can do. Word of mouth and support of your community has a much higher ROI than a Facebook ad ever will.

TBIDs usually retain marketing firms that market specifically their own brand/website, etc. Encouraging TBID spending to improve collateral they can use (photography, videos, and even perhaps providing the resources for that – like sending an official photographer, releasing press releases, etc) would make a huge difference, too. Leveraging that power by getting events to provide collateral as part of the deal.

But what about events that don’t work hard to work with the concierge and make the most of it? Don’t support them, pure and simple.

So, TBID needs to actively leverage what they’ve got in hand (money) in more effective ways than each individual event producer can – scale that thing because otherwise, that seed money just might not be enough for success.

This is true with everything, it’s all a sales funnel. We can hand someone money but how they spend that money may or may not be effective. It takes creative marketers to cut through the clutter of everything . . . having the committee hire good people who can do that and who can help up people’s games with less resources is a win-win for everyone. If I’ve got someone actively worrying about my event, telling me where I need to be with what, and maybe even helping me poster, that’s way better than cash I may or may not spend effectively.

Growth is the mutual goal, and most organizations don’t know what it takes to have that happen. Let TBID provide that!

Use events as team builders!

Are you a corporation looking for something fun to do?
– It’s a proven fact that a little fear and adversity makes us bond.
Why not sign your team up for a race with us? 

Our Checkpoint Challenge partner and team races combine team work and adventure into one unforgettable morning!

Or train all year long for a triathlon with your group and join us at the Morro Bay Triathlon!

Another great option is volunteering or sponsoring an aid station – give back to the racers and our charities while teaching the value of service!

Perhaps you’d like your own?

We provide a unique experience for ambitious fundraisers through the Orangewood Foundation – network with high powered people who don’t mind getting dirty!

Contact us and let us know what we can do to support you, whether it’s customizing event shirts for your group, providing booth space, or putting together a custom event for your organization.

Lessons Learned After Over a Decade of Event Production

We make it our business to know the ins and outs of our business, and that means that despite us not being the biggest on the block, or the most profitable, we are generally slightly ahead of event trends for a reason.

When we started doing this, we were eager kids with a lot of free time, not a lot of business acumen or long term vision, unlimited energy, and extremely limited income. We landed large sponsorships from recognizable companies, got a lot of local support, and made it feel like this was an easy place to make our way.

My, how things have changed!

The final Mud Mash, RIP little guy!

The final Mud Mash, RIP little guy!

In 2010, we had a stable of ten events: adventure races, triathlon, runs, bike races, mud runs, and more. We worked hard, we played hard, and hopefully we made a lot of people happy. In 2016, we’ll be self producing two events. Why the shrink?

A number of factors, many of which affect the future of all events going forward:

  • Insurance changes – As time has progressed, events have gotten larger as a whole and had more attention from the insurers themselves. Since land managers won’t let you produce an event on their property without it, insurance is a must. But when the requirements for insurance start to impinge on the ability to produce an event, it starts to become a problem. This could be required coverage increasing over 100% from one year to the next, it could be restrictions on an event’s features (aka, you can’t have water activities or obstacles), or it could be flat out refusal to insure, depending on the event. History, longevity, and safety records don’t matter.
  • Politics and resource management crackdown – Whether it’s Florida or California, we’ve experienced more and more difficulty because of permit requirements from management agencies. We’ve had government agencies demand we hire a specific company in the permitting process for a service that charges way more than something any other company could provide, we’ve had safety agencies require above and beyond coverage because of one thing happen with a different event because of poor management and planning, and we’ve had increased demands for permits – requiring thousands of dollars of professional services we used to be able to do ourselves. Things like this limit creativity, and definitely limit profitability for an event. We’re proud of our professionalism and ability to navigate this world and make things work (our 24 hour race this year involved 14 different permitting agencies working in conjunction with one another in a location we’d never hosted an event at, and everyone left happy!), but that’s a benefit of over a decade of learning the game. The newer entries to the event world will have a harder and harder time, especially as we feel the squeeze.
  • It took a lot of convincing and team work to get this 24 hour adventure race to go.

    It took a lot of convincing and team work to get this 24 hour adventure race to go.

    Marketing Challenges – Ten years ago, we didn’t have quite the sophisticated marketing machine we do now. This is good and bad. You can target the heck out of people you think would like to know about your event, but unless you have the $$ to do so, you’ll never get through. An old advertising adage was you have to hit someone 7 times before they engage.

    • How much will that cost? We particularly loved Spartan Race’s Joe Desena in an article with Obstacle Racing Media: “When Spartan was first beginning to advertise in 2010, DeSena said he had a “moment of insanity” and was spending about $300,000 a month on digital marketing. In what could have been a warning to potential competitors looking at the Obstacle Course Racing business, DeSena said if he were to attempt to reach that same amount of people today it would cost about eight times that $300,000 monthly expense. “It would be hard for us to recreate that today”.”
    • In 2014, we went into $15,000 debt to throw everything we had at marketing our obstacle race and triathlon – and the result was what we expected: not enough. Fancy website redesigns, aggressive online targeting, and billboards just won’t do it. Without a built-in desire by the population to find your event, unless you’re an established something in your community, it’s a massive uphill battle that requires either patience or lots and lots of money. Neither of which is a guarantee of success.
  • Community Support – We’re not talking about the racing community here. If you are putting on a good quality event, you’re touching your participants in a sincere and impressive way, and you’re relating to them on a peer level, you’re winning. The key here is getting enough of them. But, no, we’re talking about the larger community: local businesses, governments, and tourism boards getting behind what you’re trying to do. We’ve seen events have a LOT more success here than we by bringing a different game with them: while we’ve been putting on events *we* think are cool, the better tactic for support is finding out what the community wants and bringing that forth. This can be through demographic research, surveys, or asking. But, for us? We’d rather do what we love than do what others want us to.
  • Big business/scalability/adaptability – With the advent of the Internet and social media, we’re very, very connected. The local mom and pop event won’t draw to its potential unless you go big. Just like chain businesses where a loss here and there balances out with a portfolio of locations, so too are the more successful event chains.
    • At the same time, we’ve watched the rise and fall of attempts through the years, most notably the obstacle course races. Remember Zombie Runs? Man, when all the zombie movies came out, I was sold. But what was promised and what was delivered couldn’t line up. Beyond that, people moved on from zombies to the next trend. The undead are dead.
    • Obstacle course races in general definitely peaked a few years ago. We had to compete with two other events locally one fall, both under delivering and blighting the offering as a whole. And, beyond that . . . only a few races have maintained viable numbers (though they are falling vastly from their peak years) from what we can see – and they did it by scaling big time right away, plugging in, digging deep, and expanding internationally. Only so many people have the investment and skill resources to make that work. Certainly not the majority of event producers, and to the detriment of why most get into it in the first place – to have fun!
    • The other thing we’ve seen happen here is events that survive, adapt. Again, a great example of that has been The Spartan Race series: started in the heat of passion for the movie 300, thousands of people, inspired by the Greek Spartans signed up to test themselves. The original races focused heavily on the Spartan theme . . . but as the passion for 300 faded, they harnessed the passion for the workout it inspired, and the Crossfit revolution that started around the same time and created a symbiotic relationship there. It was brilliant, it was forward thinking, and it is something most of us lack the ability to do while mired in a million things at once. There are triathlons based on lakes are literally drying up and attendance is waning . . . adaptability is the #1 thing to do if you’re established but want success.
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    Just another triathlon, but an ocean one, with kayaking, and great community support.

    Recognizing that the market is saturated – It is IMPOSSIBLE to schedule an event that doesn’t conflict with a compatible event. You have to either be so cool and different that they have to try yours, or you have to be more accessible in some way or another. And you have to make sure the population that wants to go to both is big enough to fill both.

Bottom line, the only way to make events work these days is figure out what people want, and give it to them. But then you also have to have the means to do so.

Some of our events have failed dismally in the past, leaving us near bankruptcy. Some of our events have been wildly successful one year and then tanked the next, with no reason we can put our finger on. Event production is like playing a slot machine. Put enough money and resources in there and do it long enough, it will hopefully pan out. But do you want to wait around that long if you’re not lucky enough to start with a lot of money or win on the first few handle pulls?

I highly recommend reading Seth Godin’s The Dip to really make this point. Basically, you have two charts:

chart3This chart shows you three possible paths for your endeavors – you’ll feel really good as your effort starts to go up but then . . . CRASH! or you’ll be fighting a good long time and then . . . CRASH!

What you need to be on is The Dip:

the_dip_seth_godin_curve

How do you get there? By getting better than your competition (and you always have competition, even if you don’t see it yet) and persevering through your competition’s hardships. Again, via money, energy, or time.

Another great, relatable book to our topic is How Bad Do You Want It? After reading the author’s case studies, I’ve found that in many ways, in many different arenas in my life, the answer is “Not bad enough.” When it’s time to crash out, cash out, or just stop feeding the machine, it’s when you answer “How Bad Do You Want It” with “Not bad enough.”

And that is why All Out Events has shrunk in the last five years. Though, arguably, the past few years have been our most profitable both from the ability to enjoy life angle and the events. Singling our attention to the events we actually want to put on makes a huge difference for a small business. We took a look at energy expenditure vs money income and the answer for things like our popular Mud Mash was: “we don’t want it bad enough.” It wasn’t a loser, but it took all hands on deck to make it go and it wasn’t growing enough for us to scale it or make it easier to produce.

This is where we get to the state of our beloved All Out Adventures series. How bad do we (and our community) want it? When we looked at the end of this year’s efforts and it netted a bit of a loss, and when we found out we were expecting twins in 2016, the answer was . . . we don’t want it bad enough. And so, we put it to the adventure race community and asked them the same thing . . . and the answer also was . . . not bad enough.

In the end, it's the fun, the smiles, and the love that matters.

In the end, it’s the fun, the smiles, and the love that matters.

And that’s exactly the issue with that sport’s success. There are races willing to put in the effort to keep growing and pushing the sport, but unless there’s a large, adaptable, scalable effort on a national level, we’re getting nowhere. While we feel we have the skillset to make that work, we need more powerful resources to make it work. Most help has come in the form of asking us to simply work harder to prove ourselves, but we feel we’re past that, and we’re getting contracts that bank on our skills that pay maximally for minimal effort these days. Where is the motivation?

And so, dear reader, that is the state of events in 2016 from All Out Events’ perspective. We hope this was interesting and perhaps helpful!