Articles Written By: Priscilla Ruedas

Permitting For Events

In order to host an event, you will more than likely need to get formal permission from one or more land managers or land owners. The degree of difficulty in acquiring permits will depend on multiple factors. This can include, but is certainly not limited to:

  • Event/race type
  • Expected participant numbers
  • Time of year
  • Impacts on the land, resources, other land users, local community and businesses
  • History (has a similar event occurred on this property before)
  • Parking
  • Local laws or zoning of the property
  • Ownership (private, city, county, state, federal)

The number one rule is to present a thought out plan that addresses the owners’/managers’ concerns before they ask them. These include the above issues as well as a safety plan, an operation plan, and how the venue will benefit (AKA how they will get paid). Public lands are slightly different. Many park departments have a clause in their mission statements about providing recreational opportunities for the local and visiting community, so in a very real sense you are helping them fulfill their mission statement.

First things first.

You need to figure out what your needs are for the venue and then find something that comes close to fulfilling those needs. You need to figure out who manages the area, or areas, that you would like to use. Then you need to apply or ask permission to use it.

Permits can range from formal city/county council meetings to a handshake with a local land owner. In all of these situations you need to provide a clear picture of what you are planning to do on the property, how you will safely manage it, how you will clean it up, and how it will benefit the land owner or the community it is serving. Provide the answers before they are asked. Be prepared to answer several questions, given recommendations, comments, and/or concerns regarding one aspect or another of your plan. Note these. Follow up each one.

Venue will likely have hosted dozens of events. They know what works and what doesn’t for their location. Public employees may also be a concern. They may resent the extra work. Show them you have your end of things covered and that you want to work with them to reduce the stress of it all.


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How to Secure a Venue

Some people really don’t care about you. They care about facts and figures. How many people, how much money, what does the budget look like? What do other similar events produce and what’s your plan to do the same or exceed it?

This is where doing your research pays off. It also helps to be aware of failures, to be able to say why those things don’t work. Some land managers in this arena may have seen it done badly.

Offer solutions.

Principals will generally want to know the following upon meeting you:

  • What is your basic plan? (Mission statement)
  • What is the date you’re looking at?
  • Who will you try to attract, and how many people is that? (Demographics)
  • How would you describe your event? (Most people know what a 5k run is, but if your concept is a downhill bike or adventure race – they won’t.)
  • How do you want to use my land?
  • Have you done this before?

Like any good job interview, you should have questions:

  • Outline the area you’d like to use and ask if it’s possible.
  • Explain any specific needs like water, power, course or obstacle build outs, and parking.
  • Learn if the venue has done anything similar.
  • Inquire what the process for permitting is.
  • Ask how the venue prices permits and what is/isn’t included in that.
  • Find out what will it take to get permission to hold the event, even if the permit hasn’t been formally issued.
  • Get to grips with how long it will take to build the event out and how much time to take it down.

These are key to your success and energy levels.

If they don’t have experience in your event, some venues may need time to figure out some of the finer points. Depending on the scale of your event and the land agency involved, this process may take a while to dial in.

Here is what you should come away with:

  1. The venue fits your needs.
  2. You know what you have to do to secure this venue and start advertising it.
  3. The venue can fit your budget.
  4. You know what you need to do to make this event work at this venue.

You will likely need to engage with one or more land managers for months. They request things like operation plans (more on this later), maps, and fees. Permit securing can be one of the most taxing parts of event planning because it’s neither fun nor speedy. It is, however, part of the game. This is one of the reasons that keeping an event to as few land agencies as possible is key, especially for your first time.

As you become familiar with each agency and its principals, you’ll be able to successfully navigate the field and they will trust you a lot more. Events like adventure races, ultra runs, or triathlons may need more than one agency’s permission.

Super tip: Learn the lingo! Everyone has their own specific language when talking about something. The more you speak that language, the more you signal to the party you’re addressing that you know what you’re talking about. Read up on these industries. Address issues like “ingress” and “egress” with confidence before they have a chance to bring it up and you’ll be sure to impress them.


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Finding a Venue

Each venue works a little differently. Some will bend over backwards to have you there. Some will fight you every step of the way. Some will be cheap, some expensive. Some will be a free-for-all and some will be rigid and rule-oriented. The key is speaking their language.
Once you have determined dates, general course needs, and the ideal location, it’s time to start inquiring about specific locations.

There are a number of options out there:

Scout public locations on your own before you escalate. People appreciate it when you’re already familiar with their property and what you want to do with it. The more detail and preparation you can show upon meeting the managers, the better.

Go directly to the land management agencies in charge of a venue you are already aware of. Set an appointment to meet with them, talk about what you want to do, and tour the course. You may not be as prepared when you meet, but you may not have many options if the land is private or hard to access.

Contact tourism boards in the area for recommendations. Generally, they will tell you of possible venues or put out the call for you. You’ll receive solicitation from the venues interested.
Get on the Internet. If you need something like a park or ski hill, you’ll find it easily this way. Google Earth is your friend.

Network. There are private venues out there that you can only find through friends.
Once you’ve got a couple of ideas in mind for your venue, it’s time to meet with the principals involved. Some land managers have done this all before and will know ahead of time what you can and cannot do by their own policy or by local jurisdiction. It’s awesome if they do, but don’t always assume they will know. Depending on what you want to do on the land, and the experience of the land managers you meet with, you may have to do some follow-up research with the government or additional land managers to determine if the site will work for you.

Consider meeting with land managers a job interview. You will need to sell yourself as a professional (as you see yourself), your attire, demeanor, and preparation will matter. We’re not saying to wear a suit, but “business casual” with the ability to do some hiking is appropriate. Don’t be distracted, defensive, or unprepared.

As a rule of thumb, there are three ways to impress people: connection, history, and facts.
Some people are highly influenced by the connections you have and the connection you forge with them. If you encounter someone like this, they will likely engage in small talk. Always look for ways to find common ground and people in your lives. They need to feel as though they can trust you. If you are not comfortable with this, there are tons of sales books that can advise how to get better at that instant connection. Remember, you are selling yourself with this person.

Some people don’t care about you, but they do care about your credentials. How long have you been in business for? What can you show in terms of your ability and work ethic? Even if this is your first event, you can shine with these people by being prepared with a general plan and even anecdotes about how you have handled things in the past. Some people simply believe that if you can outlast others, you’re worth paying attention to. Finding a way to dig into your past means extending your experience beyond that first event.


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Where (and When) to Host Your Event

You have likely started looking for locations that meet your needs. It’s time to see if this is a go. Venue managers will need to be convinced that you’re on your game and will bring value to their own work either by way of business to them, permitting fees, or exposure of the venue. Don’t forget that event managers have to believe you can pay the bills, which means they need to buy into your concept. Think of it like an open house. There are a lot of lookyloos, but if the house is a find it pays to show you can move when it’s time.

1. The Ideal Date. Knowing your demographic will help with this. Weather can be a factor, as will unique details like wildflowers and how busy your town is (ie, if you live in a college town and you attract college students, summer’s probably not a brilliant idea). If you’re attracting regular competitors, check race calendars and find out what people’s training schedules are. If it’s a school event, put it closer to September, when everyone is excited about school, rather than June, when everyone is over it. You may consider piggy backing on an already existing draw if the event compliments it. Remember to check the calendar for competing events at least two hours’ drive away.

2. The Ideal Location. This should be at the forefront of your mind when it comes to your event. What will make people come to your location? Proximity to a city center? The natural beauty? Do you want to show people something no one knows about? Once you know the attractions of your location you can start looking for venues that fit your needs. Sometimes it’s really just about finding a parking lot. In the end, it’s not the beauty and quality of the course that keeps ‘em coming, but the story.

3. The Ideal Course. Just as location should have been your true inspiration, now the details of the course come together. Who. Why. What. Questions like what will be physically appropriate for what you want? How much parking will you need for visitors (a good rule of thumb is one car to every two participants)?


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Choosing a Mascot

It’s time for a logo. You may not feel a logo is that important. That it may cost too much do make professionally. Wrong. You need an image to help guide your story. Whether it’s a honey badger or a bumblebee, a tribal sun or a little lamb, a five-color graphic ready for printing on shirts or a hand drawn sketch by your beloved, we all need a little totem to guide our thoughts. A logo isn’t just a recognizable little drawing. A logo sets the consistent experience for everyone. A logo sets the tone for the whole brand.

You can do some research on similar events to see what they do, but use that knowledge to do something different. You don’t want to be one of a million. Eventually your logo becomes your entire story, even if it has no bearing on what you do. Example? Starbucks. If you look at their past logos, they were intricate and advertised what the coffee shop was about. Now? There’s a giant green mermaid logo slapped on the side of my grocery store and it means, “Come inside to get delicious and consistent coffee treats and pastries from a company started in Seattle that set off a coffee revolution and is now conveniently in your market.” Starbucks wins at branding with a mermaid: the last thing you think of when you think “coffee.”

An early event company we ran called “Nimble Creative” ended up with a goat balancing on a stick as their logo. It was preposterously cute, but was based on something. It was how goats in the Middle East got up into trees to get leaves. The company name came first. Then when the logo got designed, it worked. We didn’t need the logo to have running and biking in it, which that company mainly did. It just needed to be something we could hang our hat (or goat) on.


Evolution of an event logo:

We put on some of the first mud run / obstacle course events! But, because of this, we didn’t really know what kind of personality we wanted to give the event, so we went with what was popular at the time:

2011 – commando-style/boot camp. No real logo, just stock photo of a badass lady crawling, camo, aggressive text. This is pretty common for event start ups in terms of design and 1st attempt.

The following year, we reviewed what the actual feel of the event had turned out to be, and it was a lot more festive than badass. People loved literally wallowing in the mud and having a good time, so I designed a new logo: “Happy Pig.”

He’s got his thumbs up, he’s popping out of mud kinda like Porky Pig, the colors are brown, pink, blue and white. Evokes water, fun, but like . . . clean. I chose a more festive font.

And then while this event absolutely was “happy pig” we realized that to sustain it, we’d need to capture the evolving audience of hardcore OCR people who were looking to truly be challenged. Truth was, our event was every bit as challenging and well constructed as the “big” obstacle course races, but happy pig and the fun feel didn’t appeal to them.

Enter, “Oink Oink, motherf*cker.”

Similar color scheme, but black plays more strongly, there’s a more core font choice, and the pig isn’t giving you thumbs up anymore, he’s about to take you. The pink and the black are like a mullet: serious in front, party in the back.


It looked awesome, but we actually decided that while it was profitable, it was a ton of work and we saw the trend of obstacle course racing dying out and got out while the getting was good. Our logos were neat, though.


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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!