If you were to create a list of people most responsible for headaches in the events industry, I’m convinced Ray Kinsella would be somewhere near the top. If that name doesn’t sound familiar, you need to brush up on your sports movie trivia. And if the name still doesn’t sound familiar, I’ll throw you a lifeline. Ray Kinsella is the fictional character played by Kevin Costner in the 1989 classic Field of Dreams, what many believe to be the greatest sports movie of all time.
So what does Ray Kinsella have to do with the events industry? Simple. It’s the seven magical words he hears as he’s walking through his Iowa cornfield that mystical evening: “If you build it, they will come.” As we all know, Ray built it, they came, and the rest is history. The premise made for a great movie, but over time it’s also become a driving force for so many people looking to create first-time events. ‘We’re going to build it, they’re going to come, and you can cue the Hollywood ending. But Shoeless Joe Jackson rarely makes event appearances these days, and sometimes the truth is not as pretty: You need to do more than build it. You need to build it right. Of course that’s easier said then done, but here are a few suggestions to get you started:
1- Start with the Why. Planning an event, it’s easy to get caught up in the What, the Where or the How. But great events, like great companies, don’t lose track of the Why. Whether your goal is to increase awareness, raise money, build morale, disseminate information or anything else, always keep your eye on the prize. What’s the purpose of the event you’re creating? Let the answer to that question drive your decisions. Of course this doesn’t apply only to first-time events, but to all events — always!
2- Be a Sell-Out. Sure, having 500 people attend your event would be a fantastic accomplishment. But you know what wouldn’t be as great? Having 500 people attend your event and still being left with 500 empty seats. As hard as it may be, try and resist the urge to go big on the venue front. Especially if you’re trying to build an event brand, there’s nothing better than a sold-out event for future years' marketing. Let your event be the one that people are clamoring to get into! You can always make adjustments in year two.
3- The Price is Wrong, $#@!%. How to price a first-time event can be tricky. One helpful tactic is to setup your program with an early-registration discount. This helps push attendees to purchase tickets, and also should give you an early indicator as to how you’re doing. If, after the early reg deadline you’re light on ticket sales, you know you have work to do! On a related note, if you’re hosting a free event, be careful, as ticket sales can be difficult to gauge. Specifically, free events tend to garner higher no-show rates since there’s usually no cancellation penalty. Generally you’ll find that even a low ticket cost will significantly lessen your no-show rate.
Most importantly, if you’re hosting a first-time event be sure to take a lot of notes on what’s working and what’s not. Because while you’re trying to produce a great event you’re also attempting to gather intel for the next time around. That’s how you’re going to build it right.
As for Field of Dreams, some people love it but it’s not my cup of tea. Here are my top-5 sports movies* (in reverse order):
5- Remember the Titans. Sleeper pick! No question that Herman Boone is in the pantheon of all-time best coaches.
4- Bull Durham. Clearly a better baseball movie than Field of Dreams.
3- Caddyshack. Big hitter, the lama.
2- Karate Kid**. I was five when this movie was released, it significantly changed my life. I can’t tell you how many times I hurt my wrist trying to break anything and everything that was wood.
1-Raging Bull. An absolute classic, De Niro killed it.
*Bonus points for going with five different sports.
**Yes, karate is a sport. Kind of.