Creating new festivals

10 Tips for creating successful new events/Festivals in Kelowna.
Well my story was going to be on the new Arts on the Avenue that was created over the past year, with the team at the Festivals Kelowna office, but I think it's been well promoted on Castanet this week. 
If you missed the earlier stories simply show up at Bernard Avenue this Thursday, July 30th, from 5-10pm to catch a truly artistic experience. Full story here.
For today's column I wanted to offer you some tips on planning a festival/event in Kelowna. I've had a chance to plan a number of them in town over the years (probably in the hundreds) and I find I'm getting the question more and more so here goes: 
1) Create something distinct and interesting:
In Kelowna we are growing up. Each and every weekend where you might have had only one event option you now have a plethora of options at your fingertips. Live music venues are on the rise. Theatre has truly came into it's own. Foodie events are becoming annual success stories (Devour is my favourite in this category). Then we also have all of the sports games, special fundraisers, house concerts, and comedy shows that fill up our calendar.
So with that in mind you better be planning something distinct and original. Are you keeping an eye on current trends. 
Tips: Country music has a large draw in town and is currently underserved, Children's events in the off season have lots of opportunity for growth, celtic festivals and events also have room for a refresh to bring new audiences to a much loved segment of our community. 
2) Choose the location that fits your audience:
Choose what you are going to compete against wisely. Is your event on the same night as a Rockets game and aimed at sports fans (probably not a good idea). Are you going to pick the cheapest venue in town that doesn't typically host an event and aim for the unique experience or are you. Are you aware of the various venue options in town? Could you rent the theatre at Okanagan College for this event or would it fit as a use in a park. Each venue has it's pro's and cons. Finding the right venue that clicks with the right theme helps ensure success. 
Also choosing the time of year in Kelowna is also an essential component. Be careful if you are thinking of planning an event in June or September. 
Tips: Okanagan College is the most affordable option for a small theatre in Kelowna. The fee's at the RCA for most event make it end up being more expensive then renting the Kelowna Community Theatre. Be careful though, with 500 extra seats than  the RCA you have a choice. Do you want a full venue at 300 or a one third full venue with 300? One venue that I would love to see added into the mix is the new world class theatre space at OKM. For that though you would have to get the buy in of SD#23 and the teacher of the classroom. 
3) Find alignments/partners in the community:
If you are bringing in a Salsa band for a show have you connected with every related group possible in town. For Salsa that would include teachers who teach that style of music, cultural groups whose history includes strong connections to that style, or perhaps other event producers from the community that do shows that target a similar audiences. 
Which non-profits or groups can you reach out to? They bring a build-in audience and ticket buying crowd. 
4) Promotion:
This one has evolved so much recently that here are a few highlights. Creating a press release is still helpful but consider doing something to grab the media's attention and offer them a visual in the days or the week leading up to the main event. For example if you are planning a children's festival can you do a press launch with one of the acts so that the media can do an interview and take a few pictures or video that showcase what the event will offer in a visual medium (pictures for news, video for online or TV). 
The other reality now is that social media ads or at least a strategy is essential. Set up a Facebook page and Facebook event if the event is aiming to reach more than 100 folks. Invite any of your friends to the event page and run some ads. 
Tip: timing is the key here. For free community events I'm always aiming to get the information out the week of the event. Most folks only truly plan that far in advance. Setting up some promo ahead of time is all good but you should aim to truly blitz the market with various promotions in the days leading up to the event. For ticketed events that's a different strategy depending on the type and status of the act. 
5) Media:
Connect with each media outlet directly. They are busy, you are one of 50 people reaching out to them that day asking for help with promotion, and they want to make sure that they use the best story to share that day. Do you have pictures that you are sending them. Do you have a video that you can include in your press information?
Tip: Radio is the most distinct type of media in Kelowna. It's a highly competitive market so you need to be aware of the various sister stations in Kelowna.
K96.3 and Country 100.7
Sun Fm, AM 1150, and EZ Rock
Power 104.7 and Q103.1
Tip #2: choose your target radio sponsor wisely. Obviously if you are booking country act or you have a speaking event then the choice of target radio partner is easy but it's not always that straight forward and only typically obvious when you get it wrong by booking an act played on a certain station but then getting another one to sponsor the event. 
6: Sponsors/ Grants
Tying a business to a community event is not only a great branding exercise for them but it's also a great way to strengthen their community ties (and therefor customers to a brand). I don't often have specific examples but just last week I was at a Parks Alive! show with the new Family Sunday sponsor, Beachtek. After the show someone asked about them and verbally committed to going home and purchasing the Beachtek mixer in their shopping cart 100% based on their support of Parks Alive!
Who is attending your event? Whose customer base is that? Find out who wants to reach your audience and target them for sponsorship. 
Tip: If you are a non-profit or can produce the event for a non-profit you can look into a few grants that are the standard ones to go for:
Central Okanagan Foundation (this year they actually doubled their grants to over $2 million)
City of Kelowna Arts and Culture Grants (funding is accepted in the fall so get your ducks lined up now if you want to have a strong application). 
7: Planning 
I like to think that if I am planning an event 18 months in advance then it has enough lead time to sort out all the important logistics. If someone comes to me starting to plan any sort of significant event 3 months out then my expectations are that they aren't going to be as successful as they expect they will be. 
Location, ticket price, partners, sponsor, promotional strategy, grant writing (often the main reason for planning 18 months in advance), etc all need to be done in the correct order. 
Tip: A sponsor is looking for promotion for them and their brand as part of the deal. If you plan to start promoting your show before you have confirmed your sponsor then you are reducing the value of your sponsorship. 
8: Booking talent
Kelowna has a couple small booking agents but most are targeted on their niche market (cover bands, or indie acts, or tribute acts). The reason for the lack of booking agents in Kelowna is simple, no-one really wants to pay for it, the acts don't want to lose a cut and the events all think they can find a friend to do it. It's not a huge loss as most times that works out but for those jumping into planning an event. 
9: Suppliers: 
Nothing makes an event flow smoother than having trusted suppliers. 
Do you have a contact for porta-potties, additional sound requirements, fencing, or other on site needs? 
This is a simple way to ensure your event is successful. Don't try to do everything yourself. Hire professionals to support you. Your job is to guide the vision and ensure the right players are at the table to support that vision. 
10: Enjoy the event. Sometimes the best moment is about half way through the event once all the main aspects are in motion. You see people laughing, smiling, connecting, or enjoying a moving performance. The satisfaction can be overwhelming. Yes snap a few pics but ensure that after all your hard work you take a moment to enjoy the moments being created that wouldn't have happened if you didn't have the vision and work ethic to pull it off.
Tip: Hire a photographer and/or a videographer to  capture your event. If you do it again next year you will very much appreciate having some great footage to showcase your event to a new potential audience. 

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About the Author

Ryan Donn is a singer/songwriter, event producer, digital creative, and Councillor at the City of Kelowna

I love creating songs, which have been used by the Terry Fox Run, Kelowna’s Centennial Celebration, or heard on various local radio stations. 

In the past few years, I've focused on creating community events including Music in the Park, New York New Years, Castanet’s Free Family Skate, Talented Kids, Talented Kelowna, and others.

Originally from Scotland, I’ve lived in Kelowna for over 20 years. My wife, Kimberly, and our two daughters, Lyla and Bella, share our home with Tom (adult with diverse abilities).

In 2014, I was elected to Kelowna City Council. 

Opinions are my own, and don't represent the City of Kelowna, Festivals Kelowna or Creative Okanagan. 

To connect with Ryan:

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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