If there is one thing that most of us can agree on, it’s this: festivals are great fun! They bring people together and create a sense of community and celebration. Whether it’s a music festival, beer festival, food festival, fall festival, or something else entirely, a festival is an event worth getting excited over!
But, planning a festival is dramatically different from attending a festival. There are many moving parts that need to come together for a successful event. And this is where we come in!
To simplify the process and keep your festival on track, we’ve created this complete festival planning guide!
Here’s what you need to know to plan a festival and create an experience your guests will be talking about for years to come!
6 Months (or More!) Before the Festival
Before you can dive into the nitty-gritty of planning your event, you need to lay down some important groundwork to make sure that everything goes according to plan.
As a festival planner, it is important that you set yourself up for success. There are always elements you will be unable to control. For example, with an outdoor music festival, you will not be able to control the weather, but if you do the proper planning well in advance, you will have a system, plan, or alternative in place to address any issues that may (or may not!) come up.
Here’s what you should be looking at least 6 months before the festival:
- Set Event Goals: Understanding and establishing the goals of your festival will help to shape your planning. Will your festival benefit a charity? Is it trying to highlight a cause? Or, is your goal to simply attract as many attendees as possible?
- Create Committees: For starters, you’ll want a festival planning committee. Be sure to include people with a range of skills like sponsorship, communications, marketing, and event planning. This will be your main team. From there, you can set subcommittees like a volunteer committee. Establishing these groups helps all parties know exactly who is responsible for what and creates accountability.
- Determine Ticket Sales: You’ll need to figure out how many people you can expect to attend and how you are going to sell tickets. If you are a first-year festival, it may be hard to predict attendance but look at similar events in your area and use their numbers as your guide. Do not be afraid to overestimate. It is always better to overestimate than to underestimate! Once you have determined attendance goals, plan your ticket sales. It is a good idea to have some tickets available for purchase in person — like at your sponsors’ locations. One thing you can do to make things easier for you and your guests is to use an online event ticketing system. This will enable you to sell tickets online 24/7 and allow attendees to use digital tickets preventing the risk of loss or theft.
- Determine the Audience Demographics: Who is your primary target for this festival? Knowing this will not only help you plan your festival’s events but it will also help you develop your event marketing strategy. If you are planning a craft beer festival, for example, you are not going to need to plan a whole host of programming for children or waste time marketing to them.
- Set a Budget: Look at all of your current and potential sources of revenue (ticket sales, sponsors, fundraising, donations) and determine how much money you can reasonably spend. Consider all of your potential expenses — staff, venue, stage rental, special accommodations for performers. Having all of these numbers on hand, even if they are just best-guesses, will help you keep your planning and expectations on track. Be sure to save yourself a little room in the budget for emergencies.
- Book the Venue: Scout some venues for your festival. Make sure that any venue you choose is one that can accommodate all of your festival needs. Are you going to have the festival camping? If so, you will need to make sure your venue has space either on site or nearby. Is there festival parking available? The availability of the venue will also play a role in choosing a date for your festival.
- Work on Permits: Check with your municipality to find out if you will need any permits to hold your event. You may need to obtain a liquor permit, for example. These permits can often take time to procure so find out what you need and get started on the paperwork as early as possible. Check the local by-laws to make sure that you comply with all accessibility and restroom requirements.
- Plan Vendors and Entertainment: Think about and start planning your festival vendors, activities, and entertainers. You do not want to leave the “content” of your festival to the last minute. Use these bookings to help your marketing efforts. Reach out to vendors and entertainers as soon as possible, particularly any really popular ones as they can get booked pretty quickly.
- Set Sponsorship Strategy: Get to work early planning your sponsorship strategy. Create a subcommittee, brainstorm sponsors, create a package with different sponsorship tiers and get to work making contact. The more organized and methodical you can be here, the more successful you are likely to be.
3 Months Before the Festival
As the festival draws nearer, most of your planning should be well underway but now is the time to check in and make sure that things are moving along smoothly.
- Contact Vendors and Entertainers: You can’t have a music festival without music. And you can’t have a food festival without food vendors. The entertainment and the vendors will play a large role in making your attendee experience a good one so take a moment now to contact all parties to confirm that they are still planning to attend/perform. Find out any special accommodations that may be required and make sure that any required extras are in place before the festival.
- Book Facilities: Unless you are using an indoor venue like an area or stadium that has access to bathroom facilities, you will need to line up portable toilets and handwashing stations. If you’re hosting a multiday event with camping, consider booking portable bathrooms with built-in shower facilities.
- Secure Permits: By now you should have already applied for your permits. Check-in on the process. Track which permits you already have and which you are still waiting on so you can know exactly where follow up is required.
- Finalize Booths: Will your festival include artists selling their wares, or food booths and/or food trucks? Finalize these vendors and make sure you have space as well as any extras they may require.
- Check-in with the Volunteer Committee: if you have yet to establish a volunteer committee, do it now. Create a task list and make sure that your training program prepares all the volunteers for these tasks. Have a clear point person so that if a volunteer has questions or requires support, s/he knows exactly where to turn.
- Create an Event Website: It is best to create your event website as soon as you have confirmed your details. If you have not done it before now, create a website and populate it with a bunch of exciting information about your festival. You can link to sponsors, your ticket site, and artist and musician bios. Include content that will be useful, interesting, and relevant to your attendees. Consider including a festival packing list. This packing list will tell attendees what to bring and what to leave at home. For example, no outside food and drink but bring sunscreen, a hat, and a refillable water bottle. A packing list is even more important when you have festival camping. It will lay down the rules and make sure that guests have a pleasant experience.
- Market Your Festival: Like your event website, you can begin marketing your festival as soon as you have the details confirmed. Shoot, you can even start before if you want. Create teaser campaigns for social media to generate hype and excitement! Brand your festival and use print and social media channels to spread the word.
- Sponsorship Check-In: Many of your sponsors should already be in place but take a moment to check in with your team. See where you are at, follow up with any potential sponsors who may require a follow-up and make sure that you have all the creative assets (like logo and colors) you need from all of your sponsors. Again, most of this will be completed by now but you will want it to be completely done in the next month. Once it’s done, you can print the banners, stage wraps, main stage signage and any other signage that goes with your sponsorship tiers.
1 Month Before the Festival
Now, your event is right around the corner so you will want to begin finalizing the details and shoring up your systems. It is important to be organized at all stages of the festival planning process but the closer you get to the event, the more you will need things to run like a Swiss watch!
- Go Over Your Timeline: If you are hosting a blues festival or something that will have a number of different performers on, possibly, a number of different stages, go over the schedule and timeline to make sure that everything works. Make sure that there is enough time for set up and tear down between acts and that people have enough time to move from stage to stage. This timeline works as a guide for your festival so try to stick with it as much as possible. If there will be exhibits, displays, or other “special events” during the day, make sure that the timing works. What time do gates open? Make sure your staff and volunteers have the time they need to get things right before guests are admitted.
- Go Over Payment and Check-In: How will your attendees pay for things at the event? Will each vendor be using their own payment system or will there be another system in place? Some beer festivals, for example, charge people at entry and give a wristband or tokens that can then be used for a certain number of beer samples. Where will these items be purchased and how will the payment be processed? Will you have an ABM on-site? Using an event ticketing system can help with check-in by allowing event staff and volunteers to simply scan a digital or paper ticket on their phone. This can get people through the door much faster and cut down on frustration.
- Create Attendee Swag: Depending on the type of festival, you might want to pull together some materials to give people when they arrive. Consider creating a map so that attendees know where to find all the vendors, the stages, restrooms, first aid tent, etc. Consider branded swag like lanyards or keychains. You should also consider including a post-event survey or information on where attendees can find it online afterward.
1 Week Before the Festival
Now things are getting really close and you should have most things in place.
- Finalize Everything: Your planning should be completed by now. All that you need to do is check in, again, with vendors, the venue, event staff, and volunteers to make sure that everyone is still ready to roll. Let everyone know when to arrive for set up. Ask one more time if there is anything your vendors need from you to complete their set up. If they require access to power, make sure they have it.
- Do a Final Marketing Blast: Send reminders to your entire email list, sent out announcements on social media, do the local radio shows and local television. Work hard to spread the word. Make sure that people know that tickets are still available but in a limited quantity and if they want to take part, they better get tickets now! Even if that isn’t quite true, generating FOMO (fear of missing out) should prompt a last-minute rush on tickets.
- Hold Meetings: Get together with your various committees and volunteer groups to make sure that everyone has their plan. Make sure everyone knows their point person and that they know how to get in touch with that individual. Make sure parking attendants know the drill, people working the gate have everything they need to get people through the door quickly, and most importantly, make sure that everyone is excited and ready to go! At this time, it is also a good idea to layout your post-festival cleanup plan. It’s not the most fun thing to think about but someone has to clean up the venue space and pack things up. Make sure that everyone knows who is tackling what and what time they need to be at the venue.
- Check and Re-check Details: Go over every single little thing. Make sure that the schedule is airtight, that all the gear and technical equipment you need is either in your possession or will be. Make sure there is money for petty cash. Do you have all your permits? Is the signage right? Do you have back-up plans should volunteers or staff fail to show up on the day of? There is no detail too small. Plan for all emergency scenarios and then when and if they happen, you won’t be left in panic mode.
The Day of Your Festival
Finally, after months of planning, the festival day has arrived! But, of course, it does not mean your work is done! There are still many things you need to address or keep an eye on!
- Do Any Remaining Set Up: Hopefully, you were allowed into the venue in advance to set up but if not, or if you weren’t able to complete all of it, arrive early and get the job finished before guests start showing up. These people are there to see a performance or sample food, beer, etc, they don’t want to see you fiddling with a tent at the last minute!
- Hang Signage: Be sure to hang any signs that will help attendees, guests, vendors, and performers find their way around the venue. If these signs are already up, make sure they are accurate. Do not forget to provide parking signs if needed.
- Pay Vendors: If you have not paid vendors or entertainers in advance, make sure you do so or make arrangements to do so. Pro Tip: Be sure to work with a payment processor who can quickly deposit funds as transactions occur. This ensures that vendors aren’t paid out of pocket. (Accelevents works with Square and Stripe for processing, both of which have a deposit time under 48 hours!)
- Meet with Volunteers: Event management often relies heavily on volunteers. Make sure that they are present, prepared, and ready to go. If there are no shows, make sure to fill any gaps before the doors open.
- Breathe: Take a deep breath. You’ve worked hard to get to this point and you’ve done everything in your power to make sure that the day runs smoothly. Remember, you’re giving people a good time so stay light and positive and greet every person you meet with a smile!
After the Festival
The festival has come and gone and it was a resounding success! Congratulations! After you’ve given yourself some time to come down, and believe us, you’ll need it, there are a few more things you need to do.
- Thank Volunteers: You couldn’t have done it without them so make sure they know this! Consider hosting a volunteer appreciation event a few weeks after the festival. Or, if you’d rather, put together a gift bag or some other token of your appreciation. Something, anything, to say thank you. Happy and appreciated volunteers are more likely to volunteer again, helping your festival next year!
- Write a Report: The only way to improve future festivals is by evaluating past festivals. There are several metrics you can use to track event success like ticket sales, festival check-ins, and attendee survey responses. If you created a check-in package for attendees, there should have been a post-event survey included in there. It is also possible to post your survey on your event website and prompt people to respond and share their experiences online. Collect these data points and calculate revenues and final expenses. Write up a report that details all of this information. Not only can this report be shared with sponsors to let them know the impact of their investment, but it can also help you plan, organize, and improve future festivals!
- Thank Sponsors: When you send your final report to sponsors, be sure to include a sincere and heartfelt thank you. The report will show them the hard data with regards to their sponsorship but be sure that you also let them know what it meant to you and your organization. If the event would have been impossible without their support, say as much!
Festivals are massive undertakings and to pull them off successfully, you need to have a solid plan in place well in advance. This complete festival planning guide will help put you on the right path. Different types of festivals require different strategies but, in general, they will all follow a similar planning workflow. Keep this guide handy to make sure that you are doing everything you need to do to save yourself headaches and panic and ensure that your festival runs as smoothly as possible!