Before you dive in, if you are interested in festival sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for festivals” series:
Festival Activations to Make Your Next Event Amazing
What Activities to Have at Your Festival
How to Promote a Festival: Event Branding, Marketing, and Social Media
Sponsorship for Festivals: What You Need to Know for Your Event to Be a Hit
What Companies That Sponsor Festivals Are Looking for in a Partnership
According to Statista, in 2019, the highest-grossing festival raked in nearly $30 million that year. Festivals are big business. Many people want to start their own popular festival, but not as many know what that entails. How do you plan a festival?
Here’s how to successfully plan a festival:
- Determine your goals
- Select a festival theme
- Calculate the budget
- Get funding
- Find your target market
- Obtain permits and staff
- Promote the event
- Measure KPIs
In this introductory guide, I will provide all the information you need to successfully get your first festival underway. Whether you’re wondering how to start a music festival or any other type of festival, I’ll have plenty of resources that will help, including a festival budget template and a festival event planning checklist.
Determining Your Festival Goals
Let’s jump right in with the first step of the process, which is sitting down and figuring out what the goals of your festival are.
As with any new venture, you need to have a point or focus, somewhere you want to take your new creation. Otherwise, it will feel aimless and miss the mark.
For as many successful festivals are there are in all genres, including music, arts, and sports, just as many have flopped after a couple of years.
You want your festival in the former category, not the latter, and that means knowing what the goals are.
Ask yourself this question to start. Why do you want to plan a festival?
Perhaps it’s because you see the earnings potential in running a festival. Maybe it’s because your city or town is lacking large events, and you’re tired of the next city over or even the next state over getting all the spotlight.
You might want to bring people together to raise awareness for a really good cause, or perhaps you simply want to entertain people.
Once you have a clearer idea of what your goals are, think of several festivals that are close to what your ideal festival is. Why do you love those festivals? What can you emulate?
Then, think of those same festivals and what you maybe didn’t love. Was it long lines for concessions? Bathrooms that got filthy in an hour or two?
By determining what you want and don’t want your own festival to embody, you get the planning and goal-setting process underway.
Don’t rush through this stage. You want to solidify your goals and create a roadmap on how to achieve them.
If you’re interested in a certain goal or outcome but you’re not sure if your festival can make it happen at this time, then that’s not the goal you want to plan this time around.
Choosing Your Festival Theme
Next, it’s time to select the theme of your festival.
This is another step that requires careful thought and consideration, as your festival theme does matter.
The theme is not music or art. Those are genres. You need a theme.
For example, let’s look at the Electric Dairy Carnival or EDC. This is an electronic music festival that occurs every year in North America. The festival is known for its vivid LEDs and glow-in-the-dark installations.
The use of color and light is one such theme you could use.
The usage of the theme is going to dictate everything, from the name of the event to the logo, the color scheme you use, the design of the website, and what goes on your merch.
Perhaps you embrace your culture and use that as the genesis of planning your theme, or you rely on something seasonal.
Your theme could be centered around the type of art or music you’ll showcase, such as the Lilith Fair being a music festival for women artists.
You want to select a theme that you’re personally excited about, as your excitement will be contagious and cause your audience to become hyped as well.
Your theme should be easily explained and understood. The time will come when you’ll have to sit down with investors or banks to obtain funding for the festival (more on this to come a little bit later).
If you can’t explain your vision in a way that someone else understands, they’re not going to want to fund you. You’ll also find it harder to secure sponsorships as well as other media partnerships.
Don’t feel like your theme has to be something that’s never been seen or done before. It’s okay to take a concept or an idea from your favorite festival and put a spin on it rather than reinvent the wheel.
Budgeting for Your Festival – How Much Does a Festival Cost? (Plus a Simple Festival Budget Template)
Having big ideas is great, but your festival cannot come to fruition without funding.
Here is everything you need to have room in the budget for:
- Bars (unless your event is for kids!)
- Traders, aka third-party companies that sell merch at the event
- Official artist merchandise
- PRS (formerly known as the Performing Rights Society) fees if you’re hosting a music festival; PRS fees are three percent of the revenue from tickets sold
- Value-added tax or VAT from your country’s government, which is at least 20 percent
- Staffing unless you rely exclusively on volunteers (which I don’t recommend)
- Videography and photography services
- Security guards
- Festival infrastructure
- Licenses and permits
- Festival insurance
- PA equipment
- Ticketing app and other event tech such as a festival app
- Promotional signage and printing
- Waste disposal services
- The stage or stages
- An event site
Obviously, the larger the festival, the greater the expenses.
The more popular your festival, the better the caliber of the artists, which will make hosting it more expensive (but your earnings should be higher as well).
How much does a festival cost? The above factors all play a role, but the answer is in the thousands to tens of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars.
According to ticketing resource Promotix, in 2015, the Burning Man festival cost $35.8 million to host. Festivals don’t come cheap, at least not the good ones, anyway!
Simple Festival Budget Template
You don’t want to find out the hard way that you forgot to budget for badge scanning or permits until the event draws ever closer.
Having a template will help you plan for all your festival expenses long before you have to shell out for them.
Check out my handy simple festival budget template here.
How to Get Funding for Your Festival
Now, even after using my festival budget template, you’re probably having the same thought you did when you were reading the section above. You don’t exactly have millions of dollars readily available to throw at a festival.
A lot of people don’t, and yet they find ways to realize their dreams and host a festival anyway. How? Through funding. Let’s explore your options now.
One of the most viable ways to bring your festival to life is by finding sponsors.
A sponsor is a partner who offers you cash, promotions, or in-kind gifts, sometimes even a combination of A and B.
In exchange, you work with them to determine what the sponsor’s pain points or challenges are, then you solve as many of those pain points or challenges as you can.
If a sponsor company is trying to reach a new audience and you know you have an audience segment that could be receptive to the sponsor’s products or services, you two will have a stellar working relationship.
What if you don’t yet have an audience because this is your first festival? It will be harder to find sponsors since you’re basing everything on hypotheticals rather than actual data. Hard doesn’t mean impossible though!
Even still, I recommend using your hypothetical audience to determine which sponsors you’ll pursue. Think of who would attend your festival. What kinds of brands would they be receptive to?
Also, don’t go into a sponsorship arrangement thinking that you need only one sponsor to fulfill all the funding your festival requires. If you need $20,000 in sponsorship money, that can come from five smaller sponsors rather than one big one.
Another option is to pursue a grant.
Grants are offered by grant-making institutions, charitable foundations or organizations, or public bodies.
One of these entities decides to give you a grant because your event will better your community or create another public benefit.
The best part about a grant is that you’re not required to pay it back. That said, finding organizations or foundations to offer you grants, especially right down to the dollar amount you need, may be challenging.
If you’re having a hard time tracking down grants, you can always ask for a loan.
A bank or financial institution will issue you a loan. You can ask for X amount of money and usually receive that amount in full. The catch? You have to pay the amount back in full as well, although not all at once.
Loans do accrue interest though, so the longer you go without paying the loan back, the bigger the financial albatross around your neck.
You can also work with an investor, which is someone who will provide funding for your event expecting that the ROI will be high.
In other words, they’re putting in some cash but expecting to see it grow after your festival happens.
You don’t owe the investor any money back, but if your festival fails, then you can expect that you and that investor will not work together again.
Ideally, you need a festival that’s already been around for a couple of years to use the funding from ticket sales to pay for the next festival. That said, this is an option, so I wanted to include it here.
Identifying Your Target Market and Audience
In the last section, I talked about having a target audience. Now I want to dive deeper into what a target audience is and how you’ll find yours.
Your target audience or target market is that subset of people who are the most interested in your festival. You might know who they are because they’ve attended past festivals, or you might have to do research to determine who they are.
I’m assuming you’re starting from scratch with your festival aspirations. Right now, your festival is a goal, an ideal, but it hasn’t happened and is not yet slated to happen.
Thus, you don’t have an audience.
That doesn’t mean you can’t find them. Do online research and determine the kind of people who like to attend festivals like yours.
Who are they? The more you know about them, the better.
How old are they? Where do they live? Are they married or single? Do they have kids, and if so, how many?
What kind of job do they have or what industry do they work in? How much money do they make? What kinds of brands do they like when it comes to everything from toothpaste to cars to televisions?
These questions may seem invasive, but they’re questions that you need answers to if you hope to find your target audience.
You need to know as much about these people as possible because that’s how you choose sponsors or media partners that you know your audience will like. That’s also how you plan for musical artists or art displays that will resonate.
That’s how you pick the types of food, the brands of beer, everything, really.
After your first festival and before the second, you’ll want to sit down and survey your audience. Ask them the kinds of questions that I listed in the paragraphs above.
The thing about demographics, psychographics, and geographics is that they aren’t always static. You can’t assume your audience will like the same thing next year as they did this year and surveying them through an email or on social media is among your best litmus test into what they like.
AV Requirements for Your Festival
AV is short for audio and video, both of which are integral for hosting a festival. You will more than likely hire an AV company rather than assume the duties of an AV professional yourself.
Even still, you can’t leave the AV elements of your festival up to chance. Before you hire an AV team, you need to ask them pertinent questions such as how many technicians are on their team.
How long does it take to set up the equipment? Who will take it down after the festival and whose job is it to handle AV deconstruction? Does the company have backup equipment and what kind?
You must also be in touch with the festival site staff to ask them questions about what’s allowed or disallowed.
For example, are you allowed to use all kinds of stage lighting? If not, then which kinds can’t you use? Does the festival site provide any equipment and if so, how can you use it?
Before the event, you want to check every projector, display screen, sound system, microphone, and piece of AV equipment that will go into your festival and confirm that it’s working.
If you can’t personally do this yourself, then entrust someone close to you to do it.
Staffing Your Festival
Even with the best intentions, there’s no way you can run your festival by yourself. You need staff, and here’s where to look for ‘em.
From comic conventions to concerts, volunteers are a great way to get bodies into the building (so to speak) without having to pay them.
These people can handle admission into the festival, man the concessions, work the booths, or be available to answer questions.
As tempting as it is, you cannot have your entire festival staff comprised of volunteers. A volunteer isn’t as well-versed on the ins and outs of festivals as professional staff.
Plus, a volunteer could bail when the going gets tough because it’s not like they’re being paid anyway.
Agencies can connect you with videographers, photographers, and sometimes even performers for your festival (if your festival has performers). Unlike volunteers, agencies strictly work on a paid basis only.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a festival, it doesn’t hurt to hire a planner or several. They can help you plan event logistics, and they can also find vendors or handle phone calls that you’re too busy to make.
Then there’s the day-of staff, which will include ticket scanners, concessions staff, security guards, medical staff, and janitorial staff. You must hire these people ahead of the event.
Festival Permits and Insurance
Does your festival need a permit? More than likely, yes, especially if this is a large-scale event we’re talking about.
As for how you acquire permits, that varies according to your state and city. In some instances, you can go through your local city or town and acquire permits, but I recommend you look up the rules in your neighborhood.
You’ll also likely need festival insurance, although it’s not always required.
Insurance, although it’s one more expense, is as much a safeguard for you as it is for your event staff and attendees. Think carefully about whether you’ll use it or forego it.
Just as a caveat, I’m not trying to provide legal advice in the areas of either permitting or insuring your festival. If you have further questions, I recommend seeking the services of a lawyer, as this blog post does not constitute legal advice!
Setting KPIs for Your Festival – How to Measure the Success of Your Event
Your dream came true, and your festival happened. It actually, finally happened.
Now that the last of the attendees are leaving, it’s time to begin assessing your key performance indicators or KPIs to see where your event succeeded and where it failed.
Here are some metrics to focus on.
- Tickets sold: Let’s just start with the big one, which is how many tickets your festival sold. You know what your event capacity was, so compare that capacity against the tickets sold to gauge whether you sold out the entire place, half, or less than half.
- Website conversion rate: How many leads who landed on your festival website signed up for your newsletter? Then how many of them decided to buy tickets? Only then can you consider them a new customer. The more customers you have after your festival, the better.
- Event app download and usage numbers: Most festivals these days have an accompanying app for cashless payments, an event map, and a schedule of which artists are performing and where. You want to track not only how many times your attendees downloaded your festival app, but how many times they used it during the event.
- Email marketing interaction rate: When you send emails to your attendees, are they opening them but not engaging (i.e., clicking?) Are they not even opening your emails? Without tracking your email marketing interaction rate, you’ll never know.
- Social media engagement: I’ll talk shortly about social media for festival promotions, but what kind of engagement numbers are you getting leading up to the event? Engagement is about more than likes and shares, but meaningful interactions between yourself and your festival attendees.
How do you know if your festival succeeded? You go one by one and assess these metrics honestly. You won’t have done exceptionally well in every last area during your first year, and that’s okay.
What’s most important is taking these metrics as well as the audience feedback you receive post-event and implementing it all into next year’s festival so it can be even better.
Festival Activities to Engage Your Audience
Now I want to switch gears and talk about ways to engage your audience before, during, and after your festival. Here are some activities to incorporate into the festival that will surely connect with attendees.
Contests or Giveaways
People always love the chance to win free stuff, especially when that free stuff is extravagant and fabulous such as a new car, a trip, or signed merch from one of the most popular artists at the festival.
To encourage the most people to participate in your festival’s contests or giveaways, make it easy to sign up. Perhaps all the attendee has to do is fill out their contact information on a touchscreen.
They could possibly even use your app to participate in contests.
Contests are also a great way to involve your sponsor. You can have the sponsor provide the prize for the contest. In exchange, they’d receive the signup forms so they’d have the contact information of your attendees.
Even if your festival isn’t kid-centric, a scavenger hunt is fun for attendees of all ages. You can make the hunt completely virtual, requiring attendees to download and use your app to look for clues.
If you’d rather do a scavenger hunt the good, old-fashioned way–live and in person–that’s an option as well.
Just make sure that you don’t create potentially dangerous crowds of people with the placement of your scavenger hunt clues or items.
Interactive Thematic Displays
Another great feature for your festival is a large display, sort of like a mini-museum, that attendees can walk through. In keeping the display themed to your event, its presence is relevant.
For instance, if your festival is based in Louisiana, you could showcase the history of music in this great southern state. Once again, this is an excellent sponsorship opportunity!
5 Ways to Promote Your Festival
How did festivals such as Lollapalooza or Coachella become household names? Well, it took promotion, and a lot of it. Let’s look at five ways you can put your festival on the map.
When online visitors land on your site, you’d time it so a pop-up appears. That pop-up is an opt-in form where the user provides their contact information to join your email list.
You can also use lead magnets, where in exchange for their email address, you’d send the site visitor something cool.
Now that the lead is a part of your email list, you can start building a relationship. Email marketing can convert leads, introduce them to your festival, and remind them that your festival is coming up next year.
I mentioned earlier that sponsorship is not always exclusively about funding. Should you partner with a large company that already has a well-established brand, your sponsor can promote your festival as part of the partnership.
You can bet that their audience as well as new audiences will flock to your festival.
Content marketing is another very valuable way to put the word out about your upcoming festival.
You can write blog posts about the history of the area, or the kind of arts showcased. You could produce a video about what’s in store for the festival.
The goal is to produce valuable content that people will want to share. You can also post your website content on social media.
Never underestimate the power of advertising. Digital advertising such as display ads and social media ads is one such option.
Since your event is local, you might also pay to get your festival name plastered on some billboards.
Maybe you take out a full-page newspaper ad or pay for airspace on the radio and/or television.
The goal is to get the word out there that your festival is coming. That said, some forms of advertising can get costly fast (hello TV and radio ads), so set a budget and be sure to stick to it!
Social Media Marketing
Last, but not least, there’s social media marketing, which truly deserves its own section, so let’s dive right in.
Festival Social Media
How do you get people excited for your festival right up until the big day? How do you keep your audience engaged when this year’s festival is just a memory and it’s still months before next year’s event?
Social media, of course.
In the many other directions that your festival planning has taken you, you can easily forget to create a social media presence. This is majorly to your detriment.
Social media is your chance to establish your festival brand, connect with your audience, and grow that audience.
I already talked about how you can use social media to share your content, but it comes in handy for a lot more than that.
You can strengthen relationships by responding to comments. You can inform, educate, and entertain your audience by sharing relevant content from other sources besides your own website.
When you have partnerships, new sponsors, or other exciting developments, you can share this news first on social media.
If you have to hire a digital marketing team to create a social media strategy, then so be it. Prioritizing social media marketing will pay back dividends in regard to growing your audience and maintaining your current attendees.
Festival Planning for All Types of Weather
Most major festivals are outdoors because an empty fairground affords much more space than even a building that’s several thousand square feet.
Spring, summer, and even autumn weather can be unpredictable though. On the eve of your first festival, you’ll watch the weather forecast like a hawk, but you can’t stop mother nature either way.
What happens if there’s a downpour, a thunderstorm, or another sudden weather event? You need some sort of contingency plan.
When setting up the infrastructure of your festival, you might think about overhead protection so that if it does begin to rain, your performers can stay dry and some of your attendees can as well.
Yet you need to know when to stop the show. In a thunderstorm, it’s no longer safe for the performers to be on stage. Continuing to perform could put their lives at risk, not to mention the lives of the attendees too.
You’ll need a refund policy or a postponement plan in case the worst happens. Obviously, it would be massively disappointing to have to refund one of the two or three days of your festival during your first year, but it happens.
Remember, as much as you may want the show to go on, you have to think about everyone’s safety and prioritize that above all else.
5 Festival Catering Ideas That Audiences Love
Traversing your festival grounds is sure to work up an appetite, as will all the standing around, singing, and dancing your attendees will surely do.
You want to do more than feed your festival attendees but give them a culinary experience that’s worth remembering. Here’s how.
Who doesn’t love a good food truck? You can corral a bevy of trucks into an area of your festival grounds so attendees can choose from a variety of cuisines. Whether they want something trusty and true like hot dogs or hamburgers or they want to try ethnic food, they can!
To get attendees’ mouths watering, serving small bites is sure to do the trick. Once they get a taste, it will only be a matter of time before they come back for more!
Handheld and Portable Food
A festival is not the time to walk around with a big, hulking meal. Your attendees can’t really sit down, nor do they have a level place to eat their food. Give them primarily handheld and portable options that travel nicely and won’t make a mess.
Artisanal food such as cured meats, fruit preserves, cheeses, and bread will surely appeal to a subset of your festival audience. Remember though, handheld is the way to go so that the food can be enjoyed when walking from stage to stage!
You also can’t go wrong with sustainable, eco-friendly eats that feature natural, seasonal ingredients and composted or recycled packaging.
Ticket Sale Pricing Strategies and Providers
Throughout this guide, I’ve touched on selling tickets, but I have yet to actually go into too much detail about the topic. That’s what I want to do in this section.
First, you have to determine which provider you’ll go through. Here are some of the better-known ticket providers.
- Ticketmaster/Live Nation
Next, it’s time to determine what your ticket is worth. You have to remember that ticket sales are where the lion’s share of your festival income is. The rest is merchandise, concession fees, ad revenue, and sponsorship.
Although it’s tempting to ratchet up the cost of your tickets to ensure your festival is in the green, if your show is unaffordable, no one is going to go. It’s as simple as that.
If your ticket price is too low though, then you might get good attendance numbers, but the income from ticket sales won’t be enough to cover the costs of advertising, staff wages, the taxes and other fees that come out of your ticket sales, etc.
What many festival promoters do is sell tickets at various price points.
For example, attendees can buy regular tickets at a standard price. They can also purchase VIP passes, which grant the attendee more perks and are thus costlier than a regular ticket.
If your festival is a multi-day event, then you’d sell single-day tickets at a lower cost than two-day passes. Those passes would be cheaper than three-day passes.
You should give your audience a group discount option if they’re buying tickets for groups larger than four. You can similarly offer early-bird pricing for those who jump on your tickets as soon as they become available.
Festival Planning Timeline
I think by this point you’re keenly aware of all the pre-planning and strategizing that a festival entails. Thus, the sooner you begin planning, the better.
This sample timeline will ensure you don’t forget to dot any of your Is or cross your Ts.
One Year Out
Your festival just ended and you’re already planning for next year’s event.
Here’s what you should do.
- Review metrics to determine how you can improve the next festival.
- Solicit attendee feedback.
- Revisit your goals and add to them or change them to suit your new vision of the festival.
- Decide which marketing and promotions worked and which didn’t so you can plan your advertising.
- Secure a festival site, especially if you plan to use the same site for the event next year.
- Collect the contact information of your vendors if you enjoyed working with them and would like to partner up again.
- If not using the same vendors and caterers, then begin researching your other options and seeing who’s available for your next festival.
- Produce a sponsorship fulfillment report detailing all your deliverables and renegotiate for the next event.
- If you need new sponsors, then begin researching your options and prospecting.
- Plan the budget for the next festival using your spending and earnings for this year as your guide.
Six Months Out
Your next festival is still half a year away, but you’ve been busily planning, planning, planning all this time. Here are the tasks you should focus on at the halfway mark.
- If you’re changing your emergency safety plan after last year’s festival, then sit down with other important parties and do that now.
- Negotiate deals with new sponsors and media partners if you haven’t already.
- Determine what (non-edible) supplies you’ll need for the festival and order them.
- Confirm your performers.
- Finalize contracts and details with new vendors.
One Month Out
Your festival is almost finally here. With 30 days to go, there’s more work to do than ever. Here’s what needs to go into this last leg of planning.
- Plan the timeline for the day of the festival with your various vendors to ensure everything goes as smoothly as possible.
- Confirm any incoming vendor orders.
- Review ticket sales and do a last-ditch marketing campaign to boost sales if necessary.
- Tour the site.
- Test the AV equipment.
- Set up the event infrastructure.
- Finalize the festival map.
- Test the app for bugs.
Hosting your own festival is the culmination of what’s often years of blood, sweat, and tears. Now that you’ve learned about what goes into planning a festival year after year, you can lay the groundwork to bring your festival dreams to life.
- About the Author
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Chris Baylis is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Sponsorship Collective.
After spending several years in the field as a sponsorship professional and consultant, Chris now spends his time working with clients to help them understand their audiences, build activations that sponsors want, apply market values to their assets and build strategies that drive sales.
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