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The Ultimate Festival Planning Checklist and Timeline

Did you just wrap up hosting a festival and now you’re raring to get ready for the next? Or perhaps this will be your first festival and you want to be triply sure that you did everything correctly, so you came here.

Well, either way, good choice! In my post on planning a festival, I put together a brief timeline of events. Today, I want to expand on that timeline and include a festival planning checklist so you can be 100 percent confident that all your ducks are in a row.

It doesn’t matter whether you have festival planning experience under your belt or not. Through the information that I’m going to provide for you ahead, you can begin hosting more airtight festivals without panicking as much on the big day!

Your Can’t-Miss Festival Planning Timeline

Nine to 12 Months Out

Your festival is over for now, but that doesn’t mean that the festival should stop taking up real estate in your head. 

As I always tell sponsorship seekers here on the blog, the best time to begin planning your next festival is immediately after the current one ends! 

I’ll talk a lot later about post-event or fulfillment reports, but this first section assumes you already put one together and talked things over with your sponsor. 

Now let’s get into what you can begin doing a year out from your festival or after a couple of months of breathing room. 

  • Plan the Theme of the Next Festival

If your festival is already themed and the theme doesn’t change from year to year, then you can skip this step. I’m sure you’ll be grateful to read that, as it will be one less thing on your plate.

However, for those festival planners who prefer a rotating carousel of themes to select from for their yearly festival, it’s time to knuckle down and figure out what the theme is going to be for next year’s event.

You’ll have to meet with your festival staff and stakeholders–who you’ll see in this section that you need to chat with anyway–and make a collective decision about what the theme is going to be.

Since the theme is going to determine everything, including signage, merchandise, website design, ticket design, and even the sponsors you work with, this isn’t a decision that can wait any longer than right after the event. 

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  • Determine the Goals of the Next Festival

What are you trying to achieve with this next festival? Your goals might be the same from one year to another, and that’s fine, but without a doubt, you’re going to tack on additional goals as well.

The first year that you hosted your festival, your goal might have been very general. For example, perhaps you just wanted everyone to have a good time.

Now that you have some festival experience under your belt, you have a much clearer understanding of what it means for everyone to enjoy themselves, so you can expand on your goals. 

  • Predict How Many Attendees You’ll Have

The next part of your festival planning is arguably the most important, and that’s calculating your budget. Before you do that, you need to have a loose estimate of how many attendees your festival will attract.

If you have historical data to rely on, that will surely come in handy here. You can estimate based on however many years you’ve been hosting your festival that it will attract about X attendees, whether that’s 5,000, 10,000, or more.

What if this is your first time hosting a festival? You won’t have historical data, so instead, you’ll have to track attendance data for festivals of a similar scope to yours.

If a festival of that size brings in 3,000 people, then you can expect that as your upper limit. Keep in mind though that because you’re the new kid on the block, you might not attract quite as many people.

At this stage, it’s okay if you’re only estimating attendance. Within a few months, you’ll have a far more solid idea of how many people you can expect at your festival.

Using your attendance guestimate, predict how much money you think you’ll make from those attendees if you kept ticket prices the same as last year.

  • Calculate Your Budget 

You’ll now have a number. Based on that number, or using last year’s sales figures, how much can you afford to allocate to your festival this year?

Consider that you may need more money than last year because if this is your festival’s second year, there’s often a strong temptation to make the event even bigger and better than the year prior.

While I’m on board with that, only to an extent. Don’t bankrupt yourself trying to outdo your festival from last year. Even moderate improvements from the year prior will be remembered and appreciated by your audience. 

Keep in mind that you will have sponsors who can chip in to make your financial goals a reality, and you may have donors or investors as well. 

You need to know how much money you have for your festival before you can determine how much money to ask for from a sponsor, and that’s why budgeting early is very important. 

I do recognize that your budget can and likely will change as time goes on, but at least you have a figure you’re working with from the beginning. You’re not pulling a tally out of thin air. 

  • Select and Book a Venue

For those reading this who already have one festival in the record books, planning where you’ll hold the next event is a bit easier. You’ll either go through the same venue or, if you weren’t pleased or you feel like you need more space, you’ll upgrade your venue.

If you’re planning a festival for the first time, then the world is your oyster. Having an attendance projection will make it easier to narrow down your venues, as you won’t want a space any smaller than your max attendance number. 

When you find a venue you like, don’t wait to lock it in. I know your event isn’t for a whole year yet, but that’s fine! 

You don’t want to wait until three or six months out to begin planning for the venue, because by then, the place you want could be booked solid for at least another year. 

  • Determine What Ticket Prices Will Be

You have an attendance projection as well as a projected number of attendees, so the next part of the process–crunching numbers to determine what your ticket pricing will be–should come naturally.

First-time festival planners will have a harder time with this step, but you know what I’m going to recommend you do by now. Look into what your competitors are selling their tickets for and then use that as the basis of your pricing.

For those festival planners who are heading into the second year of this event, you should use last year’s ticket prices as your baseline.

More than likely, your ticket costs are going to increase from last year, especially if you’re hosting a bigger festival, it will feature more performances, more sponsors, and more of everything. 

You have to decide what an appropriate markup looks like. If you sell the tickets for too much more money, then your attendees who went last year are going to skip your event.

  • Select Your Staff, Vendors, and Performers 

Do you still have the phone numbers of last year’s event staff? I hope so, as you may decide to hire those parties again. 

What kinds of staff do you need, I’m sure all you first-time festival planners are wondering? Here’s a list:

  • Site manager
  • Site crew, including a build/strike team and signage team
  • Production manager
  • Production assistant
  • Labor manager
  • Stage manager
  • Stage crew
  • Security manager
  • Security guards
  • VIP manager
  • VIP coordinators
  • Hospitality manager
  • Hospitality coordinators
  • Sponsorship manager
  • Social media coordinator
  • Photographer/videographer
  • Food vendor manager
  • Art vendor manager (as appropriate)
  • Parking manager
  • Crowd control/front house manager
  • Office manager
  • Box office manager
  • Box office team
  • Artist relations manager
  • Artist relations coordinator
  • Transportation team
  • Lighting team
  • Sound team
  • Special effects team
  • Cleanup team

If you don’t yet have some of these vendors, then you’ll have to research available professionals, compare pricing, and select a few for interviews. 

After you speak to the professionals, you should feel more confident about making a hiring decision or passing them over.

You might decide that a few of your vendors didn’t pan out as well as you had hoped, so you want to switch for the festival ahead. Follow the above process to find a new vendor. 

Now is also the ideal time to pen deals with performers. You want to be as urgent about that as you were with your venue because performers’ schedules get busy. 

If they have the time now, they might not by even next week, and then you’re out of luck! 

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  • Create a List of Potential Sponsors and Start Reaching Out 

You also need to start thinking about sponsors at this time.

Festival planners who already had sponsors from last year are at an advantage, as you can potentially work with the same sponsor again for your next festival.

The time to talk about renegotiation is when you two meet to discuss your post-event report. If you wait because you don’t want to appear overeager, then the sponsor might not have any more availabilities by the time you ask.

If you’re not working with the same sponsors again, or if you are but you need more, then you need to begin prospecting for sponsors. 

This handy article about prospecting will help you narrow down your sponsorship prospects. 

One by one, begin reaching out to them to set up a discovery session. This is an initial meeting where you discuss the sponsor’s needs and pain points.

You’ll use the discovery session as a chance to determine how well your current solutions can work for the prospect or if you can come up with solutions that will work. 

You don’t need to secure a sponsor by the nine-month point, but you do want to be well into the stage where you have an idea of which sponsors are viable versus which aren’t. 

  • Begin Advertising the Event 

Oh yeah, another area where you can’t wait is marketing and advertising. 

Maybe you won’t begin advertising next year’s event 12 months out so you don’t fatigue your audience, but certainly within six to nine months, you want a marketing and advertising campaign in full swing.

You can wait until you get the venue details sorted, but once you have your location locked in, you can start promoting that your event is coming back. Your marketing will change as the months go by and you announce more acts or performers. 

Six Months Out 

You’re now at the midway point between when your last festival was and when your next one will be. It’s an exciting time, but it’s going to be a busy period as well.

If you haven’t yet done everything from the first section, then those activities have to be your first priority, as you’re already behind. 

Then follow through with these tasks. 

  • Obtain Any Necessary Permits

Does your festival require you to have any permits? More than likely, the answer is yes!

Here is a rundown of the permits you will often need for a live event:

  • Premises license for venue use
  • Temporary use and structure permit for parking lots, loading areas, and the festival grounds themselves
  • Event permit, although the need for this varies by city and state
  • Seller’s permit if you’re selling anything at your festival (or if your vendors are)
  • Building permits for erecting tents, stages, and other temporary structures
  • Business license, which you should have already anyway
  • Health permit to cover your bases
  • Fireworks/fire permit if your festival will have either
  • Alcohol license if you’re serving adult beverages
  • Noise permit, which certain cities and towns may require while others will not

I would recommend researching which permits are required in the city or town where you’re hosting your festival and then obtaining them as needed. 

  • Create a Safety Plan

While you’re gathering your permits, now is also an excellent time to create a safety plan. You need such a plan whether your festival is indoors or outdoors.

What will your attendees do if a fire breaks out? How far from the stage can your attendees stand? How many medical tents will be on the festival grounds and at what proximity?

These are the kinds of questions you need to answer when creating a festival safety plan.

If you already have a safety plan from your festival the year prior, you will have to update it if you change the festival in any way, such as upgrading features or switching the venue. 

  • Secure Deals with Sponsors 

From the 12-month mark at the beginning of the festival planning process to now (six months later), you should have met with your prospective sponsors to discuss activations and assets that can fulfill their needs. 

By this point, if you haven’t already begun negotiating terms and penning contracts with your sponsors, you should be very close to doing so. 

  • Cement Activations, Assets, and Activities 

Speaking of assets and activations, you want those to be crystal clear in the eyes of your sponsor, as with six months to go, you need to begin planning how you’ll make those activations and assets a reality.

More so than sponsor activations, consider as well what other kinds of activities would make your festival shine and what it would take to bring those to life as well. 

  • Put Tickets on Sale 

You already priced your tickets and begun marketing and advertising your festival. Your performers’ list should be all but cemented, so it’s a good time to begin selling your tickets. 

You can do an early-bird discount before the tickets go on sale to the public, as you do have enough time at this point, or you could just do standard presales and on-sales.  

Three Months Out

Can you believe that your festival is a mere three months out? The time is really flying, but you shouldn’t be panicking considering that you did the bulk of the work right after your event wrapped up.

You can see how that’s paying back dividends now, wouldn’t you say? Here’s what you should be doing about three months out. 

  • Finalize the Vendors List

Now is a great time to go through your list of vendors and confirm that you’ve dotted all your Is and crossed all your Ts. If you by chance forgot someone or a group of people, then please don’t wait any longer to hire them than now!

  • Finalize the Sponsors List

By the three-month mark, your sponsors should be working with you in an official capacity. 

At this point, you two should be pairing together to finalize activations and activities, going over projected attendance, and discussing your sponsor’s goals more concretely so you can plan your deliverables. 

  • Finalize the Performers List

The three-month mark is also an excellent time to double-check that all the performers you have advertised will be there at your festival to entertain the masses. 

  • Begin Planning the Performance Schedule

Once you’ve got that list confirmed, next, you want to begin planning who will perform and when.

If yours is a single-day festival, then it’s just a matter of determining which order the performers will go on stage and how long each will have on stage. 

For those festival planners with a multi-day event in the works or a multi-day event with several stages, you have considerably more work to do when planning the performance schedule. 

  • Continue Planning Activities

If you’re not 100 percent finished planning the activities that will entertain your festival attendees in between sets, then now is about as much time as you have to do it. Anything later than this will be too last-minute. 

  • Sell Tickets If You Haven’t Already 

Did you put your tickets on sale yet? I recommended doing it at the six-month mark, but if for any reason you decided to wait, now that you have three months to go until showtime, you can’t afford to wait any longer. 

One Month Out

In only 30 days, your festival will happen. Although the next month is going to be stressful, the time management you’ve mastered so far will continue to serve you well as you get through the final crunch. 

Make sure you add these activities and tasks to your itinerary. 

  • Check That Your App Is Working

If you have a festival app as one of your activities, spend some time in the app. Use all the features. Do they load seamlessly? Does everything work as intended?

Does the app crash for no reason? Is it slow and buggy?

Hopefully, the answer to those questions is no, but if it isn’t, then you need to get in touch with your app developer ASAP to remediate the issues. 

  • Print Festival Maps for Distribution 

What if you’re not using an app? Then you want to have enough printed maps for all your attendees as well as your staff and volunteers so they can answer questions and direct people about the festival grounds. 

  • Finalize Check-in and Payment Options

How will your attendees check in to the festival? Will they have to print paper tickets, load digital tickets on their smartphones, or will they be issued an RFID wristband that they can use on an RFID scanner at the door?

What kinds of payment options will you offer at the festival? RFID wristbands come in handy because your attendees can make cash-free purchases. 

If you’re not using RFID technology, or if you are but not too heavily, make sure you have working credit card readers. 

Oh, and don’t forget the ATM machines for those of us who still like to carry around cash. 

  • Tour the Festival Grounds

Even if your festival isn’t quite set up yet, it’s still a good idea to tour the grounds to get a feel for what your event will look like when that big moment comes and everything is ready to go. 

  • Ramp Up Marketing and Advertising 

With festival day drawing ever nearer, now is a great time to increase your marketing and advertising efforts for one last push before the event. 

Consider contests and giveaways, radio and television ads, and social media posts if you’re not already using these avenues. 

  • Make a Backup Plan 

You don’t need a backup venue plan for indoor festivals, but for outdoor events, you absolutely cannot afford to go without one of these. 

What will you do if you get rained out or snowed out? Will you hold the event anyway or try to until it’s not safe anymore? Will you postpone the event for another weekend? You need to be able to answer that question. 

One Week Out

Here you are already, and your festival is only seven days away. You’re going to feel like a chicken without a head by this point, but all the effort you’ve put forth will soon be worth it. 

Here’s what should go on your to-do checklist one week out.

  • Watch the Weather 

It’s harder to predict with much accuracy what the weather will be like for your festival more than one week out. 

Each day, check the forecast to see what’s on the horizon. Hopefully, you will have sunny, bright days that aren’t too hot and not too cold.

If that doesn’t come to pass, then at least you have a backup plan.

  • Make a Cleanup Plan

Speaking of plans, you also need a cleanup plan. Festivals with thousands of attendees can attract more than their fair share of garbage, so who’s going to clean it all up at the end of the day?  And how?

You should already have staff available to handle the garbage, but now they know their assigned roles. 

  • Do a Festival Rundown

The cleanup team shouldn’t be the only ones getting their assigned role! You also want to go over where all your teams will be stationed on the festivals grounds and what they’ll be doing. Then pass that information along to the relevant parties. 

  • Set Up for the Festival

If you’re allowed to at this point, then have your staff set up for your festival. If not, then you’ll do this the day before or even several days before. 

The Day of Your Festival

The day has finally arrived, and you can hardly believe it. Soon, the empty grounds you’re standing upon will be filled with thousands of people. 

Make sure you get these tasks done before then! 

  • Do One Final Walk-Through

Your festival should be all set up and ready to go by now. Like you would do a final walk-through before buying a house, I recommend a walk-through of the festival grounds as well.

You won’t have much time to fix anything that might not be up to your standards, but you’ll have at least a little bit of time, and some is better than none! 

  • Station Staff and Vendors

All your vendors, sponsors, and staff should know where to be and get themselves situated in the right spots before the festival starts. 

  • Set Up Parking Signs, Tents, and Booths

If you don’t already have booths, tents, and parking signs up and ready to go, make sure you do this before your attendees start showing up. 

After Your Festival 

Whew! It went by in a whirlwind, but your festival is over. You’re going to be exhausted, but now is no time to stop quite yet, as there’s more for you to do! 

  • Write a Sponsorship Fulfillment Report

I said I would, so I want to talk further about the sponsorship fulfillment report now.

In this report, you detail all the deliverables you promised your sponsor and whether you delivered them on time. You can also include photos, attendance data, ticket sales data, and other pertinent metrics. 

The sooner you can get this report in the hands of your sponsors, the better, but I recommend doing so a week or two after your festival, tops.

Invite the sponsor to have a meeting about the contents of the report. If you want to work with them again, the post-event report is a great way to get feedback so you can be an even better partner next year. 

  • Thank Your Staff

For everyone else who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into making your festival the rousing success it was, you should personally thank them for their time and hard work.

  • Renegotiate 

Holding onto staff needn’t be hard when you can renegotiate shortly after your event wraps up. Don’t forget to lock in sponsors as well. 

Conclusion 

That’s about all there is to it. As you can see, the festival planning checklist and timeline are rather cyclical, but that’s not such a bad thing.

As you begin hosting more festivals, each year, you’ll find that the planning process is easier in some ways and more difficult in others. You’ll experience challenges as you scale up, but that’s to be expected.

I hope this checklist aids you in getting your festival underway! 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.

After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.

Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.