Event Planning: All I need to know I learned from a birthday invitation?

Event Planning: All I need to know I learned from a birthday invitation?

Event planners, I present to you… the “Birthday Invitation” The 5 W’s: Why, Who, When, Where and What…?

It does not get much simpler than that. That’s it… REALLY!?

Well, I might be leaving out a few minor details. Just a few!

I oversimplify the process to make a point… OBVIOUSLY!

Events range in size from small family gatherings (such as birthday parties—I’m sure you have been to a disaster or two), to multi-day music festivals (such as the Fyre Festival—if you are not familiar, please look it up), each requiring qualified and competent event planners to address a multitude of issues—easier said than done sometimes. By-the-way… Just because you have been to a birthday party or attended a music festival—does not mean you can plan one.

Many event planners spend countless hours developing and managing their events; the bulk of which are extremely successful—apparently following a rigorous process—or they are just lucky!

I’ve spent over a decade examining and participating in 100’s of legal matters surrounding the event industry. I have concluded that the rigor to achieve event success is not practiced by all—or even understood.

Let’s start with the basics—the birthday invitation. When developing an event, an event planner must determine five (5) necessary elements, specifying:

  1. Why (the purpose and role of the event);five W questions for event planning (what, who, where, when, why).
  2. Who (the audience and stakeholders);
  3. When (date and duration);
  4. Where (location and available space); and,
  5. What (the resources available and desired outcomes).

By now you have determined that the “birthday invitation” is just the starting point to having a successful event.

For those that are not formally trained or might have missed a class or two… the process is much deeper. In fact, the event industry has a formalized model that uses at its core the 5W’s to create, develop, and deliver a successful event. This internationally recognized framework, known as the Event Management Body of Knowledge (EMBOK) Model, not only requires planners to answer the 5W’s, but to manage the design, administration, marketing, operations, and risk.

To effectively deliver an event based on the EMBOK Model, an event planner must follow a systematic process—every time.

In addition to the 5W’s and management responsibilities, event planners must measure (identify and analyze event objectives), select (determine goal-oriented outcomes), monitor (event progress and status), communicate (acquire and distribute content), and document (collect data and evidence) to achieve event success.

The real kicker… now apply ALL of these principles to every decision you make (selection of staff, vendors [food to amusements], locations [purpose-built vs. non-purpose-built], audience type, transportation, insurance, contracts, security, and more.

Remember, for an event to be successful, the planner must manage all obligations appropriately; after all, you only have one opportunity to succeed.

The birthday invitation is a great starting point, but consider when you are identifying, selecting, organizing, developing, and promoting an event with the purpose of providing people an experience, you have a responsibility to adhere to more than the fundamentals… you have a duty to deliver a reasonably safe and enjoyable experience following the established standards set by qualified and competent planners and industry experts.

Some friendly advice… This is not a suggestion, this is the rule! So find the time to incorporate it into your process and avoid any potential pitfalls—before it’s too late!

Vetting vendors: An 8-step guide for event planners and venue operators

vetting your event vendors:

Vetting product and service suppliers is not a new concept. In fact, according to ADWEEK, over 80% of shoppers conduct research prior to a purchase—for personal consumption and use.

Unfortunately, in the corporate world, it is a 180-degree shift—maybe it has something to do with spending other people’s money?

Global Risk Management Solutions, a leading compliance management firm, estimates that less than 20 percent of companies do any type of screening of their vendors, suppliers, and subcontractors. This gap in due diligence is a significant area of risk for any industry or organization—especially the events industry.

By failing to examine vendor’s capabilities, insurance policies, SOPs, permits and more, event planners and venue operators are exposing themselves to numerous liabilities.

Vendor/third-party vetting and oversight requirements are on the rise due to broken promises and disastrous results—oftentimes leaving the event planner or venue operator “holding the bag” —a haute couture bag. It doesn’t have to be this way!

Selecting product and service suppliers can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be—it can be done with ease with a little pre-planning.

How well do you know your vendors with whom you conduct business? The truth is, probably not very well! Most organizations are not fully aware of a vendor’s abilities and/or shortcomings until it’s too late. Let’s change that.

It is understood that most events, and therefore planners, are pressed for time and money when identifying and selecting vendors. There is no benefit in the long run to fast-tracking this process. A well-established and methodical process will save you time and money in the end—as well as protect the reputation of the business.

Brian Avery, of Event Safety Services, has developed key concepts your company should address when evaluating vendors. Consider developing a checklist based on these ideas for your organization. Let’s get to know your supplier…

  1. Reach out to more than one vendor… and compare answers—it might surprise you. If you notice discrepancies… do more research. Also, determine if the vendor subs out work to other vendors. If so, make sure you use this process to vet them as well.
  2. Have your vendors provide a list of references (at least 3)? Word of mouth can be a very powerful tool… but it is only a place to start. There are many examples of suppliers that could paint a wall but could not pull a permit for work (think unlicensed contractors). Dig deeper… Check online references as well: Better Business Bureau (BBB), Google, Facebook, etc.
  3. Are they financially stable? Request to see financial statements—make sure the company can fund the job you have requested. The more expensive the job is, the deeper you dig to ensure they can complete it.
  4. Insurance… hedging your bet! Being provided a COI, named on the policy and setting limits is just the beginning. Insurance can get complicated… consult an insurance agent/broker or attorney that knows the event industry—be honest about what you are doing. Sneaky underwriters and spotty coverage is leaving many event planners and venue operators exposed. Claims based policies and policy exemptions often provide service providers with lower rates—but at what cost to you—the planner/operator. Read each vendors policy and ask questions… based on solid research/knowledge.
  5. You might need a license/permit for that. You might be surprised by what is regulated. A great place to start… state department of business and professional regulation. Each state maintains a list of regulated industries (everything from amusement rides to talent agencies). Ask each vendor if they are regulated by state or federal (separate database) requirements. By speaking to multiple vendors, you might get multiple answers—red flag.
  6. Is it written down? Verbal policies and procedures don’t hold much water. Uniformity, based on exacting regulations, standards, etc. make for good policies and procedures… if they are written down and followed. Everything from weather-related matters to food service handling should be addressed with plans. The goal is to compare policies and procedures and ensure compliance is obtained by all parties involved. If a vendor does not have written policies and procedures based on manufacturer materials, regulations, standards, and practices… you should consider finding someone else. Handing out waivers and stating it’s not my problem “won’t hold water.”
  7. Does training come with that? Determine if the staff provided by the vendor is trained per the policies and procedures provided. Ask to see training logs and manuals… you might even ask to speak to a staff member—you can learn a great deal from them. If staff are not properly trained… move on!
  8. In case of emergency! Preparedness is key to timely and efficient response. Make sure your vendors have a set plan addressing guest injuries and even natural disasters (size and scope of the event is relevant). Make sure plans are shared on both sides to provide consistent and timely care. Once again—they must be written down.

A comparative analysis of your findings should be conducted to determine the most suitable vendor for the job. There are instances when it benefits you to simply walk away. When in doubt—get out! By the way, this is a two-way street.

As event planners and venue operators, we have an obligation to ensure the safety of our patrons—by vetting your vendors, you are taking a huge step in the right direction in doing so.

Let’s set the example… the event industry should take the lead on this and show other industries how it can be done.

Drug Use at Music Festivals, A Public Health Issue…

music festival drug use concerns

Music Festivals create a world where an individual can escape reality for a weekend and surround themselves with fellow music lovers listening to a line-up derived from all four corners of genres; that is hip-hop/rap, rock, indie, pop. That’s the unique part of these events; music artists partake in collaborations and cross music styles to create exciting sounds to keep the attendees on their feet… literally.

The duration for a music festival is typically an entire weekend in a remote area or at fairgrounds of some sort. Usually the event site is miles away from the nearest state road or major highway. This helps create the illusion that the festival is isolated. Granted, some festivals are located directly on a main road. For example, Electric Daisy Carnival in Orlando, FL is held at (what used to be) Tinker Field, which is in the heart of downtown Orlando. Cars are passing by and people are walking on the street, all while this booming festival is going on from dusk until dawn.

Music Festivals are no judgment zones. Attendees have the chance to wear unique styles of clothing without feeling like an outcast; the designs of different outfits are more of an art-form, really. An accessory to these eccentric outfits are beaded cuffs, known as ‘Kandi.’ These bracelets resemble the word PLUR (peace, love, unity, respect) which is the mantra for rave, goa trance (electronic music style), and Electronic Dance Music cultures.

I discovered the rave culture in 2014 when I attended my first music festival. After listening to electronic music for a while, I wanted to experience something bigger and powerful. Electric Daisy Carnival was coming to Orlando and it had been a dream of mine to attend. I came home from class one day and my roommate had been waiting for me – next thing I know she holds up two tickets to EDC for that upcoming Saturday. The feeling was unreal and I think I actually may have cried; that night we stayed up all hours preparing for the event.

Saturday was finally here and we were ready to go dance, jump, and be happy with everyone who were just as excited as we were. Arriving to the festival grounds sent a wave of chills through my body; I had never experienced something like it. Carnival rides, booming beats, neon colors everywhere, it really was entering a completely different world. The experience of being surrounded by good vibes is something I will never forget. Aside from the excitement and energy from the lights, music and clothing… there is a darker side to these events that should be discussed.

Since the booming of music festivals – primarily in 2014 – the use of drugs has increased greatly at these events. Eliminating this kind of behavior from any live music event would be similar to banning alcohol from an NFL football game—a sad reality. One of the biggest incidents that recently happened was at the HARD Summer Music Festival in Ponoma, California this past August (2015), where two young women died of what is suspected to be an overdose of a bad batch of methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA). This drug, usually known as ecstasy (pill form) or Molly (powder form), in its natural state is said to be safer than cocaine according to studies. However, a crushed up, white powder – referring to Molly – can be a mixture of many substances, which is usually the case found in the toxicology reports.

A documentary on Netflix called “What’s in My Baggie?” takes a visit to six different music festivals and used testing kits to see what kind of drugs were exactly being ingested at these events. The most shocking discovery was finding out that people who thought they were in possession of Molly was actually a batch of bath salts.

It’s amazing and sad to see how little people know about this. I’ve been to several festivals and it’s hard to keep track of the number of times I have heard people seeking Molly. A part of me loses control and a sense of anger takes over, but then I remember that these people probably have no idea the effect of this drug. I wish this matter was better understood by those seeking to blend the line of music and mind altering experiences.

Two groups who are acknowledging the prevalence of drugs at music festivals have taken a proactive stance in keeping attendees safe. DanceSafe is an organization who promotes health and safety tips for the nightlife and electronic dance music community. While they do not condone nor condemn the consumption of illegal substances, DanceSafe provides a way for festival attendees to see what exactly they are ingesting by using testing kits. The goal is to provide a protected and unbiased environment to support those who may be involved with drug use and help them make informed decisions about their safety and health. DanceSafe also provides information for safer sex, driving home safely, and how to protect your hearing.

Another organization, known as the Zendo Project, helps with minimizing psychiatric hospitalizations and arrests that are presumed as drug related. With the support from both groups, the goal is to minimize negative outcomes that may occur from the intake of drugs. However, there is one thing that continues to hinder these organizations from helping those who may be victims of drug use. In 2003, the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act was established. This law targets dance events specifically, where if event organizers know that drugs are present at their event and are being used they will be fined $250,000 with the possibility of an arrest.

It’s a big controversy because having organizations like DanceSafe and the Zendo Project at your events; it indicates the existence of drug use. Could these groups actually benefit the safety of attendees? There is no encouragement of ingesting illegal substances, but more so educating those who think they have an “innocent drug” that could actually be extremely lethal. After the performance of a testing kit, it is the person’s choice whether or not they take the drug.

It’s unfortunate the power this law has over live music event promoters. Education could not be more important for this topic, and this RAVE Act is eliminating the opportunity for promoters to provide drug-related information to their attendees. A simple drug-awareness pamphlet handed out could easily be interpreted as the encouragement of doing drugs, therefore leaving the event organizer with a huge fine and a record. Instead of pushing blame towards event promoters, let’s start spreading awareness of drug use at live music events.

In 2013, one of New York’s largest music events – Electric Zoo – had drawn an overwhelming 90,000-person crowd to Randall’s Island over three days. On the second day of the event, two separate incidents involving drugs occurred, causing the festival to take a dark turn. A 20-year-old female and a 23-year-old male both died of what was reported as an overdose of Molly and MDMA. Along with these tragedies, four others were hospitalized and 31 arrests were made.

After a long night of conference calls, it was announced that the third day of the festival should be cancelled. Electric Zoo officials stated that the event had the maximum medical personnel on the festival grounds. With 70 emergency medical technicians, 15 paramedics, 5 ER nurses, 2 physicians and other medical response teams on hand during the event, it was enough to say that the festival was at its safest. But even with these precautionary efforts, tragedy struck Electric Zoo, not just once, but twice on the same night.

Drug use at live music events is a public health issue. More importantly it is an issue that is minimally discussed. Some say a ban on these events is the best solution, while others are fighting to continue them. Providing educational methods about drug use is not condoning attendees to partake in the action of using illegal substances, but providing knowledge about how to stay safe. Safety is a common ground between everyone, so why argue against different methods that provide information and help with making safely informed decisions? Banning these events will not stop individuals from using drugs recreationally, but will only cause those to take their actions elsewhere. People think that nothing bad will ever happen to them – until it does. The risk is there, and will always be there.

Quiz: Are you an expert or a novice event planner?

Test your event planning skills

Are you an expert or novice event planner? Test your knowledge regarding important event industry concepts that separate experts from novices.

Amway Tour for Rosen College Event Management Students

Amway Center Rosen Event Risk Management Student Tour

What does it take to run Central Florida’s premier sports and live entertainment venue? Lecturer Brian Avery’s Hospitality/Event Risk Management class found out during an exclusive tour of the Amway Center on Nov. 19. Phil Hastings, director of arena operations for the Orlando Magic, served as their guide, providing a front of house and back of house tour as well as a one hour Q&A session. The students also watched the team’s pre-game shoot around and cheered them on later at the game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Hastings gave Rosen College students an inside look at the inner workings of the multifaceted facility and their risk management strategy, a critical aspect of venue operations. Through this unique experience, the students saw the concepts they learned in class come to life.

“The goal was to show the students that quality event locations incorporate risk management policies and procedures into everyday operations policies and procedures– they are never separate if you intend for them to work,” said Avery. “Some of the concepts I discuss in class seem far-fetched… that is until you see them in place, being used and working.”

It is vital that we get these students out into real work environments to see how the subjects they are learning are applied in our industry. Concepts like risk management can be a lot to learn in a classroom setting and some important details can get lost in a sea of information. Seeing policies and procedures set in place in a large venue like the Amway Center shows students just how important this knowledge is to their future success. These students will soon be the leaders of the hospitality industry and it is the duty of event professionals to educate these students by sharing their knowledge and experience.

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