An aerial shot of a musical event sponsored by Definitely DePere

Definitely DePere event

Is there an event your community puts on every year that isn’t as effective as it once was? This is more common than you might imagine. Many communities have traditional events they continue to hold because that is what they have always done—even if it no longer serves a specific purpose for the host organization nor provides a defined benefit for the community. When it comes to events like this, some key questions to ask include:

  • Is it profitable?
  • Is it achieving its goals?
  • Does it fill a specific niche in the calendar or cater to an underserved audience?

It is ok to pull the plug on an event if it isn’t achieving its purpose, but it is wise to be strategic about making this type of change. For instance, are there signature or treasured elements of the event that can be retained, while other elements might be adjusted to reflect current community needs? Is there another organization or group that benefits from the event that could take over all or a portion of the event in the future? Either of these courses of action can save valuable time and money. Not every event has to (or should) do everything, but it should serve one of these primary purposes: drive traffic, drive sales, drive publicity or drive fundraising. If you look at your event and it is doing none of these things for your organization or community, it may be best to let it go.

In order to kill and event, you need to know what the goal of the event originally was, and what (if any) purpose it is currently serving. Is it intended to introduce new audiences to downtown? Get people into businesses? Reinforce the community brand (e.g., food-focused or family-friendly)? From there, you can evaluate how the event is performing based on identified goals. In addition, it is important to consider the time value of putting on an event. For some communities, producing a time-consuming event takes staff and resources away from other, more pressing needs. Make sure to consider human resources and not just financial ones when making a cost-benefit analysis.

Before deciding to cancel the event, consider potential solutions. Is the problem reflective of the whole event, or just a portion of the event? What feedback are you getting from attendees, businesses and vendors?

For instance, if an annual event features a music stage that seems to draw few attendees, and you are also hearing from attendees that the lineup isn’t appealing, your vendors are saying they aren’t making any money after a certain time, and local businesses are not receiving any evening traffic—in this instance, evaluating attendee demographics might shed some light on the real problem with the event. Maybe more families with young children are attending than you intended, and the evening showtimes are just too late for the kids. In this case, a potential solution could be having more music during the day, booking more kid-friendly artists, and having your vendors offer more kid-friendly options. This might be just the tweak you need to save the event and make it successful for future years—or maybe you want to set your sights on attracting a different demographic in order to have higher attendance at the scheduled evening entertainment. In this instance, you can offer more adult-friendly incentives, including free beer tokens for attendees who arrive after a certain time, or a discount at a food vendor if your attendees stay for the evening entertainment. In addition, it would be a good idea to survey previous years’ attendees on what kind of music they would like to see at the event or potential artists that would bring them back to future events. Getting your attendees involved gives them a sense of ownership and increases the likelihood they will attend in future years.

Consider a second example. For this event, your research shows that you are investing $30,000 to hold an event and only netting $5,000 in profits. Local businesses say that their usual patrons stay away during the event because the area is too congested and the event attendees don’t buy anything. Vendors tell you they aren’t making as much money as they make at other comparable events. In this case, when you sit down to ask yourself if this event is worth it, both quantitative and qualitative data point you toward saying goodbye to this particular event.

Ending an event isn’t always bad news. There is good that can come from such decisions. When you let go of an event that isn’t achieving its goals and isn’t profitable, it gives you the opportunity to create new events that will better suit your community. Look at the events you put on and identify if you have gaps in types of events, seasonal events or audiences you cater to. Take the time to explore new ideas and test various concepts before committing to a large-scale replacement. While it’s hard to close the book on beloved traditions, a new event may one day be embraced to the same degree or more.