Bonnaroo's Founder on Hosting a Blockbuster Bash
Think it's hard throwing a startup-launch party? How about an event for 85,000 people.
The annual Bonnaroo music festival kicks off today with seven stages, a silent disco, a comedy and cinema tent for 170 acts, eight food trucks and 25 breweries. Suffice it to say, pulling off an event like this takes serious coordination chops and plenty of practice.
The team behind Bonnaroo, Superfly Presents has these qualities in spades. Not only is the events production company hosting its 12th Bonnaroo this year, it has branched out with other events others like gourmet-music festival Outside Lands in San Francisco, fundraiser Life is Good in Canton, Mass. and Brooklyn, N.Y.'s foodie celebration Great Googamooga.
While your startup event may not be at the scale of Bonnaroo, the underlying principles are the same.
We caught up with Superfly co-founder Rick Farman to gauge his advice on how to execute a successful event. Here are his top nine tips:
1. The event starts with your first contact with the audience.
Forget the idea that events last just one night. Whether it be a launch party or your annual holiday soiree, an event spans from the moment you announce it until you receive feedback. Meaning your startup needs to be all-hands-on-deck and to remain responsive to your consumers.
One way to communicate with your audience is online. "You can leverage social media and other media partnerships to reach a tremendous amount of people without having to necessarily use a huge advertising budget," says Farman. "Your message needs to come at an audience in an authentic way, as people will pick up on that and the word will get spread organically."
2. Differentiate your event.
Don't do the same thing every other startup is doing. Forgo the standard launch event at a bar and opt for something outside the box. "It is important to be unique and to have it be connected to your vision and product," says Farman. "The same creativity you would apply for coming up with the concept for your startup, you have to use that creativity and apply it to an event that would be celebrating it."
3. Add value.
Your event needs to provide some sort of benefit. There should be an answer to why consumers should attend. Besides throwing huge events like Bonnaroo, the other side of Superfly consists of a marketing agency for companies.
For one of his clients, Jet Blue, Superfly developed Live from T5, a concert series for JetBlue travelers in the JFK airport. By doing so, JetBlue's mission of giving more to customers was indirectly demonstrated in a creative tactic, instead of an in-your-face strategy. "How can you do something that is beneficial to whoever you try to attract, add value and not just market your product?" says Farman.
4. Location is key.
Make sure the location is one that makes sense for your audience. "Putting on events is really challenging, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be persistent about trying to find the best location," says Farman. Ensure it has adequate space, safety concerns are addressed and all logistics are taken into account. Startups can either play it safe with a tried-and-true space or make the location part of the experience. Superfly has done both -- playing at everyday venues and unique ones, like a Masonic Temple.
5. Have faith in your team.
Whether it is your co-founders or the people you hire, make sure you trust your team. "We are always very particular about who works with us," says Farman. When Superfly first launched Bonnaroo, they hired people more experienced than they were, allowed the employees to showcase their expertise but also trusted they would get the job done. "We had to learn a delicate balance," says Farman. "It is important to hire and manage people in a way that makes them feel empowered and at the same time make sure your vision is being fulfilled."
6. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
Something can always go wrong, and it's a good idea to have a few plans in place for particular situations. "You have to be prepared and think about all contingencies. When you think something is going to go a certain way, you have to count for the possibility that it may go another way," says Farman. "You have to be on your toes and be ready to deal with any circumstances."
7. If you make a mistake, fess up.
People aren't perfect and neither are events. If you mess up, own up to the error. "Being honest about your failings and your successes is part of what character is about," says Farman. "Every time we have had problems and had to address them, it is always been with an authentic and earnest approach."
8. Get feedback.
After events, especially the first one, it is imperative to get feedback from your staff and audience, as it will play a key role in improving the next one. "We are constantly reminding each other that even though we have been doing this for 16 years, we are still learning," says Farman. "There is still a long way to go in terms of getting it right, and we aren't afraid to embrace that."
9. Just breathe.
It is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of producing an event -- the euphoria of execution to worrying about details. Plus, it requires you to always be on-call and available for any last minute changes or additions. To counter stress, Farman suggests doing something that helps you with your mental health, like yoga or meditation. "It just makes you better at what you do," says Farman. "If you are happy, then the people around you will be happy."
What other tips do you have for producing an event? Let us know in the comments below.