Why an Interview,,,

Over the years we have been able to meet and talk with some very interesting people. They have shared with us their knowledge and have provided us with a great deal of insight as to how and why festivals and events work and why they are so important to our communities and to the Province of Ontario. With this in mind, we decided that we wanted you to meet and hear from some of the wonderful people who work so hard to provide us all with such wonderful Ontario Festivals and Events! We are pleased and proud to present "THE INSIDE SCOOP"!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mass Confusion (Part Two)…

We did, however, decide to go back to the play zone to see if they had a festival guide available for us to read. They didn’t, but they did have a site map. Much to our surprise and delight there was another part of the festival that we weren’t aware of. It was in the downtown area and some distance away! We followed the map to the downtown area and discovered the heart of the festival. In the downtown park two giant “Pumpkin” pyramids had been erected. They were full a hundreds of carved and lite up pumpkins! You could see the tops of the pyramids as we descended the hill to the downtown centre. It was wonderful to discover this important part of the festival. What a shame it would have been for us to have missed it!

The solutions for this festival and others are simple. Here are some suggestions:
  1. Strategically place directional signage at key entrance point to your town
  2. Prepare large site maps showing where all activities are taking place. To reduce or eliminate the cost of these signs sell advertising space on the signs
  3. Make sure you prepare enough signs and place them conveniently throughout the festival grounds
  4. Have an information booth or booths placed near to major festival entry points. There should be at least one at each site.
  5. Make sure you website site has a printable comprehensive site map. Also, make sure it is easy enough to understand for out-of-town visitors
  6. Print enough Site Plan Maps to hand out to visitors
  7. Have identifiable volunteers regularly walk through the festival grounds. Make sure they are well informed about the festival and the community.

I know I have said this before, but if you want to attract out-of-town visitors to your event, you have to make sure you plan for their needs. It is very difficult to sustain a festival or event, year after year, without attracting new attendees.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Mass Confusion (Part One)…

It is very frustrating to visit a festival only to find mass confusion. The confusion I am talking about is site layout. I realized that not all sites lend themselves to be laid out perfectly. I also realized that some site locations are not large enough to hold the entire festival and that multiple sites may be necessary and/or preferable. People who go to a festival either want to see the entire event or want to see a specific aspect(s) of it. Well planned festivals, with single or multiple sites, which have good signage and an informative festival guide reduce or eliminate much of this kind of mass confusion.
Here is an example of what I mean. Gary and I drove quite some distance to attend a well-known and respected fall event. Here are some of the problems we encountered.

·         As we entered the town, there were no directional signs. We had to guess where to go and where to park.
·          Once we were on the festival grounds, there were no festival site signs to show us where activities and attractions could be found.
·         We looked for an information booth, but couldn’t find it.
·         There were no identifiable volunteers for us to ask where to find things.

We were left on our own to discover what the festival had to offer. This might appeal to some, but not to us and, I think, not to most new attendees. This was a “theme” festival, a Pumpkinfest. We were excited to see how they carried out the theme. As we walked through the grounds we discovered a food area, a play zone, a climbing wall, an arts and crafts show, a huge antique and classic car show and a Raptor Conservancy Show, but no “Pumpkins”, not one! We started to think that the festival organizers had missed the mark. We almost went home disappointed. 

(Continued in Part Two)

"The Raptor Conservancy Show was there."

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Volunteers at Their Best…

Although I have not experienced it first hand, I have heard that organizations such as Disney Theme Parks and some cruise lines really know how to treat their guests. It seems that they learn as much about their customers as possible, and then use this information to make each guest as comfortable as possible.

While I realize that festivals and events can’t use this exact technique, they can use the philosophy behind it. That is, make their customers (attendees) as comfortable as possible. What does this mean to festival organizers? To me it means having a well-organized festival with informed “identifiable volunteers”.

Some time ago, Gary was fortunate to judge some very outstanding festivals and events in a number of different categories. One of the categories was “Best Volunteer Program”. There were a number of entries, but one stood out, to me, above the rest! Their Volunteer Program, from recruitment to retirement, was amazing! It was complete and covered all aspect of managing their volunteers. It is no wonder that this festival is considered one of the best in the world.

So, taking a lead from their program, here are 10 smart ideas to consider:
  1. Screen your volunteers, just as would for a job interview
  2. Determine what would be the best and most appropriate job for each volunteer
  3. Prepare detailed job descriptions and make sure each volunteer is given one
  4. Have volunteer orientation and training sessions
  5. Appoint mentors to new volunteers
  6. Give each volunteer a festival uniform and identification badge
  7. Give each volunteer an event work schedule
  8. Have a meaningful volunteer appreciation program
  9. Develop a volunteer perk package
  10. Hold a volunteer wrap-up event and let everyone know how the festival/event did
The whole point to this blog is to remind festival organizers that they should treat their guests (festival attendees) like princes or princesses as soon as they enter the festival grounds (sooner, if possible). This means having volunteers having well informed, recognizable volunteers who are friendly and prepared to guests on all aspects of the festival and the community. If you get this part right, everything will fall into place.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Where to Park? (Part Two)

A few years ago, Gary and I went to an event that included a large parade. The parade was to go straight down the main street and then turn right onto the street that led to the park and the final destination. However, someone had forgotten to put “No Parking” signs at the corner of the street. In the morning several car had parked there. By the time the parade came it was too late to find the owners and asked them to move their vehicle. As a result the larger floats couldn’t make the turn and were told to continue straight. Needless to say, this caused mass confusion. The whole parade became disrupted; parade participant didn’t know where to go, parade watchers didn’t know where to stand and the police had difficulties controlling crowd and traffic! This was a situation that could have been avoided if the committee had paid attention to the “little things”.
Creating a simple but thorough checklist will go a long way towards having minimum problems come parade day. Here are a few ideas to consider adding to the list:
       Prepare a parking strategy with map that shows existing parking availability, no parking areas and potential off-site parking areas
       Determine if off-site parking required
       Determine if a shuttle service is needed and what the costs would be, plus if it could be paid for by a sponsor
       Determine how many “No Parking” signs are required and where they would be placed (make the signs large enough to be seen clearly)
       Determine how many “Directional Signs” are needed are where they would be placed (consider placing signs at all town entry points)
       Develop a strategy to work with local residents and businesses
       Develop a “parking patrol” strategy
       Work with town officials and local police to make sure “No Parking” areas are strictly enforced
       Plan for a number of handicapped parking spots
       Plan for convenient drop off areas
       Plan for parking attendants at off-site parking areas

       Make sure your local media advertises all road closures, parking areas and parade route. These should also be included in any festival materials produced.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Where to Park? (Part One)

I feel sorry for most festival organizers when it comes to event parking. It’s a no win situation, but it is a problem that needs to be addressed head-on. And, the problem doesn’t end on where to park festival visitors. It also involves dealing with local businesses and residents. These people must be considered, otherwise your festival or event will be plagued with complaints from angry citizens, and angry citizens usually translate into uncooperative politicians and bureaucrats. Along with parking challenges comes traffic control during the event. That’s why forming a parking and traffic control committee early in the planning process is very important. I know there are a lot of festival committees out there that feel that they have plenty of existing parking so why bother planning. I guess that’s fine if you are only planning a small local festival, but if you are looking for out-of-town visitors, a having planned parking and traffic control is a must! Even if it’s just to have directional signage! Careful thought early in the game will mean fewer problems during your event. It’s not just the BIG picture that needs to be considered, it’s the small details too. Having the event committee consider all aspects of parking and traffic control, including consultation with the community (officials and businesses), will help eliminate future problems. Having contingency plans is also important. Real-time challenges WILL come up, so being prepared is always wise!

(To be continued – Part Two)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How Do People Find You?

I am sure that Gary and I are not the only ones who visit out-of-town festivals and events. While we are normally able to find most places, there are some smaller towns that need the help of directions to find them. It is important, therefore, for festival organizers to include directions or better still, a map, to their town. These directions should also include directions to the festivals location. This, however, is not enough!

This brings me to my greatest complaint against festival organizers. Most festivals have few or no directional signs. They seem to expect that out-of-town visitors will just know where the local fair ground or community centre is. The problem is, out-of-town visitors don’t know where these locations are. I can tell you from experience that having to drive around looking a festival site is very frustrating and usually takes the fun out of visiting the festival. All that is needed are few well-placed directional signs scattered strategically around town. I don’t think organizers are lazy (just the opposite) or are trying to save money. I think they are so familiar with where everything is located in their town that they think very one else is too, even out-of-towners. Festival organizers must get out of this mind set and start imagining themselves as festival visitors, not festival organizers. By doing this their festival will become more visitor friendly, which will eventually lead to greater attendance. Greater, more diversified attendance will help the festival grow and prosper. If you think this is an isolated problem, I can assure you it is not. Of the 40 plus festivals we visited this past year, over 90 percent has poor to no directional signage. This is not a good statistic. Those who did put out directional signage, did a very good job. To the others, look for signage opportunities. Think about contacting local merchants and asking them to create and pay for directional event signs (with their names on them)… good for the festival, good the merchants and better still, good for the people who want to visit your community and event!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Festival Websites… Keep Them Simple But Factual…

When Gary and I choose the events we want to visit, it’s normally as a result of the event’s website. I believe a lot of potential event visitors do the same thing. It is an easy and fast way to see what an event is all about, and when it is going to take place. So, it amazes me when a festival either doesn’t have a website or has one that is so vague that it is useless as an information tool.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs, being too cute or over exaggerating, can be just as bad. The old KISS principle – “Keep it simple, stupid” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KISS_principle ) should be applied here. Having a simple but factual festival website, in my opinion, is best! The following is my list of “What festival websites should include”:
       Accurate description of your event
       Event dates
       Event times
       Event location
       Event costs (all of them)
       Parking information, including costs if any
       Directions to the event including a map for out of town visitors
       Disabled information
       Event program and guide, including activities, activity locations and activity times (A site map is always helpful)
       Contact list, who and how (I always like to see a way of e-mail contacting)
       Sponsors list
You or your web designer may have other ideas, and that’s okay, but these basics should always be included.
Other good things to include, but not as important as the above are:
       Event history
       Volunteer acknowledgement
       Special links (local restaurants, hotels, attractions and businesses)
Also, make your site printer friendly. I like to print out festival information and take it with me. I get more out of the festival that way.
Finally, it is important that your website is accessible to mobile phones. Search engines, especially Google are penalizing (not showing your website high on search page) websites who are not accessible. This doesn’t mean that you have to have an APP, but just that when your website is reduced to mobile size it is readable.

Your website is your voice! Make sure that your web designer understands this and adheres to your instructions!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Over Zealous Websites

Sometimes web designers and festival organizers create websites that overstate what is actually being offered. All festival and event organizers want people to come to their event. Your website, of course, needs to be interesting and exciting enough to attract people to first read it and then to motivate them to come to your event. I believe, however, that overstating what you are offering will ultimately become a negative.
Here’s an example of what I mean. One particular weekend we were looking for a festival to visit, so I went onto the Internet to do some research. I looked at a number of sites and finally found one that looked interesting. It sounded like a great festival with lots of really interesting activities scheduled. The website was very detailed as to what was being offered. We decided to go to it. The problem was, that when we got there, the reality didn’t match what was advertised on the website. You might say, “What does that matter, it got you to come to the festival”. That may be true, but don’t you want your visitors to come back year after year? Don’t you want them to tell their friends and family about how great your festival was and that they should attend? It’s not that we wouldn’t have visited this festival, we likely would have, but the sour taste that was left from our disappointment meant that we wouldn’t recommend the festival to our friends and we certainly wouldn’t go back to it. If we felt like this, wouldn’t others?
Yes, as I said before, it is very important to an interesting attention grabbing website, but it must be factual and not overstated. You definitely want to draw people to your event, but not under false pretenses. If you have special plans for your festival, great and by all means state them on your website. But, and this is a big but, make sure your special plans happen! If you find, as you get closer to your event that you can’t meet your plans, revise your website the match what is actually going to happen. Remember the old sales adages, “It’s easier to keep a satisfied customer than it is to find a new one” and, “Every dissatisfied customer will tell at least 10 of their friends”.
Be wise, deliver what you promise!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Troubled Websites

A few weeks ago I was thinking about an event we wanted to visit. I decided to go to their website to get more information. The opening page was fine and I was able to get to the menu page easily. From there on in it was an ordeal! The menu page needed to be activated to use the controls just to get into the sub-pages. The menu icons moved. So, even with the controls activated, you had to time your cursor perfectly to catch the selected icon just right before the page would open. If you happened to miss (which I did frequently) you had to start all over again. Once a sub-page was open, it had some kind gimmick to get to the information and, to make matters worse, they were all different. One of the pages had floating bubble that had to be captured with the cursor before the information could be accessed. The bubbles moved quickly so they were difficult to get to and click on. I am sure the web designers had a lot of fun designing this site. It was an expensive site and I am sure it had all the latest bells and whistles, but from my point of view it was just down right frustrating and annoying. I spoke to a computer savvy friend of mine about it and he suggested that the site had been design for kids because it seems to have incorporated some of the challenges that can now be found computer games. That may be well and good and perhaps the kids who visited the site loved it, but it’s not the kids who drive to these events and it’s not the kids who make the make the final decision on where to go and what to see. It’s the parents, and they don’t usually play these computer games. Yes, to be sure, some of them do, but the majority doesn’t. Most parents just want to get the information they need easily, with a minimum of hassles, so that they can make an informed decision. Interesting websites are important because you want to catch the readers’ attention. Being too cute is definitely a negative! My suggestion to festival organizers is to make your website interesting but simple and user (adult) friendly. And, as an added thought, make sure your site has a way for readers to contact you. There is nothing more frustrating than to have a question or comment about a festivals or an event and not to be able to reach someone. Include a contact page that has telephone numbers and e-mail address. The whole idea for having a website is to inform those who want to attend your festival or event. If you make it difficult they just won’t bother.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Beauty of a Website (Part Two)

Fortunately the office was open, so I decided to go in and ask where the festival was being held. I came back to the car with a long face, “It’s been cancelled!” were my first words as I got back into the car. Then I told Gary that the tourism girl had told me that we weren’t the only ones looking for the festival. Approximately 50 other people had made the same enquiry. That meant that over 50 people had driven to town and had left very disappointed. They were upset not only with the festival organizers, but with the town in general. How many of these people would think twice about coming back to that town to attend a festival, any festival. How many other people did they tell their missing festival story to? It’s like a rippling effect! Everyone involved, organizers and town officials alike were tarred with the same brush. No-one looked good. The solution was very simple update or delete the website. If the organizers wouldn’t or didn’t make the change, the town or its tourism department should have. The tourism department should be aware of all festival and events happening in their town and know who to contact when problems arise. If this had happened in this case, a simple website update, 50 plus people would not have traveled 100’s of unnecessary kilometers. Updating your festival’s website is not only “good business”, it is a common sense courtesy to your customers and patrons. Make sure you give your webmaster the information he/she needs to update the site and then make sure the webmaster makes the changes immediately! There are no excuses for an out-of-date festival website.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Beauty of a Website (Part One)

A website can be the best boon to a festival or event or it can be its worst nightmare. Websites are designed to communicate with readers of the website. If the site isn’t up to date or has incorrect information, the ramifications can be very serious. Take for example “the Festival that wasn’t there”. When we search for festivals we might want to visit, we go to their website. I am sure that we are not alone in doing this. We had found this particular festival in the “Festival & Events in Ontario” Guide. It looked like a great festival to visit. We hadn’t been to that region or to that kind of event, so it was a perfect festival to consider. I checked out their website and it still looked like a good festival to attend, so we put it on our “to visit” schedule. The day before our visit, I re-checked the website to see if there were any changes. Everything seemed okay. The website was the same as the first time I had looked at it. I always print off a copy of the website for reference during our visits. It was going to be a 4 hour trip, so we got up early so that we could have enough time to visit the festival properly. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we took our time traveling, enjoying the sunshine and the picturesque scenery. All was well, or at least we thought, as we drove into the town where the festival was taking place. We drove into the downtown area looking for festival signs along the way. There were none! We decided to drive around the town looking for the festival. We couldn’t find it! Finally, out of desperation we drove back to the downtown area and found the local tourism office.