As we noted in our "part one" post, there is a big difference between an equine consumer exposition and a traditional horse show. Equine consumer expositions usually encompass a large variety of activities, such as horsemanship demonstrations, product demonstrations, lectures, competitions, breed demonstrations, shopping, entertainment, food, and even art shows. There are many moving parts to create, organize and manage.
“If you build it, they will come” is a line from a famous movie but it does not always hold true when planning an equine themed event. Event organizers do all they can to create a fun event that will draw in exhibitors and attendees alike, but they never truly “know” what is going to happen until the life-cycle of the event beings…and then it really is a “best guess” scenario.
The life-cycle of an exposition, no matter its size, normally consists of the following phases.
CONCEPT: This is where the event management team develops the “idea” or “theme” for the event. This process can be lengthy, especially if the event is brand new or is making major changes. Then the content of the event begins to be developed. There is a great deal of creativity and thought that goes into this part of the event. Finding the balance of “fan favorite” and “new and exciting” can be tough. These aspects have to be weighed against budget considerations and site restrictions.
SITE: This is a challenge, even for well-established events. Site costs never seem to go down and often times go up, year after year! For new or smaller events, the site often dictates the type of events and the experience that can be created. The amenities of the site will impact what kind of activities can happen at the event and what level of exhibitor will participate. Sites that have no enclosed buildings often reduce the number of exhibitors who wish to participate. The cost of the site usually dominates the budget as well. This dictates booth space cost and ticket costs.
MARKETING: Getting the message out there and getting talent, exhibitors, and attendees through the gates is a priority. This phase requires creativity, timing, planning and a healthy chunk of the budget to do. It has to happen before the first ticket is sold and the first booth is reserved. Researching the best impact for the investment is needed in order to reach the target audience who will – hopefully – come through the gate.
TALENT: Lining up the clinicians, trainers, industry leaders and experts is very important. Who is selected to attend will create a “draw” and set the tone of the event. The coordination of schedules, travel, compensation, subject matter and other needs has to be handled (and is not always easy). Talent also impacts the budget. The bigger the “name” the bigger the impact on the budget.
EXHIBITORS: Just because an event is scheduled does not mean exhibitors will be knocking on the door. Exhibitors have to be invited to attend and informed about the site, dates, booth costs, set-up, tear-down, site rules, directions, local accommodations, resale permits and more. Creating cost-effective exhibitor packages is also needed to encourage participation. This is a balancing act and requires creativity, empathy and a proactive view point in order to be successful.
ENTERTAINMENT: If the site allows for it, the event may host a competition, live music or evening entertainment of some sort. Sites place restrictions on what can and cannot be done on their grounds. You cannot have a reined cow horse competition or an obstacle challenge race without the room and facility to do so. Recruitment of entertainment is conditional on budget, site restrictions and facility capability. It costs money, which comes out of the budget, to organize these entertainments. Often times this adds to the ticket cost, which cannot be avoided.
PROGRAM: Now that all the pieces of the puzzle are laid out on the table, a program of events and activities needs to be created. Some larger events may have four or five activities happening each hour! The program as to be laid out logically before the event begins and then managed once the event starts. This too is a balancing act. Event management companies want to have a “full” program that is exciting and enticing to attendees, but not so full that attendees cannot fully enjoy the experience. For clinicians and speakers, the schedule has to be fair and balanced so as to draw attendees to their presentations or demonstrations. For exhibitors, there must be time to shop worked into the schedule so they can do what they came to do – educate their potential customers on their products and services (and make a few sales too).
SET-UP: Set up begins days before the event starts. From preparing files and packing vehicles to hanging sponsor banners, to setting up arenas, to coordinating labor and even organizing the audio announcements. The amount of time needed to set up the event is in direct proportion to the size of the event. Many of the larger events will begin preparation weeks before the event and arrive at the event site days before the first exhibitor, clinician, and attendee ever arrives. On-site, there may be issues that pop up that were outside the control of the event management team. Troubleshooting happens often. Exhibitors may have needs they were not expecting and that too has to be dealt with prior to the event starting. The event management team put miles on the soles of their boots and works some really long days in order to ensure the event flows well. Events are very labor intensive and take a great deal of logistical coordination to ensure they happen as smooth as possible.
EVENT: Ever see a duck on the water? On the surface, the duck looks calm and serene. Below the surface, the duck is paddling like crazy! That is what it is like on event days. The event management team arrives before everyone else and starts paddling away. Troubleshooting and “crisis management” is the order of business. If an audio system fails, the team is on it. If there is an issue with a demonstration participant, the team is on it. If there is an issue with parking or the bathrooms or…whatever, the team is on it. It is non-stop action all event long. The team takes each situation in hand with a smile and a “can-do” attitude. And if attendees never see them in action then the team has done their job. If exhibitors and presenters feel “cared for,” then the team has done their job. Stop by the show office of your favorite equine exposition and chat them up. They may be tired but they are smiling. Giving them a “thank you for your efforts” keeps them charged up!
TEAR-DOWN: It is true that it is faster to tear down then it is to build up. Having a plan to pack everything down is important. Not only does the event team engage in breaking down the event, but they also have to manage the process for exhibitors and presenters. Making sure lanes of travel and parking are clear so exhibitors can take down their displays and pack up. Making sure that sponsors get their banners, samples and other items back in good time is also a part of tear down. Walking the site to ensure that it is left in as good a condition as it was before the event began has to happen. This may take hours or even a full day to occur in an orderly fashion. Staying organized during tear down ensures that the set up for the next event goes smoothly and that everything is accounted for.
CLOSE: For most event management teams, there is a “decompression day” where they simply get to rest. Then event closeout begins. Inventory, repairs, resupply, and repacking happens. A review of the “positives and challenges” happens so the team can continually improve takes place. If a survey was conducted, the data has to be captured and organized in a usable fashion and then reviewed and applied. Accounting happens in all of its many aspects. It often takes several weeks to full closeout an event. The larger the event, the longer and more involved the process is.
STARTING ALL OVER: Once the close out of the event is done, the team begins to plan for their next endeavor. When you see the larger events that occur several times a year, understand that the life-cycle never really stops. There is very little “down time” and if there is, the slow periods are used to create, innovate and organize so as to create events that will continue to be valued. Yes, successful events generate profit. However, much of that profit is reinvested back into future events and into keeping the lights on, employees paid and innovation happening. No one does event management for free, but they are passionate about bringing the very best event experience they can to the community.
So when you attend your next equine exposition keep these things in mind. Before you offer up a “critique” of the event, ask yourself if you would have the dedication to craft an event like the one you enjoyed? If you think, like so many do that the level of effort is daunting, be kind in your “critique. If you read this and feel that you could take an event from concept to reality, then please do so. Celebrations of all things equine are essential to the overall health of the community and industry we all love. The more events, the better!
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Part Three coming soon!
The Death of the Equine Exposition In America, May 2018, M. Canfield, https://www.ofhorse.com/view-post/The-Death-of-Equine-Expositions-in-America
The Formula for Success: Exhibiting At Expositions, June 2018, M. Canfield, https://www.ofhorse.com/view-post/The-Formula-for-Success-Exhibiting-at-Expositions