The euphoric state of watching your headliner smash it out the park and pragmatic financial control are unlikely bedfellows, but they are symbiotic at a strategic level, says Andy Rea, founder of 2000trees festival and event and music industry management lecturer at BIMM Bristol
You don’t need expert explanations to understand why managing money is vitally important to event success, but just in case any students are taking notes, Shone and Parry’s book, Successful Event Management, outlines how finances are one of three critical factors – the others being marketing and operations. Having more beans afterwards than you did beforehand requires careful control of the purse strings, and proper planning to test the likelihood of balancing the books.
So, it has been stupefying to hear on the festival grapevine that some organisers don’t hold budget meetings ahead of their event; presumably preferring to put faith in blind hope, magical money unicorns or just relying on their line-up to shift sufficient tickets. It is true that there’s an incredible feeling to be had standing in the crowd when your final headliner closes the festival you’ve worked so hard to put on, yet that optimism is not enough, by a long chalk.
Admittedly, those preferring the head-in-sand option are a minority, but recent headlines suggest that financial control is falling behind creativity and innovation in importance to organisers. It’s amazing to see the event industry’s strength of imagination through continuously bringing vibrant new ideas to life, but perhaps increasingly it suggests budgets are not given the due diligence they deserve.
There are two ways to improve your finances – increase your income and decrease your outgoings. To avoid becoming a hostage to fortune and having to make event-ending financial gambles, there are some simple solutions that I’m confident the majority of readers are already implementing.
I know this first-hand: My friends and I sat around a festival campfire and, armed with a punk rock spirit of independence, created 2000trees festival for the love of music; twelve years on we still hold that principle closest to our hearts. It’s been a hard journey, with many lessons learned, and one thing I’ve always been shocked by is just how many costs there are; but we’ve always made our budget a priority.
We’ve had some suppliers on board since the start, we negotiate new partnerships along the way, and each year brings fresh financial challenges – ones that we can only face together without the distractions of the daily grind. So, we hole up for a debrief and planning weekend in the autumn and go through the new budget in the spring.
Spending a weekend with five close colleagues brings added benefits of nurturing new ideas – it’s how the festival came to exist in the first place; not least discussing the bigger picture, planning steps to success and realising the potential pitfalls early, as well as making connections across different areas of the event, working out ways to rationalise and streamline procurement, and recognising a deeper need to generate income in certain areas.
One simple process is to conduct a line-by-line review of the budget with a fine toothcomb, measuring and justifying any increases in costs – let’s face it costs rarely go down without consequences – and discussing any significant changes and their impact on the event.
Though the headline bookings often get the glory among customers, it’s a festival’s flexibility to react to where ticket sales are and create a scalable cost model that can significantly improve its chances in a competitive marketplace.