Five Steps For a Successful Festival


Remember that vibrant festival experience from days long ago? Great music, delicious food, colourful entertainment, being outdoors with a crowd taking in the brilliant sunshine. Festivals are ever-popular, and even more so now that we are back from years of “no gathering land.” We all miss getting together to enjoy a shared experience – it is an essential part of being human.

Large corporations and small businesses alike love to align with successful festivals especially if they know your audience, but they may not be able to provide all the dollars you need. So how do you ensure your festival’s bottom line stays in the black?

You will need to analyze the value of your property and the opportunities available to add to your revenue streams in diverse ways. An essential element to determine the perceived value of the event is using stats from past years: attendance, anecdotal comments, formal evaluations, and other.

  1. If the festival celebrates an aspect of your community – civic pride for a national event celebration, a municipal anniversary, or a heritage fair – it could be eligible for new funding through the various orders of government. Check online for grants through ministries and administrations, and then check again – new grants are continually being posted to encourage festival planner to continue engaging people to assemble and building back up your audience and your festival offerings.
  2. Is the festival accessible? Barrier-free activities for attendees are attractive to corporations especially if the festival addresses an overarching social condition. Develop an opportunity for free ticket give-aways through local media or other avenues for exclusive access.
  3. Do you have or can you identify a charity partner that aligns with your festival? Think about ways to connect with new audiences. For instance, a music festival might provide an opportunity for a local yoga studio to hold a free yoga class at the festival site during off hours to attract new customers to experience the festival site. Perhaps young musicians can perform between the professional performer’s set, meet artists backstage, or attend a song writing workshop by one of the performers at a different location. Presenting this to a corporate partner could help to offset the performer’s fees.
  4. Partnerships partnership partnerships! Ask your suppliers to provide a portion of their services gratis in exchange for on-site advertising and aligning their name with a successful event. Think about other companies and see how they might like to be involved in the event. Even if it is something that you would never think you would need – evaluate item donations that can be used to recognize volunteers, or as an incentive for other elements of the festival.
  5. Media is expensive! Review your advertising budget and divide it proportionally for the advertising requirements – radio, print, social, TV. Reach out to all the local media outlets, provide them with a reasonable honourarium amount, and ask what they can provide on top of the advertising from their marketing budget. Can you provide them with interviews for a certain artist to offset some of the costs? Can you provide them with free space on the festival site to reach out to your festival goers directly?

Of course, the caution is to ensure you can live up to all your commitments without compromising your values and purpose, and the contributions do not end up costing you more resources than you anticipate. Consider staff time as an opportunity cost as they will be unable to fulfil other elements of their duties. It is important to weigh the balance of free to what it costs you to maintain it.


Kim Ali is owner of On Purpose Events in Saskatoon. She currently leads the team for three major annual events – the Nutrien Fireworks Festival, Nutrien WinterShines and is race director for the Saskatchewan Marathon.


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