How do you compete with Vegas? The answer is quite simple... You don't.
However, particularly if you're in neighboring North Las Vegas, you simply provide great special events.
But still, it's not so simple. It takes a lot of work, and most of that work is in preparation and having an extremely tight handle on your community's needs and demographics, from citizens to potential sponsors.
"The number one thing that I would recommend is to be honest with people. The biggest mistake we can make is misunderstanding what special event really means. A special event could be anything, so we can easily get caught up in thinking grandiose or too far outside the box. When I'm planning an event I'm really just trying to get the basic structures in place," explains Patrick Genovese, recreation programmer, special events for the City of North Las Vegas.
"Know who you're programming for and program accordingly. Sometimes it sounds so simple, but keeping it simple works. We beat our heads against the wall trying to come up with the most outlandish idea that will knock people's socks off but it doesn't always work that way.
"Something that might work in Seattle, like an eclectic jazz festival, might not work here. You have to separate your own personal tastes from what's actually best for the community, and that's a tough one for me."
Steps to Success
Obviously, the first step is the idea itself (given, of course, the necessary demographic homework has already been done. More on that a bit further down...). Then, plot what you intend to achieve and find the avenues you can use to get it done, such as who will sponsor the event, entertainers, infrastructure for the event, staffing, and so on.
Among these steps, says Genovese, make sure to have second and third options, which is particularly crucial if you're lining up entertainment.
Additionally, utilizing the power of delegation is especially critical to a successful event. Many is the burned-out director who tried to take on too much.
"You can't micromanage special events; there are just way too many things to track. You're putting the event's success in the hands of a lot of subordinate staff, so keeping the staff on task and keeping them focused on the importance of their task is the key to the success of everything," says Genovese.
"We have internal operations meetings where we bring everyone together to find out where they are in their steps. And if you're having trouble, swallow your pride and tell someone."
Genovese explains that a master list of all event components, who's responsible for those components and what the status is of each is kept on a large grease board in the office.
"Even though we break up huge parts of our events -- I handle all contracts, entertainment and media, and another co-worker might handle all operations and logistics while another handles marketing and so on -- we break it up and they have subordinate staff who works with them," explains Genovese.
"It also helps that if someone gets sick the other staff knows exactly what's going on. You need to be able to pick up the pieces for everyone. You have to have those clear and concise lines of communication. We try not to direct subordinate staff who are not assigned to us without going through their supervisor first. It can get tedious around event time, but it certainly makes for less confusion."
As the event approaches, things get more frenzied and meetings are held bi-weekly. Once the hopefully-successful event is over, the aftermath is just as important to ensure a successful event next time.
The end of each event includes a post-event analysis. Opinions are solicited from full-time staff in the recreation department who worked for the event, but don't work in the special events department, as well as other city employees who helped.
Those observations will be joined with customer comments. Genovese says the best way to get a good response rate on customer surveys is to couple it with a give-away.
North Las Vegas has partnered with Southwest Airlines to give away two round-trip airline tickets in a drawing held at the event.
The survey itself is typically limited to five carefully-crafted questions. The survey includes the point that the person filling it out and turning it in is registered to win the tickets.
"It's imperative to keep good records; record-keeping is absolutely critical when you're putting on events. It helps you not only evaluate for the next year, but it helps you track what people have told you and what they've promised you. It's critical to have that information from meeting to meeting. We have operations meetings where we have to get our entire city involved. At any given time we have meetings with 15 or 16 different representatives, whether it's police, fire, public works, utilities, and so on.
"Depending on who we're using for the event, we have to have cooperation from everyone, so having good internal public relations is huge."
Back to the Beginning
North Las Vegas holds 19 free events per year, including an Independence Day event, a fishing derby, a 10-K run, movies in the park, and the year's biggest, the Taste & Tunes Festival. Genovese reports that about 85 percent of the financing comes from sponsorships. About $300,000 is raised each year for the events.
"It's been a learning process over the years. We have some good multi-media presentations we've put together, which is a collage of our events, complete with music in the background," explains Genovese.
"It's a short, four-minute video presentation. We also put together demographic information with charts that explain the different levels of sponsorships available. We try to connect with as many businesses in North Las Vegas as possible, though that doesn't always happen. Many companies want to be involved in their community, but they don't know how. We offer a variety of packages that allow companies of all sizes to be involved. It takes a bit of savvy when you're sponsor-driving to know exactly who your market is, and what the sponsor's interest might be in that market, so knowing a little bit about the company -- the background and history -- matters."
Genovese points out that a lot of corporations have their marketing budgets divvied up for specific market segments. A beverage company, for instance, may have dollars earmarked for the Hispanic market. Knowing that, and knowing that demographics for an event skew Hispanic, the special events department is better able to sell the event to the potential sponsor.
"We go to our city's economic development department and we ask them to produce those numbers, neighborhood by neighborhood. Then we go to the radio stations and match up their demographics with ours. If they match up, and usually they do, it's a good fit for the event," says Genovese.
"I've always been a proponent of not forcing an event in an area where the demographic doesn't warrant it. There have been events that have flopped because that has happened. With the Taste & Tunes Festival we found that a Cinco De Mayo party on Friday night followed by an old-school R&B concert the night after is a huge success based on our large Hispanic and African-American demographics, and it was a slam dunk."
The events are envisioned as break-even. Some money is allocated from the city's enterprise fund, but by and large special events are self-supporting; neither profitable nor a loss-leader.
The special events department was able to procure a mobile stage from Stageline and sound equipment for its events from an enterprise fund, and Genovese says extra items such as these can make a big difference, when the funding is available.
"We use the stage for just about all of our events that have live music. The stage is invaluable, it's very cool, and it makes a great statement at your event," says Genovese.
Ultimately, says Genovese, "The challenge is to not be monotonous. Give the community new choices and interesting events. You can't be afraid to have an idea and go for it. If you feel strongly about it, it's probably going to be successful."