Pivot, plan, prepare, pre-empt: Queensland’s leading event manager on how events are vital to recovery of economy and culture

As restrictions relax and Queensland gets back to business, one of the state’s leading event manager Wendy Lacey from TLC Events Co says thinking it is business as usual will be a big mistake:

Queensland has always been famous for events, from the multi-awarded Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers which currently holds the national Australian Tourism Award title for Best Festival, to Paniyiri Greek Festival, the Chinchilla Melon Festival to James St Food & Wine Trail and picnics in parks, pop-ups and more.  Events celebrate community, showcase local artists, operators and flavours, encourage travel, and generate economic impact and joy. It’s no wonder governments and communities are looking to events to revitalise the Queensland economy and culture. But this must be done with care and knowledge.

It’s absolutely vital that event managers, and everyone included in staging events, pivot, plan, prepare and pre-empt all possible scenarios to ensure their event is safe in every way. This is a major line-in-the-sand-moment for events nationally, and Queensland will lead the way. In 2020 and beyond, it will only take one unsafe event to threaten our Covid status. Everyone is keen to see the industry come back and is hungry for work, but potentially jeopardising the event returning in the future is a big NO. Staging events from now on calls for careful consideration of financials – increased resources will be needed, teams will need additional training, attendance levels will most likely be less, or spread over more days, investment will be needed in digital technology, programming will need an innovative rethink. Every plan, method and protocol used pre-COVID needs resetting. It’s not business as usual by any stretch of any imagination!

She said 2021 in Brisbane would be a different year again, and that regional Queensland should take advantage of its uniqueness:

We believe a number of events will decide to not proceed and others will introduce different offerings.  Until we have a COVID-19 vaccine and consumer confidence starts to rebuild, some people will decide to not to attend larger gatherings, particularly older demographics. If that is your target market, then work is needed on creating offerings on a smaller scale where people feel comfortable. People are looking for locations and events to attend, without the mass crowds, and those who typically head overseas throughout the year, are now on the search for amazing domestic experiences. Now is the time for regional Queensland events to shine.

Ever generous with counsel, Wendy has provided advice for events and event managers below, to ensure events not just survive, but thrive in a post-COVID Queensland (see below).

Led by Wendy Lacey, TLC Events Co has been a leader spanning 30 years of experience, not only producing major events but also mentoring and consulting for a variety of events in regional and city centres throughout Queensland. TLC Events Co is famed for the events they deliver, from 200 people to 250,000 people.

Think of Queensland’s most iconic events, and they all have the TLC touch – Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, Paniyiri Greek Festival, Sweet Days Hot Nights Festival, Goomeri Pumpkin Festival, Cunnamulla Fella Festival, Eat Street Northshore, Second Gateway Bridge Opening, Story Bridge 75th, Valley Fiesta, Executive Building Open Day, Fish Lane Festival, James St Food & Wine Trail and more.

From the streets of Brisbane’s CBD, to the dusty roads of Outback Queensland, TLC is embedded in the lifeblood of events, committed to celebrating local regions, characters, experiences and most importantly, potential.

And in what has been a devastating year for the event industry, TLC forges forward – working with regions in forward planning, creating COVID Safe planning for the industry and clients, providing pivot counsel for city-based events, and mentoring smaller operators.

TLC is a leader in sustainability event management, and has transitioned their major clients to be more kind to the environment. All their events are now run in a sustainable way, with full compliance to compostable packaging and beverages linked to the Container for Change program. In fact, TLC event managed Paniyiri 2019 to be the first major event in Queensland to implement these onsite changes, a project used as a case study for future planning by local government.

TOP 10 tips for companies/events/organisations/regions planning events for 2020

1. Stay current with all Government information on COVID planning for events in 2021; it is ever changing and it’s important during planning that you are developing ideas that are compliant.

2. Restrictions will continue to change for some time yet and we all need to be creating several scenarios for clients, working on different layouts, different formats for entertainment, most likely less attendance numbers and increased training of all those on site relating to COVID – particularly vendors, cleaning, security and operational teams.

3. Integration of digital technology – make cashless payments available at every outlet onsite & introduce options for online ticketing only.

4. Increased resources may be required to manage the COVID requirements – ensure an understanding in how this will financially impact the viability of the event, in conjunction with less attendance numbers.

5. Adequate training of staff, particularly around COVID requirements – most of these procedures are new and so extra time and care needs to be allocated to ensuring everyone understands their responsibility.

6. Patrons need to have a clear idea of what to expect once they arrive. Marketing of what is on offer and how the event will be proceeding is extremely important to manage these expectations.

7. Developing innovative programming ideas and collectively re-thinking what makes the event unique and why people are attending is crucial. Creating more boutique experiences that draw on those key components will be important in keeping people loyal.

8. We have developed the successful drive thru dessert concept at Eat Street Northshore, which ran over the last 3 weekends.  Feedback shows that people found the drive through the venue was part of the excitement, and it generated lots of social media, as a unique experience. It has been a great opportunity to still give people a taste of Eat Street while the venue remains closed.  The operational planning for this concept was equally important, thinking about the consumer and their experience:

    • How can we keep them entertained from the moment they enter?
    • How can we manage queuing and wait times?
    • How many staff at each location to ensure every stage is streamlined?

9. We believe events that will run as ‘digital only’ may struggle unless we go back to a lockdown situation. As Queensland moves forward, people want to experience their events live and in person again. This is what keeps the event alive. However, including a ‘digital’ element and add-on for those who perhaps cannot attend, is an exciting new option that is now current for many, and wasn’t before Covid. Any digital aspects of an event need to be well rehearsed and engaging to keep people’s attention/interest – it is easy to ‘switch off’ a digital event. Without strong marketing of all concepts, we don’t believe experiences will work – if people don’t know about something, they won’t attend/engage whether it be virtual or in real life!

More information can be found at https://www.tlceventsco.com.au/

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of AussieTheatre.com. She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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