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#1 – What is Tour Routing?
Joey: Welcome to our first podcast, number one. I’m lucky to have Michael Blue with us. He is the president and founder of Events Locker. Michael, thanks for coming on.
Michael: Thanks for having me.
Joey: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we’ll get started right away, here. What our topic today will be: what do you mean by tour routing? What is tour routing? This will be targeted for brands in agencies. And, first, I would love to hear what your background is, Michael. Why don’t you go ahead?
Michael: Sure. So, first of all, I guess I’ve worked in experiential marketing for over a decade now and I’ve done everything from a brand ambassador job, on up to kind of an overall tour producer, producing national programs in most major markets, everything from your guerilla activation programs, to your what we call lifestyle intercepts – we’ll get into that a little bit later – and public events, where you’re bringing in a global tour to a booked event space and having an activation where the public can come and find you at an event. So, I’ve been doing that for several years now, really developing a specialization in that area and it’s been a great time. And my company, we’ve decided to kind of take that to a new level and offer something different and really focus only on being able to actually help companies with the tour routing. And by tour routing, I mean anything to do with scheduling and actually creating what we call the route of a mobile tour or activation, but it doesn’t just mean mobile tourist. It could be one-off pop-up jobs, it could be special events, anything to do, essentially, when you’re interacting with the consumer and bringing a brand or a program to be able to actually meet those consumers in their day-to-day life, or at a weekend event, or in a guerilla format, where you’re just literally grabbing them off the street.
Joey: Awesome. I’m excited to dive into this with you. So, just some other things, so you’re from Philly?
Michael: I am, yeah. I’m a big Eagles fan and I love cheesesteaks, but I made my way to the West Coast and I’m now based in Los Angeles.
Joey: Awesome. Why did you make the trip to LA? More work out there, or just better weather? [Laughter]
Michael: Sure. [Laughter] So, I originally got hooked on the show Entourage and wanted to take a stab at the whole movie industry.
Michael: So, I shot out here, bounced to a couple agencies, ended up working for Lion’s Gate Studios for a year, doing some production with that. And then, I kind of just fell back into marketing and experiential work, so every time I would be between jobs at a studio, I would end up falling into these tours, and I would have a ton of fun and have a really great time on the tours. Can you hear me okay?
Joey: I can hear you great, yes. No problem.
Michael: All right. They’re weed whacking outside my office right now. [laughter] Right now. So, yeah, so I had a great time with that and a great time in the film industry, but I really found that I had more of a passion for experiential marketing and every time I would be in between film jobs, I would have a lot more fun and have a lot more success with the marketing, so it just seemed like a natural way to go.
Joey: So, are you an actor?
Michael: I am not an actor, no.
Michael: I am much more comfortable behind the camera on the production side. I did a little directing, did a little writing, but now, it’s really focused completely on the marketing business and that’s been really fun and exciting, getting into the kind of the text side with our website business and then also the consulting’s been really fun. I’m working with some great agencies out there.
Joey: Awesome. Very cool. And so, just a quick background with you, I know you started out as a brand ambassador. Tell me about the brand ambassador and then your transition into your new company Events Locker.
Michael: Sure, so, yeah, I originally started out – and it must’ve been over 10 years ago – I was at a job fair at my alma mater, which is an American university in DC, and there’s this company Red Tag Marketing there, recruiting at the job fair, offering part-time for – I don’t even know if they called it brand ambassadors back then. They said it was modeling, giving out Coke – this is so long ago that it was, like, when Coke Zero was first launched and first a thing. So, that’s how I got into the business. I ended up working for them part-time while I was in college. And then, after college, I realized it was something that could be more than just brand ambassador. It was something that could actually be a career. So, I did some tours and produced some what we call market manager stuff in DC, and then, when I shot out to LA, there was something I could pick up on the side and in between, as most people do when they’re at a brand ambassador level, working with staff and agencies, stuff like that, in between chasing the dream. And then, when the dream became experiential marketing, it was, “Okay, how do I make this an actual career?” I worked with on experiential agency for several years and then really moved from just producing, from being a national tour manager to them, to also actually producing the routing and scheduling, and I found out I really had a passion for that. Not only the research and having fun kind of bringing these events to life and making it even more my baby, but also getting to have fun haggling and negotiating with these events. Hammering them down on price and closing the deals and all that public fun stuff that goes with it.
Joey: Cool. Well, it sounds like you have a great background and a lot of experience. I’m excited to dive in our topic today. We’re going to be talking – like I mentioned earlier – more about the tour routing. And the major thing that, in this industry, it’s – there’s just a lot of moving parts and Michael and I have talked a little bit offline, but obviously we’re going to talk about it here a little bit more deeper, but let’s first start off – because I know we’re going to have agencies and brands listening on this show – talk more about the tour routing and, first off, what is tour routing?
Michael: Sure. When I say tour routing, I mean anything to do with actually bringing an event from a contract that says, “We’ve committed to doing 20 activation days,” or whatever it is, to real life. So, what that means, from a routing standpoint, is figuring out what cities you’re going to first and foremost, what major markets. And then, within that, determining – if it wasn’t pre-determined – how many of those days should be a guerilla day versus a public event versus a what’s called a lifestyle intercept. So, routing, scheduling, figuring out where you’re going to go, when you’re going to do it, how many, how many days, and then also actually choosing the events that you’re going to go to, choosing the event sites. And, by the way, when I say lifestyle intercept, what I mean is anything that’s not a public scheduled community event. So, lifestyle intercept is going to a retail mall, going to a boardwalk, going to a beach, going to a park and kind of interaction and intercepting consumers when they’re going about their daily business, but instead of guerilla, you’re actually paying whatever property that is in an event for you to be there as well, so you can do your full setup, you don’t have to worry about getting kicked out, permitting is all in shape, so you’re covered there. So, that’s what a lifestyle intercept is. But routing is everything to do with actually choosing where you’re going to go, how you’re going to do it, and then actually coming in and booking the locations and getting everything to roll so that your field team can show up and set up.
Joey: Got you. Cool. So, to even begin the tour routing, I know there’s obviously some pieces that need to be figured out upfront. When you are – say, we’re going to looking at next year, for 2017. Obviously, I think target audience would be the first goal. Would that be something that you would focus on first, to get things going?
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. You’re going to want to determine, first and foremost – a lot of brands and clients, when they come to your, they’re going to say, “Hey, we know what we want to do. We want to go to a surf event,” or, “We want to go to yoga,” or something like that. Those could be great ideas, but you really want to get them to back up from that and determine their target audience, their target demographic first. And that means not only the age, but what they do, what their lifestyle is like, if they’re into natural things, what their income is, if they have kids, family, ethnicity, all that kind of stuff factors in. And then, once you back away from that, you’ll find that a lot of events that client hasn’t even thought of might be as good or even a better fit than what they thought would be top of mind as their favorite events to hit. So, you should definitely not be afraid to suggest different types of events that you feel fit the target demographic, and then also don’t be afraid to say, “Hey, we know you said you wanted to go to this, but, based on your demographic, we found this isn’t the case.” If it’s the case that it’s not a good fit, don’t be afraid to tell your client, because, at the end of the day, if they say, “Go to a yoga event,” and it ends up being a bust, they’re going to blame you.
Joey: Got you, got you. And, in my experience working with scheduling and really trying to figure out where we should be going, the big concern too is the timing. How much time do you feel work be good to begin this process of the scheduling?
Michael: Sure, so talking about the lead-time to a program?
Michael: Great question. So, we’ve done it – my company – unfortunately, a lot of times when you engage with new clients is when they call us panicking, because it’s something they kind of forgot and pushed off until the last second. I guess, fortunately for us, unfortunately for them. But, ideally, you want to give yourself as much time as possible, up to even two months – two to three months to start looking at your events for a given program. We all know in the industry that that doesn’t always happen, and contracts are going to get pushed off and signed at the last minute, until everything’s finally ready to pull the trigger. But, best case scenario, you have at least two months out, or to ten weeks out, from an event, from an activation day to start planning what you’re going to do and then finding events for that. Worst-case scenario, you can pull it together if you have to. We’ve done things where it’s literally been, “Hey, we want to do an event in a week and a half. We just finally got our activations base together. Can you pull it?” And you can get lucky there, but you definitely don’t have the choices as far as what events are actually going to be able to accommodate you, and then usually end up paying a lot more to do it, because you have to squeeze it in as a sponsor level, instead of being able to do a vendor level. Whether you want the whole sponsorship package or not, they’re basically like, “It’s not worth it for us to deal with you as a vendor, but if you pay this giant fee, then we’ll squeeze you in.” And we’ve done that, and clients have been very happy, but ultimately, it’s a lot more stressful on everyone. It costs the agency more money. Sometimes they can recruit the clients, sometimes they can’t. And that’s the hectic part. So, ideally, give yourself plenty of lead-time. That way, you can cover all your options, and if something doesn’t work out, you have flexibility to go to a different event.
Joey: Do these events fill up quickly? I mean, obviously, we’ve just talked about last minute events to get in and obviously those events, I’m sure, will love to take your money any way they can. But have you noticed that some events just fill up quicker than others?
Michael: Absolutely. The best events out there will fill up three, four months in advance for the vendor spaces sometimes, because they get returning vendors and they lock them in even a year ahead. So, the very best events, and a lot of the ones that have been going for a long time will fill up. The spaces you’re going to be able to squeeze into are newer events that haven’t filled up their vendors yet, events that had a down year the previous year and have to kind of recover, or brand new events that are really just trying to get their footing. So, those are the – typically the stuff you’re going to be able to do last minute. But, that being said, you never know. There’s always a chance that you can squeeze in, but you’re not guaranteed, so the farther ahead you can start actually booking your event space, the more selection and the better quality program you’re going to be able to deliver for a client.
Joey: Awesome, yeah. No, that’s great. That’s great advice. It’s really hard to get these – to do a really good job on these events last minute. I mean, even just from an execution staffing side that we do, our problem is making sure that we can execute it correctly, or even having the right person on board to be on site and make it happen. And it’s – I think the other thing too people don’t realize is you can have everything ready, but there’s a lot of things out of your control, such as shipping. I mean, if – sometimes, shipping can just not show up and they’re – it screws up your whole event.
Joey: So, plenty of time is key. So, regarding budgets and kind of looking at the event space, what’s an average, for an activation offer? It varies in sizes but can you kind of touch on that?
Michael: Yeah, sure. So, typically, we – it really is all across the board. It’s hard to – there’s no average industry fee per day. It really depends on the client, how many layers of clients are between. So, if it’s directly the brand wanting to do the event, or if it’s a brand, then a PR company, then a marketing agency, and then maybe a consultant on the outside, it kind of shrinks the budget down a lot of times by the endgame. But it can be anywhere from $300 to $400 for a 10 by 10 space, we’ll say, all the way up to $2000 for a 10 by 10 space, so it really just depends on the client and how much money they’re putting behind it, in terms of the build out. So, if you have a client that has a custom build out with four LCD TVs and some kind of 3D goggle effect in the booth, if they spent $20 000, $30 000 on their build out, they’re going to want to – actually, that’s a small number. If they spend $50 000 to $60 000, $80 000 on their build out, they’re going to want to spent $1000 a day at least to make sure that they have prime event space and the best events and a ton of people always coming through. If it’s a company that’s a little more grassroots and they spend as low as $10 000 maybe, $15 000 on their build out – and by build out, by the way, I just mean all of our activation elements, all of the interactive stuff for – if it’s games, if it’s premiums, any brand name, any backdrops, all that kind of stuff that fill out a 10 by 10 space. That’s what I mean by a footprint and elements. It’s pretty common, but who knows, maybe we all it something different in different parts of the world.
Michael: So, if they spend only that kind of money, then chances are, they’re on a tighter budget, and they’re going to say, “Hey, you know what? We really only have maybe 600 a day,” and that’s going to limit what you can do and you have to get way ahead, like I mentioned before, because you’re going to have to do vendor spaces versus sponsorships. You won’t get any social media perks or anything. It’s going to be barebones, “Here’s the space.” So, a good number to plan for, though, I guess is more important, right? So, if you can target a number – for a 10 by 10 space, if you can target somewhere around $800 to $1200, that gives you enough room to work with that you can get into some decent, decent space. And that’s for a 10 by 10. If you’re talking a bigger program that has maybe a 10 by 20 space, you really want to try to get around $1500 to $2500 per day. Well, for overall activation. And that’s not necessarily per day, right? That could be for an event, too. So, it is all flexible. It depends what your scope is. If you have a requirement, in terms of attendees coming into an event, which maybe we’ll get to a little bit later, but it all depends, is unfortunately the answer, but it makes it fun.
Joey: Got you. Cool. So, regarding the types of activations, there’s a lot of different ones out there. Public events, the lifestyle, and obviously there’s just the lower level, just the guerilla outside. Can you kind of touch on those?
Michael: The last part broke up a bit.
Joey: The guerilla marketing.
Michael: Sure, sure. So, what guerilla – and that could be a whole other topic for another day, but in a nut shell, guerilla is just when you don’t have any planned event, your client is okay with risking getting kicked out of a given area, and you’re just kind of on the fly going to show up to a neighborhood, show up to an event, basically crash it and try to cannibalize some of their attendance on the way in or on the way out or just kind of intercept people and hope that you don’t get kicked out by the local authorities for giving out your band. And the scenario that works best is going to be your pre-packaged sampling, so if you don’t have any actual hot or prepped food, if you’re doing a food product. If you’re doing a non-food product, if you’re just doing flyering and stuff like that, those are the easiest ways to get away with it. But I’ve seen some crazy things as well, and actually one of my first gigs at a college in DC was managing this natural foods program and we actually did a whole pop-up farmer’s market, where we rolled up at the box pot guerilla style and would roll up outside of all the major DC metro stations and set up this whole farmer’s market with big carts and this whole operation baskets and the whole thing. We never got kicked out. We just got away with it. So, it all depends on the city and then how good you are at negotiating with the local authorities and kind of like greasing their palms with some samples for them a lot of time helps and goes a long way. So, that’s guerrilla in a nutshell, but there’s a whole – there’s a way to do it that’s right and there’s a way to do it where you get kicked out, so that – something I’d love to get into another time would be how to really design a guerrilla day that’s foolproof and that gives you backup options and how to really guide your team, because a lot of marketing companies make the mistake of saying, “Hey, we’re going to do a guerrilla. Great. Spend Six hours in this area.” And what your BAs do, unfortunately, at the end level a lot of times is just dump the product in 30 minutes, grab their pics and then head home and clock out six hours later. So, you’re not really going to get an ROI on that that you would if you could build an accountable program that actually guided them throughout the day, which is actually something that my company’s s built a specialization in.
Joey: Got you. And, well, in regarding guerrilla too, we do a lot at Air Fresh Marketing, a lot of guerrilla, because it’s something I’m not a big fan of.
Joey: It’s something that we do. I think we’re going to be slowing down on it just because, first, you want to make sure you have that call to action, too, because it’s literally a shot in the dark and, like you said, we can talk more about that another day, but I just had a quick story too. We did some guerrilla marketing. I won’t say the client but it was up in Boston. And the client did not want to pay to go into a beer festival. So, they wanted – and it was cold. I think it was March of this year and it was freezing in Boston and we have four brand ambassadors. And all these were outside was a line of maybe 20 or 30 people. Well, literally within minutes of us going there, we were kicked out. My team was kicked out, cussed out, and at first, whenever we do these guerrilla, we always want to make sure we have another option. And our client was upset because this was the entire focus. They even had cards printed out with this beer festival on it. So, it’s something we – prepping for these type of events are so key. I mean, if you’re going to decide to go the guerrilla route, there still needs to be prepping. You can’t just hand out cards if you want to get an ROI. You want to make sure that you have that call-to-action. You have something very simple that they can either log on, on an app, or, like you said, a food product is probably a better thing to hand out to really push it.
Michael: Absolutely. I think that’s key. [Laughter] Another horror story I’ve heard is – I don’t know the brand specifically, but it’s kind of a whisper down the lane. So, a company was doing guerrilla in San Francisco and they didn’t research where they were going with their guerrilla. They ended up guerrilla marketing directly outside of the San Francisco permitting office, so as you can imagine, they didn’t last very long.
Joey: Oh, wow! [Laughter]
Michael: Someone was running out for an errand and goes, “What are you guys doing here? Oh, do you have a permit? Well, this is the permitting office. Guess what? You’re done.” [Laughter] So, that was pretty – so, always being aware of the surroundings or neighborhood, and the local permitting authorities is kind of something people don’t think about a lot but it’s important.
Joey: Right. Oh, absolutely. It’s crazy. I mean, and again, there’s – and that’s why there’s companies like us right now, because there’s just so many moving parts a part of this. And, obviously, that’s why we’re having a podcast, because there is just so much to discuss and so much to go through and so much to think about, because it’s – if you don’t prep and make sure you have all the pieces in place, it’s just a waste of money at the end of the day.
Michael: Absolutely. And, hey, while we’re ripping on guerrilla, one other thing that companies need to do is make sure that their client understands that guerrilla has to be Flexible and improvisational by nature, right? So, a lot of times I think some marketing companies will tend to oversell guerrilla as still being a sure thing, and they don’t do – so, when it happens, like you said, when they get kicked out, all the sudden it’s crisis and they don’t understand why they’re getting kicked out. They really – it’s just hugely important to better communicate to the end client, “This is not a sure thing. We’re definitely trying to save you money because your budget doesn’t allow for us to permit here or buy into the event, so we may have to get kicked out, and then make sure your program is designed to accommodate that,” right?
Joey: Absolutely. Well, and then all the other factors that you don’t put in place. Weather. Weather will affect it. If it’s raining, well, there’s no one going to be outside. You’re going to have to go find a mall. You’re going to have to find some indoor places. And the thing with guerrilla, you can’t just – especially with what we do – we just can’t cancel programs just to cancel them.
Joey: I mean, we’ve already paid for the people to be on site, and it’s always good to have some kind of backup. It’s very key for success on a guerrilla. Now, if you’re at an event, that’s something else that you can focus on, and you obviously have your vendor at an event and you can work with the vet site on how things go. But, guerrilla, you want to make sure that you have your ducks in a row for that, for sure.
Joey: Cool! Well, again, I think we’ll probably have another talk about guerrilla, because guerrilla’s a whole other topic that we can get into, and it – obviously right now is probably not the time consuming on it, but let’s kind of reverse. Let’s get back to the tour routing. Let’s talk about when you do have a vehicle and you want to travel between cities, let’s talk a little more about that on how much time you want to give between cities. I mean, how do you track that? If you have one event ending on a Sunday, and the next one’s on a Thursday, but you have to drive across the country, how do you work with that, Michael?
Michael: Sure. So, the most important thing to really factor into that that’s overlooked is probably the human factor, right? So, you have to realize that your people aren’t machines and if you – for example, if you say, “Oh, they can just drive 13 hours on this day and then have a 5:00AM load in the next day,” you’re probably not going to get the best performance out of your management team. So, it’s important to kind of track how far they are away between cities when it’s a multi-city tour. Give them enough time to get a proper night’s sleep and rest before having to load in the next day and also realize that, for a lot of the bigger events, when you’re scheduling event space and booking at these public events, the load in is required a day before and it would be a nightmare to try to coordinate the morning of and to get special privileges for that. And we’ve all done it, and I’ve done it before, but sometimes it doesn’t work and they say, “You have to load in the day before,” and it’s just something to not – because we’ve had programs that we’ve come into late in the game and they haven’t realized this. And another important thing, by the way, not only to do with load in days, is your logistics. So, if you’re picking up product from a depot or something like that, sample product in the city for an event. So, a lot of times – to back up, when you’re going from a city to city tour, if it’s food product or something we’re giving out a high number of samples, you’re picking up to – because you obviously can’t stock for the whole national tour on the first week. So, you’re reloading at the depots, and the depots don’t run off-hours. A lot of the times, they run business hours. So, not only do you have to make sure you get into the city in time to load in, a day before or whenever your schedule load in time is for an event, but you have to allow yourself time before load in to be able to go and pick up all of your product, load it up onto your vehicle, if it’s a vehicle-based tour, and then get it over to the event site in time for load in and make sure all those hours sync up. So, ideally, you really want to be in a city at least two days before a scheduled event, but at the minimum, you want to be early morning – early in the day before an event so you can make your load in time and hit your product pickups.
Joey: Got you. Cool. And then another thing that just came to mind too is, you know, beginning a tour, you typically have a new footprint that’s being built and, I guess kind of the lead in from – like you were saying about getting set up, typically, you would want to get practice setting that up and seeing how long it takes at the core – the first city or, like, the training city. But, I guess, how much – I mean, and again, it depends on different types of the footprints of how set the – large and how, size, if you need to hire labor staff and things like that. But, typically, how long do these events allow for load in?
Michael: Sure. They usually give you a nice chunk of time for load in. And, again, load in is different from set up. So, you usually have a load in window. And it depends on the event. An event that’s big like the Long Beach Grand Prix, for example, where there’s 700 vendors inside and then another 300 outside, they have a specific – they have – you can load in up to three days before the event and be required and you have a slot. If you miss your slot, you’re stuck waiting there for 12 hours until they get another – happen to squeeze you in, or something. So, it depends on the event, but I would say, typically, leave yourself – for a bigger event, and a bigger event, I’m talking about 100 or more vendors – a two-hour window, right? Just to be able to get in, navigate through traffic, check in, get your wristbands, all that stuff, and actually get to your spot. And then you’re going to want another however long it takes for you to set up. After your initial city, I think after you set up the event one or two times, your setup time probably reduces by 25% to 30%, so you can do it a little quicker, so kind of keep that in mind as you go through and plan everything. But you’re going to want to leave yourself a cushion. And then you can always adjust it and it’ll really just before the load in day and then the first day getting there to do a hard setup. They’re going to give a cushion, but you don’t want to discount that, right? And then, actually, going back to your business, that ties in for BA scheduling too, because there’s a lot of times when the tour managers will schedule the BAs 15 minutes before they actually activate for the day, trying to save money. And then, all the sudden, they’re stuck opening an hour and a half late, because they realize they couldn’t set up everything by themselves in time.
Joey: Right, right. No, that runs in a whole bunch of times. Especially really know what are the event hours and actually knowing the schedule is very key. And sometimes, they don’t even let people with certain wristbands into the show. Say, if they’re just booth staff, they’re not allowed in sometimes. And another question would be: say, we have a tight turnaround to get to that next event. How are these events with breaking down early? How does that work, and do they allow it?
Michael: Sure. So, typically, at lifestyle intercepts – which, again, most common case for that is going to be some client at a retail property – you’re not allowed to load out. You can break down, potentially. Sometimes you can’t, sometimes you can. It really depends on the individual property, and that’ll have to be something that you work out in your contract ahead of time, which is why we’ll get to this way later, but contract details are extremely important for things like that to clarify what you’re allowed to do. But you can sometimes do a soft breakdown, but you usually can’t load out because of a safety issue. So, you’re not going to be able to bring in a vehicle and actually load up everything until the fire marshals clear the area of most pedestrian traffic and allow vehicles to come on. It’s an insurance thing and it’s a safety thing. So, unfortunately, that usually keeps you from being able to physically bring in a vehicle to load out before an event. If it’s a lifestyle intercept, because the mall closes at 9:00, 10:00 at night, of it’s an event, until the actual event is schedule to be done. And even sometimes at those events, it’s an hour or two hours after until you’re cleared to come on with the truck to load out your event sets. You’ve got to factor that in. That being said, if you’re in a pinch, one thing I would recommend is ask if you can hand trek your equipment off, right? So, you can potentially – if you’re at a festival or something and you have to get out and you specific it ahead of time, depending on – and it’s, again, it’s going to be at the whim of the festival, but if you negotiate ahead of time, you could potentially break down your booth and actually hand carry it out to your vendor parking area and then get out that way.
Joey: Got you, got you. Yeah, I know that can be a nerve-racking time, especially when you’re traveling or if it’s on a busy – traffic’s just crazy and it’s – these days, it can just be so long for our tour managers and obviously, you want to give them as much time as possible and just understanding the communication and the tour. I think it’s very key to make sure that whoever is on site obviously knows what they’re doing, but too, in constant communication with the home office of whoever is controlling these tours, for sure. So, why don’t we transition kind of into the events side, kind of the selection process. I think that’s another topic that could be – we might probably run into another [laughter] podcast on, and I think – just even thinking about it, especially, you’re thinking about your brand of what city – first, I’ll have – you kind of go through it, but kind of figure out what cities you want to go through, but what type of events? Where do you even begin with this?
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. So, the best place to begin is a conversation with your client and one that works both ways. One that’s not just them telling you where they want to go, but you giving feedback asked on your past experience, and then even additional feedback after you do some preliminary research. So, after you figure out the cities you want to go, you figure out the number of days they have budget for, all those factors, you’re going to start actually looking at events. And what you’re going to determine is based on a lot of factors. First and foremost is the target demographic to figure out and nail down with your client. A lot of client brands will come at you and say, “Hey, we know we want to go to farmer’s markets, “ or, “We know we want to go to surf events.” Your first response should be like, “Okay, that sounds great, and I’m going to check it and make sure that those events are actually fitting the demographic and the need that you’re trying to do.” Because, ultimately, if you go into an event that your client forces down your throat and it doesn’t work out, it’s still going to be your fault and they’re going to say, “Well, you’re an expert. You should’ve known to tell me that you’d recommend something else.” It happens all the time. And maybe they have a great idea and it is a good fit, but the key thing is to verify it on your side to cover yourself and make sure that you give them the ROI that they’re looking for, right? So, after you figure out your target demographic, then you want to figure out if they have a minimum total attendance that you need for the event. For example, if you’re going to a farmer’s market, it could sound great, it could be a perfect demographic, and you get to the market and they could average 200 people, as a new farmer’s market, a day, in a four-hour shift. 200 people, the chance to intercept with is not going to make a typical client very happy. So, you want to figure out your minimum event threshold, as far as the attendance, the actual people going through the booth. One thing that events trick you a lot of the time with is they’ll goose their attendance numbers up in a couple of ways, and one of them is if it’s event near or at a beach, they’ll lump in the total beach attendance number into their event number, so they may have an event that actually gets 2000, 3000 people coming through, and they’ll claim the total beach population for the day, which is like 100 000. And they’ll charge for that amount too.
Joey: Wow. [Laughter]
Michael: So, you have to be really careful. [Laughter] And this happens a lot at beach events. The best way to tell that is to check photos and videos. If you see huge crowds, wide shots, packed, right in front of their stage, chances are that their numbers are pretty accurate. If it’s like a sprinkling of people and they go, “Oh, yeah, we just did a bad job of photos last year,” that should be a huge warning sign for you, because their job is to make money on their event most of the times, and if they can’t take a good photo of a crowd once during the whole course of the event, it should give you a little bit of pause. But, anyway, so definitely attendance and demographics. And then, after that, you have to look at how it matches up with your daily event space budget. And again, remember, if you’re going off of it, if you figured out your total budget per day, if it’s a two or three day event, a lot of times, you can hit those higher fee levels for the bigger events, because it still averages out to an acceptable number. And the other things you want to include that clients hear, I feel like brands are getting more and more excited about, is the social media perks, the tie-ins, the logos on the website, the e-mail blasts are probably one of the most powerful tools, because it’s actually getting forced on – it’s getting more proactively engaged on the consumers on your behalf. And by that, I mean, once you book an event, usually there’s all these add-ons and perks. Some of them are included, depending on how big of a footprint you’re getting. Some of them you have to buy. But they could be things such as logos on the tickets, if it’s a ticketed event, logos on banners for the event on entryways, all these kind of things, on flyers, on schedules, are things that could help. And your client may or may not love them, and they may or may not have even thought of including them in the budget. So, there are two things there. One is it’s definitely good to ask, because they could pump up your budget and then give you guys more money on the end. And then, two is that a lot of them want those tie-ins and then they’ll forget it until after the fact, or they’ll see someone else there that’s doing it and they’ll say, “Why aren’t we doing this?” So, it’s worth bringing up. But those are things to consider. The perks that come along with your event space that are easily affordable. The previous year sponsors again to qualify at the event. If this is an event and then they have the two sponsors from last year, or like their company, the people producing the event, are listed as a sponsor. And then, Joe – Italian – his mom has an Italian restaurant, and then chances are it’s probably not a major event and it’s probably not going to have good marketing value for you. But if they have brands like Toyota, McDonald’s, Wells Fargo, then it’s probably a much more respectable event and they’re able to get big sponsor dollars, so they produce the audience that they’re claiming. What else to talk about? Yeah, so, again, photos are great. If they have a video, it serves the role that it can actually show people in motion and enjoying and interacting with not only the stage, but in the vendor area, which is key. Those are all really great things to validate your choices with, with the event selection.
Joey: Got you. No, that’s some great value. I really appreciate that. One other thing is these event fees, you were kind of discussing a little earlier. I know it’s different. I guess, how do they – how does the event fees work? I guess, is it a combination of their total attendance and how many people showed up in previous years? How does that all work?
Michael: You know what? That’s a great question. There’s really no science behind it at all. They, at the beginning of every year, after every festival, when they’re planning the event – you’re talking about how do the events determine how much to charge, right?
Joey: Right, right. Because, when I look at these events, some are just absolutely ridiculous and some are reasonable. [Laughter]
Michael: Absolutely. And the difference is however much they think they can get. If they think that they can get $2000 for a 10 by 10 booth, like Expo West, something like that, they’re going to do it. And it’s basically how many people are willing to buy from the previous year? If they sell out, they’re probably going to raise their prices next year and just keep doing that until they stop selling out.
Joey: Can you negotiate fees with them?
Michael: Yeah, sure, you can. One of the biggest misnomers is that you have to be a price taker. And one of the reasons my company does so well and does so much business is that a lot of times, the people that are booking your events at a company at an agency are coordinator level people who are pretty new out of college, or don’t have a ton of experience in the business world, and they just either don’t necessarily have the experience and the confidence to ask and to be kind of a firm negotiator, of they just have never been taught from their mentors or whatever the case may be, that they can ask for a price reduction.
Joey: True, true.
Michael: So, it doesn’t even occur to a lot of people, because these events do their best to make it look like they’re hard set prices. It’s not the coordinator’s fault. The whole view of the event is, “We want to make this look like it’s a firm thing and you have to take the price.” In the reality, it depends on the event. In a lot of cases, you can negotiate, and I’ve been able to negotiate fees as high as like 45% off, 50% off list price just by asking and saying, “Well, this is our budget. If you can’t make it work for this, we just can’t do it.” And all the sudden, they’ll be like, “Okay, we’ll do it.” So, it really depends on how much space they have left, how far they are to sold out, right? So, how much demand and it depends on kind of how you position yourself as a tour and how you set yourselves up for it. It depends on the brand, too. If they’ve heard of a huge brand and you’re representing a brand like Apple or something, they’re going to assume you have – even if you don’t have a lot of money, they’re going to assume you have a ton of money in your pockets and give you a ridiculously high price, versus if you’re like a Mom & Pop startup shop, they usually try to work with you and help you out.
Michael: But you can absolutely ask for a reduced price and negotiate when you’re talking about the higher-level budgets, right? If you’re coming in as a local vendor, trying to squeeze in for $200 or $300 bucks, you’re a risk taker. But when you get to those actual sponsor packages for the bigger footprints, which is your 10 by 20s, 20 by 20s and bigger, you have a lot more wiggle than you would think and you can also get perks often thrown in on top of that to sweeten the deal. So, even though they may say, “No, we can’t give you a break on price,” they may offer some sponsorship perks and some shout outs and public service – public announcements from the main stage to really pump your brand up that’ll make your client feel that you’re giving them a ton more value for the same amount of money.
Joey: Got you. I like what I’m hearing. If you don’t ask, you won’t know.[Laughter] So, they key learning here is definitely ask about negotiating fees.
Joey: That’s huge. Now, regarding deposits, how do most of these events work? Do they want 100% upfront, or do you – do they work with a deposit system?
Michael: Most of the time, 90% of the time, events work where you have to pay them in full before you’re allowed to come in and load in for the event, because they know how hard it is to chase down money after you’ve already come and gone to the event and you’re onto the next one. So, yeah, I would say 90% of the time, you either have to pay to even reserve your spot, at least 50% typically. You have to pay some – oh, I’ve seen it lower. But minimum usually is about, if it’s a bigger event, $500 to reserve the spot to around 50%. But some of the events require 100% just to reserve it in the first place and put you on the map. So, it all depends on the event. It’s either when you reserve your space or before loading you owe full payment.
Joey: What about cancellations?
Michael: Yeah. Again, it depends on the event. It’s hugely important to read the fine print of your contract and to understand what the cancellation policy is going in. Some of the events are as extreme as zero cancellation, and even if it’s inclement weather, they just credit you towards next year or reschedule the event date if they have one and require you to be obligated to that. Some of the events are so cool that you can let them know up to minimum 30 days before the event to cancel. And, again, it makes sense to get way ahead of the game of scheduling because then if you have to change the tour or something like that, you have your 30-day window to cancel. But if you book something and you’re only three weeks out to begin with, then it’s basically non-refundable and if your client changes their mind, then you’re stuck and they’re going to have to eat the cost.
Joey: Got you. Cool.
Michael: So, it all depends. It’s really important to read the terms and really important to clarify if something happens, what the cancellation policy is ahead of time.
Joey: Perfect. And that’s on anything, too. But, for sure, for these events, you don’t want to be out a lot of money and not realizing what happened. Another huge thing that always comes up is the insurance and permitting. I know every city and state are different. Why don’t you touch on that?
Michael: Sure. So, the permitting and most of the time, the biggest hassles for that are going to be for construction or for food permitting. And, by construction permitting, I mean certain cities require you to get a construction permit if you’re going to set up a big setup at the event. If it’s over a certain amount of feet high or if it’s a certain weight. And that involves going through the city planning office for a temporary structure and a lot of times it also involves being required to hire union reps to be able to build the structure for you. For example, in Chicago, I was on a tour that was a mobile baggage claim tour and we had – we set up basically what was an airport baggage claim, like you’d see in an airport, but we set it up in public areas all around the country and, in Chicago, we actually had to hire union guys to come in and construct – I think there was carpenter union, to come in and actually set up the event for us to comply with the laws. So, that was a huge hassle, but it’s something that can be done if you know it ahead of time and you plan for it and you get your permits. Because if you don’t realize this may be required and you try to show up, you may be in trouble with the local union which is always a bad idea, and you may also get ticketed and fined and shut down and not be allowed to do the events. So, it’s hugely important to check what permits are required when you’re coming into either a public event or a lifestyle intercept. And, on the health-permitting note, there’s always – it’s typically assigned to an actual health – a county versus a city or state, right? So, typically, it’s called the environmental health department of a given county. So, when you’re Googling and searching for permits and search environmental health in that city, and that’ll get you the right department. And it’s usually for food – what we call a TFF permit, which is a temporary food facility permit. And that can be for anything from a 10 by 10 tent to an actual food truck. It can still get under the TFF. You don’t need a full food truck license for that. And that’s important when you’re going from city to city and from state to state, because if you’re within one state, usually if it’s a food truck, you’ll just rent a food truck with the license already, and you won’t have to worry about it. But if it’s for a multi-state tour, you’re going to have to go county by county and figure out what permit you’re going to need, and give yourself a lead time for that too, because if you wait until the week of, you’re going to end up getting stuck with a bunch of late fees and expedite fees. But it’s important to understand what you’re doing if you’re sampling, for example, I’ll just digress a little bit into that. And if it’s a prep situation or a prepackaged situation, you’ve got to get the right permit for it ahead of time. And then, with the insurance side of it, it’s just a matter of making sure – a lot of times the event will throw the insurance requirements somewhere into the contract or something and not really bring it to attention, and it’s important to ask for an example, certificate of insurance, or COI, so that you can literally just show that. Usually it’s either your experiential agency or sometimes it’s the end client that’s creating those for you, and you want to be able to give them a specific example and then tell them exactly what they need to put into the document, because insurance people are – usually just blow through these things. If you don’t give them exactly what they need, there’s going to be typos and it’s going to waste time – your time and the client’s time, going back and forth with multiple iterations just to get the wording right. And, by that, I mean that additionally insured and the certificate holder are the two entities you want to make sure you clarify. Get the specific name and it usually requires some type of physical address for the certificate holder.
Joey: Awesome. And that’s great info. And whoever’s listening, too, we’re going to have show notes after the show. We’ll have it on this page when we do have this up, so we’ll break this down for you a little bit easier so you can see. And, regarding the permits, especially if you’re doing a food tour, you brought up a great point, just making sure that you know the laws and regulations of each city, because it sounds like every city and state and even county is different. Is that right?
Michael: Yeah, exactly. Every – and it varies a ridiculous amount. For example, in Orange County, if you are sampling in anything that’s open food, you have to have a full screen all around, basically 360, and you can only serve it through a six-inch window in the front of the structure, right? Otherwise, you literally get shut down and they just make you stop right away and they’re super crazy. Other counties, they don’t even care. You can serve raw meat on the street out of a pile of dirt and they’re great.
Joey: Got you. [Laughter]
Michael: [laughter] It all depends.
Joey: Awesome. So, I guess, then, the last thing here kind of for – well, not the last thing, but kind of what we’re thinking is just the confirming logistics and kind of a run a show document. Do you – how do you put something like that together?
Michael: Absolutely. So, the best way to keep yourself from having to wake up at 5:30 in the morning when your field manager calls you in a panic and says, “Wait, here’s my contact. Are we supposed to load in? What time? What’s going on?” Create a nice, easy, what we call a run a show report, or run a show document, for the event. And some of these I’ve seen are better than others out there, but ideally, you want to have all of your load in information, all of your onsite contact. A lot of times, the load in contact for the event is going to be different from the actual space contact and the event overall – your booking contacts. You want to make sure you have the specific contact for whoever’s responsible for loading in that day. So, if your field manager gets there and they need help, they can contact them easily. You want to make sure that you specify the location where they’re going to vendor check-in if there is on, and their load in time and actual location and instructions. So, there are a lot of times you can’t just pull onto any street you want to, you have to drive onto an event. If it’s a public even, in a city, for example, where there’s a dozen blocks closed off, usually, there’s only one or two entry points that the fire marshal or police allow to actually get on site and you have to know what those are ahead of time. It’s hugely important. Otherwise, with as congested as these events are, I’ve seen situations where people will lose two hours just driving around the event in bumper-to-bumper traffic, trying to get past other vendors to find their load in spot. A great example of that is San Francisco’s Pride event. So, there are so many vendors for that and it’s so chaotic that if you don’t know your specific load in point, they only have a list of your vendor booth at one specific load in point. If you miss that, you’re in bumper-to-bumper traffic circling for another 50 minutes to come back around to it. So, it’s really important to get all that information ahead and lay it out for your field staff, and also to go over it with them before the event, so that they’re not looking at it for the first time the morning of, because they’re usually so crazy running around and on the road, they won’t even look at their loading info until the morning of the show a lot of times, unless you actually have a recap call or review call, so it’s great to set up all that and have great communication with your team. And then, also, to have your permit info on the – in the run a show. So, what I’ll do, when we create a run a show for our clients, is we have all the load in info, we have the actual activation times, we’ll have how many brand ambassadors they’re supposed to have, we’ll have the staffing agency contact, you know, “Call Joey at Air Fresh, there’s a problem with your BA showing up,” or something, so it’s all right on the show for them and then they can’t just – it’s like a foolproof plan for them to execute the program to their best ability.
Joey: Awesome. Do you have an example we could share on our show notes?
Michael: Yeah, we could do that.
Joey: Cool. And, regarding confirmation logistics, I think that’s a major factor, because things can change last minute, communication can change. Typically, before an event – I guess it’s a two-fold question. One is, how many days before would it be good to confirm at an event? And two, who do you recommend doing those call-ups? Is it the tour managing that’s heading out there, or is it someone at the home office?
Michael: Yeah, so I would have the – typically – it depends on the company, if they want to make the field manager responsible for that, but ultimately, the field manager is not beholden to the client like your internal staff is, so I would recommend that the actual account coordinator or account manager is the one that’s confirming all of the event details. And you want to do it before any load in starts for that event. So, if it’s a major festival, you want to do it the week before, because the whole week of the event, they’re going to be super hard to reach, and they’re being – the event producers are going to be scatterbrained and worried about setting up stages and stuff like that. They’re not going to have time to coordinate. So, you want to try to confirm everything at least a week before. Make sure you have an event space actually labeled out, and make sure they actually give you a map if available that pinpoints your location on their, so if they’re understaffed and you’re trying to load in an no one’s available the day of, you know right where you’re supposed to be anyway, and you can at least figure it out on your own.
Joey: Got you, got you. Well that’s a lot of great info. I really, really appreciate having you on my first show today and it’s just so exciting to talk to someone that has all this experience in this industry and, you know, giving the value to hopefully our listeners, and hopefully our listeners will listen and I know, Michael, I would love to have you on another show soon, as well.
Michael: That’d be great! It was a pleasure, Joey.
Joey: Awesome. And, before we leave, I definitely want to check really quick just your company. So, it’s Events Locker. What’s the URL for that?
Michael: It’s, yeah, EventsLocker.com. So, Events is plural, E-V-E-N-T-S, and then Locker is like a gym locker, so, L-O-C-K-E-R.com.
Joey: Cool. And we’ll have this, again, on the show notes. And I know that this is starting to take off for what you guys do. I think it’s amazing for the space. Do you want to chat really quickly about that?
Michael: Yeah, thank you. So, what we do is really two areas we work with companies. The first is as a consultant. So, we can do outsourced mobile tour routing or pop-ups tour routing. So, if you have a client that says, “Hey, I want to go to this city or this market for this many days over the summer or fall,” you can actually outsource that to us, and typically, we can do it for cheaper than he could do it internally as an agency. And we do that by really good, hard negotiations. We can typically save thousands and thousands of dollars on event fees over the course of our program. And we do it by just being very efficient. We have systems in place. We have a huge event database that we can pull from to just really streamline the research and the event selection process and handle all the contracting and permitting and logistics. All the crud that bogs down an internal staff is a lot cheaper to outsource to us than it is to a lot of times just do internally. So, that’s the way we help clients. We have about close to a dozen experiential agencies we work with across the country now. We work in all major markets. We’ve had a lot of fun and a lot of success with that, even though we’ve only been doing that for a little over a year now. And the other piece that we offer is kind of something brand new to the industry is EventsLocker.com, which is essentially going to be the AirBnB or the Expedia of booking your own events. So, you can go onto this site and you can search by a variety of different criteria, based on the attendance for an event, the event fees, or just kind of like type in whatever you want that’s related to an event all the – it’s an advanced search, just like you would do with Google, but it searches our huge events database. And all of these events are events that are publishing these really nice showcase pages to our website that are designed to give you, as the marketer, all the information you need and skip all the crud that’s meant for consumers on a typical event site, to be able to determine if you want to come into an event. So, you have a really clean page that shows you all the photos and videos for a given event. All the demographics, the attendance, all the other key info. And then it actually lists the event for the vendor pricing, and the sponsor pricing all right there. But we take it a step farther than anyone else out there and we actually let you add it to cart and book out. So, you can fill out your application, do everything online, put in your credit card info, and then that event gets a ping saying you’ve applied for the event, and then if they accept you into the event, then it goes through and it’s covered. So, we really tried to take what we do as consultants and eventually make a way to replace ourselves, more or less, [laughter] and to streamline the whole process so that eventually, we want the account coordinators to be able to book an entire tour in one sitting.
Joey: Awesome. Awesome. Well, that’s exciting. That’s something that this industry definitely needs. Taking a lot off agencies or brands side and having someone that’s reputable like you guys to take it over, I think that’s great, and yeah, definitely check out Events, with an S, Locker.com, and again, I’ll have that on the show notes. But, Michael, again, it was a pleasure, and thank you so much for jumping on the podcast.
Michael: All right, thank you!