Many Hands Make Light Work: Best Practices for Quality Downtown Event Programming
By Jason Gleason
Executive Director, Montclair Center BID
June 21, 2023
Downtown events play a vital role in enhancing the vibrancy and economic vitality of main streets across the world. Organizing successful events requires careful planning, collaboration, and effective marketing strategies. One of my favorite adages my grandfather repeated ad nauseam, usually when he wanted us grandkids to help with yard work, was, “Many Hands Make Light Work!” This certainly holds true when it comes to event programming, emphasizing the importance of involving various stakeholders in the ownership and decision-making process. This article explores the best practices for quality downtown event programming, emphasizing the benefits of inclusivity, collaboration, and empowering partners to leverage their social media channels for viral marketing success.
1. Establishing Clear Objectives:
Before launching into event planning, it is essential to define clear objectives. What kind of event do you want to organize in the first place? Identifying the purpose, target audience, and desired outcomes of the event will help guide decision-making and ensure that all involved parties are aligned with the event’s goals. Clearly defined objectives also facilitate effective communication and enable partners to contribute their expertise toward achieving the desired outcomes.
2. Embrace Collaborative & Inclusive Decision Making:
When planning a downtown event, involving diverse stakeholders can enhance creativity, generate innovative ideas, and ensure a sense of shared ownership. By bringing together representatives from local businesses, non-profits, community organizations, government entities, and residents, you can tap into a wide range of perspectives, skills, and resources. This inclusive and collaborative approach fosters a sense of ownership and community pride, leading to more successful and engaging events. Engaging stakeholders early and often in the planning process allows for better decision-making, as each participant brings unique expertise to the table.
3. Delegate Responsibilities:
Once the decision-making group is formed, delegate specific responsibilities to each member based on their strengths and expertise. This ensures that tasks are distributed effectively and prevents a single person from becoming overwhelmed. Assign clear roles, establish deadlines, and encourage accountability. Regular communication and progress updates will help keep everyone on track and provide opportunities for feedback and adjustments as needed.
4. Effective Communication & Collaboration Platforms:
Establishing effective communication channels ensures seamless coordination and collaboration among stakeholders. Utilizing technology, such as project management tools, email lists, and shared online platforms, enables streamlined information sharing, task assignment, and progress tracking. Regular meetings, workshops, and feedback sessions provide opportunities for open dialogue, brainstorming, and resolving challenges collectively.
5. Find & Foster Creative Synergies:
Encourage partnerships between local businesses, non-profit organizations, and artists to enhance the overall experience of the event. Collaborations can involve joint promotions, co-branded activities, or sponsorships that align with the event’s theme. By leveraging the unique offerings of each partner, you create a more diverse and dynamic event that attracts a larger audience. Strong partnerships also provide opportunities for shared marketing efforts and increased exposure. Nurturing these partnerships beyond the event fosters long-term community engagement and collaboration.
6. Empower Your Partners for Marketing Success:
Effective marketing is crucial to generating buzz and attracting a wide audience to downtown events. Provide cohesive marketing materials to empower your partners, sponsors, and vendors to effectively promote the event on their respective social media channels. Develop a comprehensive media kit with well-crafted copy, high-quality images, and engaging videos. The materials should align with the event’s branding and capture its essence. By offering ready-to-use content, you make it easier for participants to spread the word, increasing the event’s visibility and potential for going viral.
Pro Tip: Highlighting your vendors and sponsors from the events marketing platforms in unique ways other than just the typical logo and name acknowledgment goes a long way! Maybe try a quick video reel of your sponsors explaining why they decided to sponsor your event. Not only does it make your sponsors feel extra appreciated, but people love seeing other people telling their stories more than they like looking at logos. It’s just more effective marketing. Win-Win.
7. Volunteer Engagement & Recognition:
Volunteers play a pivotal role in the success of downtown events. By recruiting and engaging a diverse group of volunteers, event organizers can tap into a wide range of skills, perspectives, and experiences. Providing comprehensive training, clear roles and responsibilities, and meaningful recognition for volunteers’ contributions foster a sense of ownership, loyalty, and long-term commitment. Recognizing volunteers publicly through social media and event platforms showcases their dedication and encourages others to get involved.
8. Continuous Evaluation & Improvement:
Post-event evaluation is crucial for identifying strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Gathering feedback from stakeholders, participants, and attendees helps identify successes and areas for improvement. Analyzing data on attendance, social media reach, and economic impact provides insights into the event’s effectiveness and allows organizers to make data-driven decisions for future events. Continuous improvement ensures that downtown events remain relevant, engaging, and impactful.
Quality downtown event programming requires a collaborative and inclusive approach. Embracing the concept that “many hands make light work,” involving stakeholders in the decision-making process, and empowering partners to leverage their social media channels for viral marketing leads to more vibrant and successful events. By establishing clear objectives, building strong partnerships, and fostering effective communication, event organizers can create memorable experiences that contribute to the growth and vitality of main streets. Emphasizing volunteer engagement, recognition, and continuous evaluation ensures that future events build upon past successes and fulfill the evolving needs and expectations of the community. With these best practices in place, downtown events will continue to thrive and create lasting positive impacts for all involved.
After serving on the Board of Directors of the Montclair Center BID from January 2016 to July 2019, including a short stint as President, Jason took over as Executive Director, where he proudly serves the organization. In his tenure as Director, Jason steadfastly helped guide the district through the COVID-19 pandemic in which the Montclair Center BID emerged as one of the few downtowns in NJ to have a significant net positive business and job growth all three years. In his tenure, he has also secured over $1M in grants for the organization, overseen a major downtown strategic planning initiative, and implemented new programs such as the ArtConnects mural program, Fresh Air Montclair with Studio Montclair, and the award-winning Pop Goes the Plaza with DesignShed. Jason also helped transform the BID’s event programming by building partnerships with Jazz House Kids and Out Montclair to bring the Montclair Jazz Festival and Montclair Pride Festival to Montclair Center, among others.