WRITER: Graham Brown
PHOTOGRAPHER: Randy Larcombe
From the roar of the V8 Supercars, to the creativity and colour of the Festival of Arts, it is difficult to imagine life without events.
Each year, cities around the world promote a calendar of events to local residents and potential visitors, and often the first things you see when arriving at an airport are the eye-catching images of the region’s upcoming events. Prominence may be given to hallmark events, like the Tour Down Under, which are strongly associated with the destination, or mega events, like The Olympic Games, that have been won in competition with other cities. Success when bidding for an event is a measure of a city’s ability to compete internationally and a successful bid can create a sense of local pride.
Given the great variety of events, it should be relatively easy to find one that will suit your organisation and help achieve your objectives. Events offer great flexibility as they vary greatly in terms of size, duration, the location/s where they are held, the level of media interest they generate and, critically, the type of people they attract. They also offer different platforms or ways of working with the event. As a potential event partner, it is useful to ask:
- Can we sell products or services to the event organisers?
- Can the event be used to showcase our products?
- Can we gain exposure by sponsoring the event?
- Can we gain goodwill by supplying services or expertise to support the event?
- Can we use the event as an employee or consumer incentive?
- Can we build relationships by inviting guests to the event?
Events make our cities come alive and can be of significant economic value, creating income and jobs. However, gaining the full range of benefits offered by events can present many challenges. In the ‘Festival State’ of South Australia (SA), the extraordinary number of large-scale events scheduled across March (locally known as ‘Mad March’) has caused significant issues. In fact, it was only last year that SA experienced a controversial event clash between the V8 Supercar race and the Festival’s Adelaide Symphony Orchestra concert: for over 40 minutes, a 5000-strong concert crowd endured car noises infiltrating the performance, which resulted in a forced halt to the racing, and instigated an event taskforce to review how SA’s events might be better coordinated.
It is important to acknowledge that event organisers are preoccupied with ensuring that they meet their specific event objectives. They use resources within the host environment to add value to their event and justify the receipt of any public funds by seeking to demonstrate that the event has had a positive impact on the local economy. An emphasis is placed on measuring the economic impact of an event as an intervention after it has occurred.
Clearly, a more holistic, strategic approach to event management is required. It’s not just about coordinating events more cohesively; it’s also about identifying and taking advantage of business opportunities. Events need to be managed so they add value to the host environment by creating as many opportunities as possible for local residents. This requires long-term planning and would benefit from the operation of a centralised, strategic unit to facilitate communication among the many potential stakeholders. A key role of this unit would be to distribute timely information about how forthcoming events could be leveraged. Interestingly, such a body does not exist in SA; instead we have several organisations that are tasked with various elements of event coordination (or coordination for individual events) but not as a consolidated unit.
A sophisticated understanding of leveraging can create a wide range of opportunities for businesses, stemming from product sales to sponsorships. Aside from the more typical affiliations, there may also be opportunities to build partnerships, strengthen relations, or generate incentives or social initiatives.
Event sponsorship: a value-added insight
Sponsorship offers a visible association between a business and an event. As the sponsor for Team UniSA-Australia in the Tour Down Under, UniSA’s name is displayed throughout the state by cyclists and the media, thereby promoting brand recognition. The team’s success can be inspirational for fans who are associated with the University. UniSA’s direct support of an iconic and popular SA event can enhance perceptions that UniSA is a good corporate citizen, while also creating proud staff and students. Values shared by the host location, community, and the event may be transferred to the University, influencing brand equity.
Beyond the event, there is potential to add value to a host community, to improve the return on investment and maximise legacy (positive ‘staying-power’ of an event). Infrastructure, facilities, skills, business networks, celebration sites, artworks and local pride are all examples of legacy that can create lasting value for host communities. Understanding how legacy can add value to a community can be extremely profitable.
Indeed, it is interesting to note that most host cities miss opportunities to establish legacy, failing to take advantage of the enjoyment and camaraderie that accompany events as a leverageable social condition. For example, think of the goodwill that existed on the streets of London during the recent Olympic Games. Could this have been used to create more harmonious social relations? Similarly, for SA, the positive atmosphere generated from events like the Tour Down Under or the Fringe Festival could help strengthen SA’s brand and positioning—an appealing opportunity the state should seize.
Support for events in the local community is essential, as is ensuring that there is a good fit between the event and the local socio-cultural fabric—especially if it is synonymous with the host city. But just as important is the amount of cooperative planning and coordination among key players, and the likelihood of positive media coverage. All are useful for business to consider prior to looking for complementary event opportunities.
The key to effective leveraging is to identify relevant opportunities at an early stage in the planning process. This knowledge should be facilitated by event planners who should ensure timely and accurate information-sharing across all stakeholders. Adopting a sophisticated and integrated approach will ensure that events are used effectively and generate as many benefits as possible.
Graham Brown is a Professor of Tourism Management and a member of UniSA’s Centre for Tourism and Leisure Management
A leading international researcher in tourism and event management, he has consulted with organisations like the International Olympic Committee and the World Tourism Organisation.
> For more information, visit the Centre for Tourism and Leisure Management