At SSD, our summers are usually jam-packed with event coverage and social media promotion. However, COVID caused last year’s events to look very different. We took time to regroup and find ways to help clients adapt. How do you change an event for 200+ people to an online format? What would a fundraising event or festival look like virtually? How can people stay connected, support local businesses and stay safe?

Our team met virtually with Dean Strober, a festival planning pro and friend of the firm, to get some answers and insights on how to navigate event planning during a pandemic.

Dean founded Blue River Productions in 1995 with the goal of bringing together a full range of on-brand elements for an overall memorable experience for people. If you’ve ever been to Chocolate and Coffee Fest, Lavender in the Village, Brain Freeze Ice Cream Fest, Food on a Stick Fest or New Mexico Wine Fest, you know what we’re talking about! We have had the pleasure of helping promote and cover these events across social media over the years. It’s safe to say our team has just as much fun capturing the FOMO for content as the guests at each of these festivals.  

 

How did the pandemic affect your work processes?

Event planning came to a halt last year as plans were put on hold due to lockdowns across the nation. Festival planners like Dean had to reevaluate their whole process. 

“For festivals, it’s usually one unified experience. Everything had to be broken down into the individual components whether that was the educational components, shopping, live music or experiences. What can you still monetize? What is important? What is affordable? How can we deliver experiences that are true to the brand?”

Furthermore, how can we create events for as many people as possible, as safely as possible? This is when the team at Blue River Productions started to find ways to create inclusive events, support their local vendors and offer alternative ways for people to connect in a safe way. 

 

How should event planners incorporate virtual elements into their 2021 strategy?

Using e-commerce platforms to sell product bundles nationwide was a great way for Blue River Productions to support vendors and local businesses who rely on the exposure from festivals. E-commerce helped expand brand awareness as people from all over the country (some of which who had never heard of the festival before) purchased bundles. But what about the performers, demonstrations or other live experience vendors? We asked Dean if they were thinking about incorporating virtual or streaming elements for these types of vendors even when in-person events come back. He advised that they are “very actively laying out hybrid models.”

By combining product bundles with live experiences, they are planning to still give guests the options to support local, experience specific elements of the festival and to do so at their own comfort level. Live streaming and Zoom access gives more people a safe, front row seat while still letting them engage in real time.  

What advice would you give to safely plan for 2021?

Nobody really knows what events will look like this summer, but there are still ways to plan ahead for multiple scenarios. For example, use a combination of in-person and virtual elements to reach people at their comfort level while still delivering the core experience to all guests. Dean incorporated this when planning Cider Fest last year. They were able to bring in multiple senses of the experience and mix up the mundane Zoom meetings all while keeping guests safe. 

“Zoom fatigue has been very real. We had to find ways to make it different from a business conference. For the Cider Festival, it was hosted fully online. What worked was that we created pre-produced content, but guests were still able to ask questions to brew makers in real-time.” 

Moving forward, let’s adapt in the safest way possible. As restrictions change, attendance will still take some time to come back. But, people are still craving togetherness. No matter how you decide to adapt, we’re in this together! Our last words of advice from Dean: Let’s do it! Let’s do it wisely, let’s do it safely. Adapt.

When you’re ready to promote in person, virtual or hybrid events, the SSD team is here to help with content development, advertising, event coverage and video production.