By Janice Kleinschmidt
When you’re working in the business of festivals and fairs, you’re more often dealing with a volunteer than with a dedicated staff person, says Pete Van de Putte, of the International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA). With other events, you may be dealing with promoters, producers or others who count the event as their primary business. But because many festivals are volunteer-run, event companies have to think differently about how they approach the relationship with the client. For festivals, Van de Putte says, “You’re dealing with a committee chair. You’re in a position of having to educate your customer.” This is especially true when the main contact is different from who chaired the event the prior year.
“If there is a single word that goes to the heart of what festivals are, it’s creativity,” says Van de Putte. “Find creative ways to meet the needs of your customers.” Too often, he notes, festivals start thinking about decorations and signage too late in the game. Van de Putte recommends that tent companies bring solutions to their customers early in the process, so they can talk to their customers up front about what they might need. “One thing about festivals people is they network like crazy,” he says. “When they find someone that is taking care of them, they want everyone to know about it. They are passionate about sharing every secret they’ve got.”
Van de Putte recommends making a commitment to do business with festivals people, and then making sure to enjoy it. “You have to look forward to the headaches,” he says.