Making your event a winner

Susan Witehira, regional events strategy co-ordinator
Susan Witehira, regional events strategy co-ordinator

Marlborough District Council events co-ordinator Susie Witehira reviews her first year in the role...

Marlborough is getting a great reputation for hosting wonderful events and festivals but few people would be aware of the huge amount of hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

After a year in the new role of events co-ordinator, I can only take my hat off to the individuals and teams who make these things happen.

I've learnt that things are more likely to go smoothly when organisers start early and don't under-estimate the time and detail involved.

It often comes as a shock to discover how much paperwork has to be done before any kind of event can be staged because, where the public is involved, various legislative requirements come into force and the council is obliged to make sure all those requirements are met.

For a first-time event organiser, the first issue to come to grips with is that most events need resource consent. There's a reason for this. Laws like the Resource Management Act and the Building Act give weight to things like public safety, the environment and the rights of neighbours and the consent process is there to address those matters.

But I've discovered that many people don't realise that, mistakenly believing the rules don't apply if an event is on private property or way out in the country.

The reality is that if you have any kind of commercial event - where admission is charged, or that might affect neighbours such as music after 10pm - then you are likely to need resource consent. In fact, a consent is usually required if there is any kind of environmental impact; not just noise, but sanitary issues (you may need portaloos) or traffic volumes.

An event that generates any extra traffic (which will be virtually every successful event) will require a traffic management plan as part of the consent process because of the question of public safety. This is a pretty obvious issue if you're trying to marshal large numbers of cars off a busy main highway.

The level of detail required in a traffic plan will depend on the numbers and the location involved.

There's a cost involved but sometimes it's possible to find sponsorship or help to prepare this document.

The Building Act means you can't just whip up a makeshift stage or a platform - once again it's a public safety issue and any structure is likely to require a building consent.

Serving food and alcohol brings particular responsibilities; obviously hygiene standards must be met, fresh water provided, sufficient toilets made available for the numbers being catered for and a liquor licence must be acquired.

Complying with all the requirements is necessary to get that licence. It's also important to note that, with the new alcohol reforms, a special licence takes 20 working days to process. A resource consent, depending on the circumstances, can take from 20 to 70 working days.

The cost of getting the necessary consents and licences sometimes comes as a shock to people but the charges simply cover the cost of delivering the consent regime. Provision is made to waive costs for some community and non-profit events but they must still fulfil all the consent requirements.

It may seem overwhelming but there are many experienced event organisers in our community, both volunteers and professionals, and getting their help can make all the difference.

Where people go wrong is when they have a great idea and think they can throw it all together in six weeks.

The last - but crucial - point when events can fail is with marketing and promotion. By the time exhausted organisers see their big date approaching they can be running out of steam. But after all the hard work that's gone into organisation, it's important to keep promoting the event right up until the day.

There are lots of free promotion channels, like event calendars and social media, and keeping that marketing momentum going until the last possible moment can determine whether or not your event will succeed.

The best advice I can give is to seek all the advice you can find as early as possible.

It doesn't cost anything to come and have a chat with me or to see the council's duty planner (about resource consents) or someone from Marlborough Roads (regarding traffic management plans).

Talking first can save a lot of time and stress.

Marlborough already offers some terrific events but there's space on the calendar for more - and I'd encourage anyone with exciting ideas to tap into all possible free resources and support, sponsorship and expertise in event planning.

The Marlborough Express