Measuring the success of place & town centre events
By Alison Bowcott-McGrath
“Events” is a broad term encompassing everything from a carnival to a Christmas Light Switch On, a town centre food fayre or market to a high end Fashion Show held in a shopping centre. Events are delivered in different ways by different people such as volunteers, councils, BIDs or shopping centres themselves. Some have huge budgets whilst others are delivered on a shoestring.
But irrespective of the event or the budget how can you be sure that they are delivering the value that you need?
Whether funded by BIDs, partnerships or businesses, events are a burden on financial and human resources without always being able to demonstrate tangible returns on investment.
We know that they can create a “feel-good factor,” but how long does this last, how do you as event organisers measure this and how does that translate into more sales for businesses that are in town 365 days per year?
What is often overlooked, right from the start, is establishing the purpose and desired outcomes for an event – if you don’t know what you are setting out to achieve, how will you know if an event was a success or not?
Equally important is understanding whether our town and city centres can be sustainable without events.
Fundamentally, events draw people to them, they are a destination in their own right, and when they take place at the centres of our communities, they are footfall and sales generators for nearby businesses (provided those businesses choose to take advantage of the opportunity offered to them!). For many, many places, the retail offer alone is not sufficient to draw visitors into a centre, especially with online, out of town and city centre retail offering such compelling reasons to go elsewhere.
But events provide an opportunity for centres to compete with alternative destinations, often drawing in first-time visitors, people from a wider catchment area and local residents who have become disassociated with their place.
In fact, it is fair to say that consumers now expect to see activity in their centres – not every day or even every week, but certainly on occasions throughout the year. As consumers ourselves, we want experiences, not just the retail offer. We want to feel connected to the places we live in, to feel proud of them. We want human interactions and face to face contact in an ever more digital world. And we want to share our positive experiences with friends, family and our social media networks (as well, of course, as our negative experiences!).
And what about the other benefits that events can bring? From providing showcase or market testing opportunities for local artisans and start-ups to developing partnerships. These have real and lasting value to simply encouraging healthier lifestyles by getting people out into town rather than sat on their couches, there are a myriad of good reasons for places to put on events.
There are tangible outputs that events bring: increased dwell time leads inevitably to increased spend and satisfaction. Events can bring with them overnight visitors who are known to spend up to four times more than day visitors and, of course, car parks are fuller!
So, in my opinion, events in town and city centres are absolutely vital. But are they sustainable? Well, I would argue that they can and even should be, with a little entrepreneurial spirit. Sponsorship opportunities abound, as do other routes to commercialisation – something we are only too aware of – and any income that events draw in can and should be reinvested into ensuring that future events are more sustainable, more effective and more colourful than previous ones.
I am excited to be part of a project that is currently studying, amongst other items, the impact of events in centres. For more information please check out the IPM – Institute of Place Management website http://blog.placemanagement.org/2016/08/03/big/
With any project, evaluation and measurement will demonstrate an event’s success and therefore sustainability. It is increasingly straightforward to monitor footfall during events (this is only one part of the jigsaw) and this can be used as a benchmark. Both qualitative and quantitative feedback is essential and, again, is easier than ever to compile: but without doing this, or having an anticipated measure of success beforehand, you won’t know if any events you put on are either successful or sustainable.
Alison would be very pleased to hear from you on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0161 850 1400