Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Event Studies and a Commentary on Research

I have been reading a new book by Donald Getz entitled Event Studies: Theory, research and policy for planned events (see Getz, 2007). It is a timely look at how event studies is a field whose time has really come. More than event management, it proposes the establishment of an all-encompassing field that researches planned events of all types, not just special events. Near the beginning, Getz points out the gap that exists between event practitioners (e.g. event managers, producers, planners, etc) and researchers/theorists (academics). Interestingly, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of practitioners do not even know that a "parallel universe" of researchers and academics exists in the field of event management and that a great deal of useful information can be obtained from these researchers for the design of better and more effective events (i.e. read better designed for ROI). As Getz notes, "it is probable that closing this gap will require direct intervention by professional associations in seeking research and training partnerships with academic institutions that specialize in event management and Event Studies."

As one who has a foot in both camps (I began as an event producer for 19 years and am now a writer with two recent books on the subject of event production), I do, though, have a bit of a bone to pick with the researchers, and I am by no means singling out Getz in this case, just the whole academic side of event research. I have noticed that most research is concerned almost exclusively with the impact of events on tourism. My problem with this is that the impetus for research should be driven by practitioners and not by academics. I am not convinced that this is now the case. The reason I state this is that having been on the practical side, I know that the entire industry is driven by practitioners and has been ever since its approximate birth some 25-odd years ago. The fact of life in the world of practitioners is that most of them work on corporate events and private events, not the high impact public hallmark and mega events that Getz and the academics would have us believe if we read their research. In fact, according to the 2006 Event Solutions magazine industry survey results, of the types of events respondents were involved in, 78% were corporate, 57% were social, and 45% were non-profit. These were the top three, and only 23% were involved in fairs and festivals. That means that practitioners need information about these as much or more than large tourist-oriented events.

Furthermore, all these practitioners generally look on themselves as SPECIAL event persons, not just event persons. Herein is some confusion in terminology. The academics tend to separate out special events as just another label and also tend to treat any special event as important only as long as it contributes to tourism, whereas those of us in the industry see it as the ONLY label, whether the event contributes to tourism or not. I believe, as I have stated before, that special events CAN be defined and can be divided up based on types and based on a list of defining characteristics of "specialness." All that I ask of Getz and the academics is that they take into consideration the importance of being industry-focused in their research.

Having gotten that off my chest, I do commend Getz on his thoughts about this new field. I particularly like his emphasis on and explanation of "foundation disciplines" such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, religious studies, performance studies, history, and such. These are essential background disciplines, at least a smattering of whose knowledge would greatly enhance the education of future practitioners. As he points out, there are almost limitless research possibilities from these disciplines in terms of their effects on and relationship to events - rather SPECIAL events. As practitioners, we would do well to open up the lines of communication with the academic side as soon as possible.


Getz, Donald. (2007) Event Studies: Theory, research and policy for planned events. Oxford: Elsevier Ltd.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Seeking a Definition of Special Events

At this point, there is no question that special events have taken on all aspects of an “industry” in that their organization and management are the underlying support for the employment of significant numbers of persons. This has been apparent since approximately the early 1980s, and it has been apparent in most first world countries. Whether this “industry” has yet become a “profession” similar to others like law, medicine, or engineering is still open to debate and not the subject of this blog. However, it is suggested by this author that if future professional entrance certification requirements based on advanced education can be tightened up and more rigorous practical application terms applied, it may eventually qualify to be in the same league. One of the first steps to achieving this status is to have a common understanding of exactly what special events are so that the “profession” understands its boundaries.

General Definitions

Let us begin trying to achieve this by looking at some current definitions. Goldblatt was one of the first to attempt a definition in his first book and again in his second (2002). He states, “A special event is a unique moment in time celebrated with ceremony and ritual to satisfy specific needs.” Getz (1997; p.4), on the other hand offers two definitions, from each of the event organizer’s and the guest’s point of view, respectively:

· “A special event is a one-time or infrequently occurring event outside normal programs or activities of the sponsoring or organizing body,” and
· “To the customer or guest, a special event is an opportunity for a leisure, social or cultural experience outside the normal range of choices or beyond everyday experience.”

Lastly, Jago and Shaw (1998) offer up individual definitions of events that have been categorized as to size and their impact on tourism (e.g. minor events, major events, hallmark events, mega-events, festivals) based on surveys of current literature and the use of specific terms.

There are several problems inherent with all these definitions. Goldblatt’s definition, while generally all-encompassing, does not place limits on the recurrence or duration of an event. For example, how would one differentiate between a regular season baseball game and a world series final; would either, both, or neither qualify as a special event? This definition also implies that special events are more celebratory than anything, the connotation being that they are of a festive nature only. This would possibly disqualify historic public executions and even present-day, high-level political meetings designed to discuss international emergencies. Getz’s definitions fail to place important boundaries on the defined events. For example, for an organizing body, by his definition a terrorist attack on the organization’s headquarters would qualify equally with the organization’s annual corporate retreat as being a special event. For a guest, although recognizing that an organization’s special event may not be one and the same, his definition fails to indicate whether the guest is a participant or an observer, nor does it recognize that there are other types of special events than just cultural and social, such as educational. Finally, Jago and Shaw’s definitions place too much emphasis on the tourism aspects of special events alone and ignore entirely the considerable legacy owed to the industry by historical special events. Perhaps their biggest failing, though, is their categorization by size rather than by type. This leads to inconsistency, for example, when considering the economic tourism impact of small, but highly lucrative private incentive events, and to the presumed elimination of minor special events as worthy of consideration in the study of event management.

Contrary to Jago and Shaw’s assertion (1998) that “it is unlikely that a single, all-embracing definition of special events can be developed,” I believe it can. This statement is based on extensive research of historical and modern rituals, celebrations, ceremonies, and spectacles across a wide variety of cultures and time periods. However, I do agree that it cannot be done by simple definition alone. The definition must be accompanied by a further examination and breakdown of the characteristics of “specialness.” I therefore offer up the following as a modified version of my first similar statement (Matthews, 2008):

“A special event is a gathering of human beings, generally lasting from a few hours to a few days, designed to celebrate, honor, discuss, sell, teach about, encourage, observe, or influence human endeavors.”

I believe this definition has several advantages over previous attempts. First, it places general boundaries on the duration of a special event, from a few hours to a few days. Certainly there are exceptions to this if one considers that such events as a World’s Fair can last for up to six months; however, the norm is a duration of no more than two weeks or so in the case of large, modern festivals, fairs, or conferences. Second, it acknowledges that special events are not restricted to festive celebrations but can encompass a variety of gatherings, serious or happy, and religious or secular, including meetings and conferences, expositions and trade shows, private and public special events, and events of various sizes. In so doing, it eliminates a direct relationship to tourism while still allowing its use in that industry, and it thus also recognizes the legacy of historical special events from a multiplicity of cultures. Lastly, it allows for the wide disparity of reasons for organizing and attending special events, without defining these from the restricted and specific viewpoints of organizer or guest.

As is obvious from the definition, the primary categorization method for special events that I prefer and that I believe to be the most logical is that of type rather than size. Why is this? I feel that organizing by size does not allow for the logical application of individual specialties within the industry. For example, if a hypothetical major event (defined by Jago and Shaw as “a large-scale special event that is high in status or prestige and attracts a large crowd and wide media attention”) such as the American Super Bowl football game is organized by a person with a professional special event certification, that does not mean that the same person is qualified to organize a major conference of similar proportions. Perhaps the best way to further illustrate the point is by way of examples from other professions. A civil engineer who has developed a reputation for designing bridges is not necessarily the right person to design a 70-storey skyscraper. The captain of a 2000-passenger ferry is probably not the right person to captain a 2000-passenger cruise ship. A neurosurgeon who performs a 3-hour operation on someone’s brain is definitely not the right person to perform a 3-hour operation on another person’s heart, and so on. The more logical approach to categorizing special events therefore appears to be by type, as this method follows the rapidly expanding division of responsibilities and certifications in the industry. It also permits the breakdown of different types into sub-categories based on size without any loss of their relationship to tourism. Before we discuss this method of categorization, however, we need to put the final touches on the definition of a special event.

The Characteristics of “Specialness”

The word “event” is overused. In our society it has come to mean almost anything that happens to us in going about our daily lives, and may include as diverse possibilities as an argument with our spouse, the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Only some, though, are “special,” and they are “special” in ways that differ according to our individual points of view. This was recognized by Getz in his definition of special events. The organizer, participant, and attendee or guest is each going to see a given event differently. Guests might very well consider an event “special” because they have planned on attending it for a long time. The key, however, is that the simple act of attending is the “special” part and not the event itself. Participants and organizers might not consider the same event special because it is simply their daily job. An example here might be a family going on holiday to Disneyland for two days. They consider the holiday to be a special event. However, for the organizers and participants of the daily parade at Disneyland, it is merely a job and it is done exactly the same way every day, thus making it a daily event, or more accurately, an attraction, but not a “special” event. To make this absolutely clear, let us attempt to add some more bounding characteristics to our previous definition of a special event, based on how the present industry perceives the events on which they work and also based on what history perceives as significant events. These then, are what turn an ordinary event into a “special event:”

- They must be of limited and fixed duration, typically hours or days at most.
- They must be a one-off or infrequent occurrence, typically monthly or annually at most.
- If they are part of a regular series, they must be an unusual component of the series.
- They must be unique.
- They must require one or more organizers.
- Their execution must be planned and controlled.
- They must conform to the definition of a special event.
- There must be a live audience other than the organizers present at the physical event location.

It’s easy to fit events with which we are familiar into this tidy definition and its boundaries. It is not, however, as easy to fit events that skirt the periphery, and that is the reason for the limiting characteristics. The signing of the peace treaties following World Wars I and II were special events, but were the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the Battle of the Atlantic, or Hiroshima? According to our definition, they could have been if one was only an observer. According to the limiting characteristics, they would not be because their executions were not controlled. Would an actual public execution in the 1700s be a special event? Yes, it probably would according to both our definition and our limiting characteristics, in that it is planned and the outcome is known. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Public executions were very much a part of society at that time and considered in some ways to be entertainment. Would a regular season hockey game compared to a Stanley Cup final game be a special event? By our limiting characteristics the regular season game would not be but the final would be. These are but a few examples of questionable cases but most can be placed in one or the other of special or just ordinary events using the definition and the limiting characteristics.


Getz, D. (1997). Event Management and Event Tourism. New York: Cognizant Communication Corporation.
Goldblatt, J. (2002). Special Events: Twenty-First Century Global Event Management. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Jago, Leo K. and Shaw, Robin N. (1998). Special Events: A Conceptual and Definitional Framework. Festival Management & Event Tourism, Vol.5. (pp. 21-32).
Matthews, D. (2008). Special Event Production: The Process. Oxford: Elsevier.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Compliance with Standards and Regulations

I ended the last blog stating that contractual compliance with existing standards and regulations is one way to improve risk management by event producers. Let's examine this more closely.

First, what are standards and regulations? Standards are generally specifications or guidelines that have been established by recognized national and international industry organizations called "standards development organizations" or SDOs. They typically pertain to the design and use of equipment. Such organizations include the Canadian Standards Association in Canada and the National Fire Protection Association in the USA. The content of standards may relate to products, processes, services, systems, or personnel. Examples of standards established by these organizations include the Canadian Electrical Code in Canada and the National Electrical Code in the USA. Similarly, other standards in such event production areas as rigging, audio, lighting, and staging, are drawn up by relevant organizations and given numbers and names.

Regulations, on the other hand, are simply standards that have been turned into law, either nationally or locally. Examples include personnel safety standards published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the USA or Workers' Compensation Boards in Canada.

Much of the content of standards and regulations pertains directly to special events. Herein lies the problem. Most event managers and producers have no idea that such standards and regulations exist, yet if they were followed because of contractual obligations, special event risk would be reduced in many areas. A typical example would be the standards pertaining to rigging which dictate how trussing must be designed for use in entertainment. To highlight the seriousness of ignorance, between 2002 and 2003, for example, four major stage and truss collapses occurred, including rigs set up for Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, South African president Mbeki, and Christian rock group Godstock. Although nobody was killed in any of these, in most cases the damage was in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and for some, a tour cancellation and continuing litigation.

Suffice it to say, I firmly believe that all special event managers and producers should be familiar with the standards and regulations pertaining to this industry, and to help alleviate potential risk in these areas, should contractually bind suppliers to adhere to all applicable standards and regulations in their specialties.

Monday, 1 October 2007

The Realities of Risk Management in Event Production

Of course we all believe in doing proper risk management for the events we produce or manage, the main four steps being identification, assessment, control, and monitoring. Good risk management theory would have us completing thorough risk assessments before each event we produce. But does this really happen? According to a 2007 industry survey by Event Solutions magazine, only 50% of the events planned by respondents had risk assessments completed. Why is this? Here are my thoughts.

Most event producers are the owners of small businesses and the production contracts on which they work are for relatively small events, such as corporate dinners, award shows, fundraising galas, and others. They are key members of a usually small event team that is faced with short lead times to prepare for the event, rather than the year or more lead times for public events with large event teams, such as festivals, parades, or sports. In short, they must concentrate on work that is directly related to making a profit, and to be blunt, gathering and evaluating risk data is not a task at the top of their priority list. Unless required by contract or by law, assessment is not done to the extent that risk management theory demands. Most producers do the minimum work necessary to execute the event.

Ironically, the responsibility areas of the producer are arguably the most hazardous of any in the event (e.g. staging, rigging, lighting, etc). Not only that, but competition and client demands regularly force producers to push the boundaries of safety in these already risky areas by creating new ways of presenting entertainment and new ways of allowing guests to participate in activities. This is not done at every event, but it is certainly done at enough events that it is of concern, and it is of concern to the insurance industry, already skittish because of regular event disasters around the globe.

There is an underlying current of “ego versus safety” within much of the technical community. According to Rick Smith of Riggit Services in Vancouver, Canada, seasoned technicians in fields such as rigging, lighting, audio, staging, and such are sometimes too ready to accept client demands because they like the challenge of creating something new in spite of the risks involved and standards that might otherwise dictate that it should not be done. In other words, they refuse to say NO to a client when safety might be compromised.

We are thus left with an impasse between risk management theory and the realities of event production, the quest for profit, and human nature. How can this impasse be broken? There are two answers. The first is education, which means that event managers and event producers have to understand in much more detail what comprises event production and what the risks are within the areas of event production, so they can at least ask the right questions and demand the right answers of suppliers. The second answer lies in compliance with existing standards and regulations, and that is a topic for later.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Something to Think About: What Really is a "Special Event?"

Isn't it a bit strange that the special events "industry" has only been in existence for about 25 or so years, yet what most of us would define as "special events" have been around since pre-historic times? I know this is not a question most people entering the industry ponder about very much, but it begs an answer because what has emerged in the industry is a mixed set of definitions and a lot of confusion about what is and is not a special event.

In my books and teaching, I have personally defined a special event as "a gathering of human beings, generally lasting from a few hours to a few days, and designed to celebrate, honor, sell, teach about, or observe human endeavors." This is my personal definition and it is intended to be as all-encompassing as possible. Dr. Joe Jeff Goldblatt, a pioneer in special events, has a similar definition, perhaps more general, when he says “a special event is a unique moment in time celebrated with ceremony and ritual to satisfy specific needs." Donald Getz, another Canadian educator, on the other hand, offers two definitions, from each of the event organizer’s and the guest’s point of view, respectively:

1. "A special event is a one-time or infrequently occurring event outside normal programs or activities of the sponsoring or organizing body,” and
2. To the customer or guest, a special event is an opportunity for a leisure, social or cultural experience outside the normal range of choices or beyond everyday experience."

Now, none of these definitions is inherently wrong or right; they just approach the subject slightly differently. Where we run into problems is when we try to state what is and is not a special event based only on these definitions, in other words, when we try to apply some degree of undefinable "specialness" to them.

Let's consider what this "specialness" is. Supposedly there must be some sort of uniqueness to events in terms of categorization and size, they must use one or more dedicated organizers, and they must somehow fit into a very limited scale of repetition. For example, is a weekly church service a special event or just the Christmas Eve service? Is a public hanging in the 1800s a special event even though many would say it is not a celebration per se (which many event practitioners might argue for)? Is a Rolling Stones concert a special event, even though it is one of many on a worldwide tour? Is a space shuttle launch and flight a special event even though it is not a typical celebration that we in the industry are used to? As you can see, these are not easily answered or universally agreed on.

Some academics such as Leo Jago and Robin Shaw from Australia, have tended to consider special events as only pertaining to tourism and to include large-scale "major" events, "hallmark" events, "mega-events," festivals, and minor events. Unfortunately, their research has not considered the impact and importance of the large - or perhaps more importantly, lucrative - private special event market that also includes incentives, association and corporate meetings, fundraisers, and large social and life events, all of which form arguably the lion's share of business for actual practitioners in the special events industry.

As a result, we on what may be called the "operational side" of the industry (as opposed to the "academic side") are still left in a confused state and searching for a more complete definition of the term "special event." My personal belief is that as the industry matures - and it is still very much in the maturation stage - a more enlightened definition will emerge, most likely one that categorizes special events in more detail and in alignment with still-developing internal industry specialties.

Friday, 17 August 2007

Making a Profit: Part Two

Hourly Fee Method

This method is sometimes used by event producers in the following situations.

1. When the amount of work is fixed
2. When the work is of a specified duration and the event producer can devote his full-time efforts to the task
3. When the event producer is hired for his specific expertise and the market will bear his fee, in spite of competition.

To determine what an event producer’s time is worth in the simplest manner, the producer should calculate what his or her entire company overhead is worth for the whole year, including personal salary - or salary goal - and divide it by 235 (the approximate average number of working days per year, allowing for 104 weekend days, 11 statutory holidays, and an average 15 working days vacation), then divide the result by 8 (number of working hours per day) to get the final answer.

As an example, if an event producer operates as a sole proprietor with only himself/herself to pay, let us consider how this formula would work. If the event producer’s total company overhead is $24,000 (e.g. $2000 per month), and the personal salary goal is $50,000 per year, then $74,000 is divided by 1880 to arrive at an hourly fee of $39.36. This, of course, only ensures a break-even situation if the manager works 100% of the time, so adding extra may be required, especially if a profit is desired over and above the producer’s personal salary. However, if the contract will be for a specified time and the producer will be devoting 100% of his/her time to the project during that period, then the fee of $39.36 per hour is both justified and reasonable.

If there is more than one salaried event producer in the company (note that we only use the persons who generate income for the company), then the above formula must be multiplied by the proportional share of each individual producer’s salary to arrive at that individual’s hourly fee. However, once an hourly fee is calculated, it must be modified by other variables such as productivity, experience and what the market will bear.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Making a Profit: Part One

A lot of company owners in the event industry have trouble with understanding profit. Event managers and producers can earn income either as contractors or as employees. As an employee, a producer does not have to be concerned with profit. However, for an independent contractor, there are two possible methods that may be used to obtain a profit, the supplier markup method and the hourly fee method. Today, we'll examine marking up supplier costs.

Markup of Supplier Costs

This method is representative of the majority of events for which producers are contracted. The producer is normally the only person in direct contact with an individual supplier and all communication and contracting goes through the producer. The event organization deals directly with the producer and has no dealings with the supplier. In other words, the producer is in an agency relationship with the supplier. There are separate contracts between the producer and each individual supplier and usually a single contract between the producer and the event organization, the producer’s client. Because the producer is taking all the risks associated with the contracted delivery of the supplier’s services or products and because the producer must of necessity also arrange for payment to that supplier, the producer is entitled to a fee or markup for the service of being a “one-stop shop.”

The industry norm for markups is in the range of 20 to 35% of the supplier cost. This markup may be calculated in two ways. The first is to multiply the supplier cost by a given markup percentage. For example, if a dance band costs $2000, the producer may choose to markup that amount by 25%, or multiply by 1.25 to arrive at a figure of $2500, which would then be the price the producer would quote to the client. The second way to calculate a markup is to divide by a fixed amount. Again, if the band costs $2000 and the producer wishes to make 25% (also called the gross profit) of the funds available for dance entertainment, then the $2000 must be divided by 0.75 to arrive at a cost of $2666. This number would typically be rounded to the next higher multiple of 5 or 10 for easier working, so that the price charged to the client would be $2670.

There is no right or wrong way to calculate profit in the markup situation. It is simply a matter of preference for the producer in terms of what is needed to survive (i.e. to pay the producer’s company’s bills) and what works the easiest in budgeting. It is important to understand, however, that there is a difference in the end amount. A markup of 25% does not yield a gross profit of 25%. Again, to illustrate with a simple example, a markup of 100% on a $500 cost gives a price of $1000 which yields a gross profit of 50% ($500) based on the final price. It really depends on whether the calculation is referenced to the supplier cost or the final price.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Introducing the Special Event Guru

I know there are thousands of people out there who always wanted to be part of the glamour of special events or who have wondered how events are created. Well, I'm happy to introduce the Special Event Guru, the one person who can offer years of experience in producing special events, and in writing and teaching about them.

Feel free to ask questions or start a discussion about any aspect of this fascinating industry and I will put my years of experience and connections to work to try to accurately answer them for you and to participate in any discussion in which you may want an experienced input.

Occasionally when time permits, I will also add some opinions and thoughts on the industry, where it is today, where it has come from, and where it might be going.

I hope you enjoy this journey with me.

Doug Matthews
The Special Event Guru