Finding Your 300-Pound Pumpkin – A Look at How We Grow Our Events
The Great Pumpkin Beer Fest is an annual event in October hosted by Elysian Brewing with an emphasis on all things pumpkin and autumnal beer. As you can imagine, the event has quite the appeal for its target audience, but it started with humble beginnings. Seventeen years ago, long before Elysian joined the Anheuser-Busch family, on a rainy day in a parking lot on Capitol Hill, the first-ever Great Pumpkin Beer Fest was held. Today, the event is held at Seattle Center, donating 100% of their proceeds to the Vera Project with over 80 pumpkin beers, a live DJ, and even Sir Mix-a-Lot. The kicker? They tap a several-hundred-pound pumpkin filled with beer at the end of the night and serve it to the masses.
Like most things in life, every event has its beginning. The spark of an idea enters someone’s mind and from there a journey starts. For recurring events, like the Great Pumpkin Beer Fest, that road can be long and winding with unexpected turns and speed bumps along the way. In the end, though, it has a way of proving rewarding. So, what constitutes event growth and why should you care? Well, it turns out, finding event growth isn’t all that dissimilar to finding growth within yourself. Let’s talk about it.
Why Fix What Already Works?
There are two real types of growth when it comes to events; growth that we have control over and that which we don’t. Each passing year the industries around us see advancements of all sorts. Like the phone, morphing over time from direct line connection to rotary to small computers in your own pocket, everything grows and changes. Events are no exception. There’s a natural progression in any industry brought on by the development of technology and societal norms.
But there’s another type of evolution for events; one that we drive. Just as the Great Pumpkin Beer Fest grew or the Oscars developing into a nationally televised event, our industry tends to look for the next level up. It’s not always a matter of fixing something that works in its current form, but rather building upon what’s worked in the past, adding layer by layer to an idea.
Event professionals are often in search of an intangible high. Whether that be a higher cause like at a nonprofit auction or the thrill of memories and a good time like at a beer festival, it’s the thing we tend to chase. Just like the development of industry gives way to new technologies, the growth of our intention gives way to new ideations for our events. Growing an event isn’t necessarily a case of repair, but rather construction. Why fix what already works? Most of us might ask instead, “why not?”
How Do Events Grow?
While any event that occurs year after year sees a natural evolution as time takes over, it’s not without the influence of production. Every decision we make regarding our events branches out into new possibilities, making way for transformation otherwise unseen. We’re all equipped with a toolbox, built to our capabilities, limited only by the confines of the limitations we place on ourselves. Events grow from the care and attention we put into them. Here are a few of the ways we’ve seen growth take shape in events.
Transformation vs. Decoration
Most events start with the same handful of questions. What experience am I delivering to my guests? What do I want them to walk away with? How am I getting them there and what do they need for the journey? In their simplest form, events answer these questions with décor, lighting, menu selection, and other foundational decision-making. As an event grows with time, we build upon these notions as we start to create a story for the world in which our event lives.
Lighting becomes atmospheric, décor becomes world-building, props start to inform the narrative journey, and decoration becomes transformative. It doesn’t matter if you’re putting together a holiday party, launching a new product, or raising awareness for a good cause – transformation has a way of delivering meaning. That meaning may come in the form of lasting memories, excitement for the next great thing, or the feeling of goodness in your actions. Whatever the case, creating a transformative space can lift your event up and inspire transformation in the people within.
Extraordinary in the Mundane
The Great Pumpkin Beer Fest does this exceptionally well. A 300-pound pumpkin on its own is interesting, sure, but what about a 300-pound pumpkin with flaming black candles jammed in the top, filled to the brim with beer? Extraordinary. Having a DJ play sets at your event? Cool. Having your DJ play sets at your event out of a giant tower fashioned to look like the Eye of Sauron? Extraordinary.
When we talk about the limitations we place on ourselves, it largely has to do with the knack event professionals seem to have for turning everyday items and concepts on their heads. The old “one man’s junk” idiom is especially fitting. When staring down the mundane, we are only limited by what we allow ourselves to see. An event at Meydenbauer Center once made an entire chandelier-esque display for their stage using only lighting and umbrellas. This idea may have started simply; a stage with some uplighting, but through growth, it evolved into something new and exciting born purely of creativity. Looking for growth in your event doesn’t always have to mean the next great invention. Sometimes it’s as simple as a little innovation and looking at the world through a new lens.
Full disclosure, my profession is marketing. For a while, I wondered why it was so easy for me to connect with the event industry when what I do for a living seems so far removed from it. Over time I’ve realized that marketing and events actually have a lot in common. At the core of marketing is storytelling. My job is to tell the story of us, Meydenbauer Center, the store of you, our partners and clients, and the story of your clients, guests, and attendees. And it’s not always linear. Sometimes it’s a small glimpse of the lives of others and other times it’s a large, sweeping look at someone’s personal journey. Events by and large do the same thing.
Let’s use an auction as an example. From the get-go, an auction is looking to raise funds and awareness for a particular cause. It might be a school, it might be a shelter for the houseless, or something altogether different. At its core, however, it appeals to its audience’s inner goodness with a story. Over time, as the event is put up and taken down, that story grows. Perhaps, one year, stories are told about those individuals benefitting from the fundraiser. Maybe another year a keynote speaker breaks down the inner machinations of the issue at hand. Décor and props begin to align with the events function, maybe a mascot of sorts begins to take shape, and before long its story has become a full-blown narrative with peaks, valleys, and intrigue. Growth in your event can be found in the story you tell.
When looking at the evolution of your event, it’s important to remember that you’re the proverbial man behind the curtain. You may see the story in its entirety, but your audience relies on you to reveal the story to them through the manifestation of your event.
So Where Do I Start?
You may be wondering how you can apply storytelling and imagination to grow the reach of your event and the connection it makes with your attendees. There isn’t necessarily one specific way to use these tools. No one knows your event as you do, so it naturally follows that no one would know the ways your event might evolve as you would. The easiest place to start is trust. Always begin with trust in your vision, trust in your team, and trust in yourself. Think about your vision, collaborate with your team, and maybe one day you’ll be serving beer out of a 300-pound pumpkin.