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Thoughts from Cuckoo HQ
Aug 17

Innovation and Events

Innovation, both within events and via events, is a topic that I studied in the International Event Management module of my MSc. in Event Management in DIT this year.

There are two keys ways that innovation comes into play in event management.

Events open up entrepreneurial opportunities for suppliers who develop new offerings for attendees at festivals and events. Successful innovations lead to the creation of new jobs and by default, economic growth. Suppliers in Ireland are creative and there are some really cool ideas being churned out very regularly. 

Events are also powerful tools. They can be used to leverage positive and transformational social and economic impacts in those places that they are held, benefiting not just attendees but those living in the surrounding areas as well. For example, events can be used to extend the tourist season of a place.

In addition, they can be used to develop a new USP for a place. This is known as place-making, that is, improving a given place for people (De Brito & Richards, 2017). Developing an event in a place to enhance tourism can be a transformative type of innovation for some cities, towns and villages around the world.

Innovation within Events

Firstly, innovation within events and festivals is important. For an annual event, innovation is essential for survivability. People buy tickets for festivals and events to have new experiences and even attendees who have an amazing experience one year will want something a little different the following year.

Annual festivals innovate by engaging new artists, updating the event branding, introducing new tech, diversifying the theme from year to year and bringing in novel concessions. Fundamentally, innovation should lead to the creation of an experience that excites attendees. Quinn (2013) emphasised that renewal of events and festivals is necessary. Understanding what attendees want from an experience is key to delivering one that meets expectations.

Social Capital

The desire to accumulate social capital drives the experience economy today. What on earth is 'social capital', I hear you say. Social media posts showing people's brunches, drinks, holidays, sights and event attendance are displays of social capital. People increasingly want to be seen having experiences, as opposed to showing off new designer handbags, expensive cars or other traditional representations of conspicuous consumption.

A lot of people go to music festivals to see the acts, for sure, but there are also many who go because their friends are going and they don’t want to miss out, and because they want to have a new experience. The latter two reasons can be motivators all by themselves, meaning that the acts booked have little to no impact on their decision to buy a ticket.

Concerts are a different ballgame because consumers’ expectations are more focused on seeing a certain act perform. Festivals and events, on the other hand, have much more content than simply the lineup.

Event producers should see this as an opportunity. Those festival and event directors who have lower budgets than well-established festival promoters and who can’t afford to bring in huge acts, have the opportunity to compete with the big kids if the experience they deliver is alternative and unique enough. This requires a lot of creativity but it’s an opportunity all the same. Hassanien (2012) suggested that innovation in events is generally reactive as opposed to proactive, and might often be engaged in when it's too late and an event or festival has already reached a point of no return. As people working in a creative industry, it could be said that we aren’t as creative as we could or should be.

Using Events to Innovate

Innovation is also seen through events. Events are being used as a tool across the world to increase footfall in various destinations. St Patrick’s Day has been transformed from a one-day celebration to a week-long event in Dublin. This is a good example of event tourism at play, working to extend the tourist season in Ireland from March instead of from the start of the summer.

Emporda music festival in Spain was also developed to attract people to the region in the off-season. Such innovation is a powerful way to develop a place. Places can create events to draw tourists and people from the surrounding localities in. Many events aren’t even developed with this objective in mind, yet they enhance the tourist footfall across not only the duration of the event but possibly afterwards as well.

Innovation vs. Invention

An event or festival offering something a little bit different, while not competing with anything similar on the same weekend or too near has huge potential to draw people in. Bring an event that originated elsewhere to your locality. You don’t need a wild new idea that has never been thought of to be innovative.

Schumpeter’s definition of innovation is most fitting here. He distinguished between innovation, being the practical application of new ideas, technology and resources in general, and invention, which involves developing brand new products or services. Bringing an established event to a new place is innovative for that place and for the people living in that area. From the demand-side perspective, it’s new. It should also have the same economic and social impacts as a completely new event.

Innovation in events is crucial for the survivability of an event or festival. In addition, using events as a tool to diversify the offerings of a place represents an opportunity for policy and tourism boards and well as local groups.


The bottom line

There are endless ways that innovation can be actioned in producing events or using events. Innovate and see your own events improve and reach their potential. In addition, use events to be innovative. Engage with key stakeholders of a place and create a vision for that place. Strategise and plan an event in the place with objectives and the desired event legacy in mind. Manage the event in line with its objectives, making positive social and economic impacts on the place in the process.

The end result may inspire event managers to use events to enhance their localities, potentiating the acknowledgement of events as powerful place-makers across the world.

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