Events like LFX’s Slam Dunk Festivals are event mainstays that unite experts in event production and design. Their continued success is down to strategic production decisions.
Luke Fitzmaurice, managing director, LFX oversees these events, which take place in Leeds and Hatfield, working to strict deadlines and discerning requirements.
“The clients and promoters are well up on what is needed to pull off events on this scale, so it’s a real partnership,” he says. “On Slam Dunk, the promoter is a former venue manager, so he makes sure it’s bang on. We look for high quality equipment, great crew and ability to deliver under pressure. The festival environment is only used for a day, so the turnaround is tight. This means the time spent on site has to count, and our time spent on site is tricky.”
The festival, which sees 90 bands play, is built on long-term partnerships honed by Ben Ray, Slam Dunk’s festival director. “Most people involved have been involved for a lot of years. Some of the outdoor technical challenges include noise breakout, so we use Acoustec, part of Symphotech, to handle noise and monitor decibel levels. They operate under city council licences. Leeds has a more densely populated area, with a different demographic so the requirements are different.”
Wes Pierce, managing director of Number 8 Events, empathises with these challenges, and stresses that organisers ignore local residents at their peril.
“With the growth of social media and group communication over the last decade, a group of residents is no longer limited to those that can attend a town hall meeting. It is now empowered by people that can comment and post from anywhere they like. As responsible event professionals we should embrace this. It is a way to demonstrate that you’re serious about reducing the impact on the local community and you care about how that may affect them,” he says.
Earlier this year, Number 8 engaged on a project where the promoter had independently submitted the premises licence without discussing the project with the council or the local community and the reaction was such that he was in very deep water.
“We immediately suggested that a meeting with the local community was in order and a date was set. 20 highly enthused local residents attended, all with visions of the event that were poles apart from what we had planned! Following a lengthy two-hour discussion we emerged with initial plans for reducing the impact of the event, a resident impact plan and some good local knowledge that proved invaluable for the event planning.
“More importantly, we had a group of people who now understood what we were planning, were supportive of the event and were fully briefed on how they could let us know if it was not going to plan. As with any issue, being able to talk it through always proves effective. Just the fact that the residents felt their concerns were being taken seriously helped most of them and a hot line to Event Control satisfied the rest.”
Pierce recommends that this should be followed through during the live event period, with the monitoring of real-time social media so the event management team can stay ahead of any potential problems. “We would always prefer to deal with issues and resolve them at the time, as opposed to learning about them in a lengthy Monday morning email. Whether it’s a pre-event distribution letter with a contact number and an email address, or a larger community meeting, make sure you speak with the people who surround the event footprint and may potentially be affected. Listen to their concerns and develop reasonable plans that deal with foreseeable problems in a realistic manner.”
Fitzmaurice puts equal importance on getting the essentials right. “For infrastructure we try and use suppliers we have used previously. Toilets are essential to get right. And we learnt it’s not just about the supply of units, but the service and maintenance during the event. ETS, our provider, increased its operation, and we backed them as they were very supportive when we started out, and our organisations have grown together to support the audience.”
Fitzmaurice gained his experience working primarily at student union venues and NUS events, then branched out on his own into event management consulting. “Over the last five years we took on larger clients, the main one being Slam Dunk, which now attracts 25,000 for one day each.”
Staging has been a key aspect. “We use 75m big tops, and range of outdoor mobile stages. We also do a lot of flip flop stages. We use Acorn for bigtop decks, Serious Stages for the main stage, and A&J for big top marquees. Audio is done by SAS in Birmingham, Zig Zag do the lighting on all stages.”
Timings are similarly vital for Simon Hunter, head of venue development at Chelsea Football Club (pictured below), who has to work around fixtures and other events when considering event production. “October and November’s two week international breaks are rare times of year when we aren’t so restricted. As a result they are our busiest weeks of the year, because we have guaranteed unrestricted access to our event spaces and can take bookings for our biggest ticket events well in advance.
“Stamford Bridge is a working stadium, hosting tens of thousands of fans on match days; so in-depth preparations and seamless transformations are essential. The moment the last football game finishes our events team gets cracking with AV set builds, drapes and carpet fittings, cleaning, and an array of other set up activity for the first scheduled event. This process is then repeated – sometimes overnight – to make way for another event or get the stadium ready for the next match.
“Because our team is always used to working around fixtures, they are used to delivering large scale events.
“During busy international breaks we often ‘piggy back’ events so for example, the same sets and audio visual equipment is re-used. When undertaken in the right way ‘piggy backing’ saves time, resource and improves efficiency – but it requires meticulous planning.”