You can't go a weekend during midsummer in Indianapolis without finding events piled on top of each other. It's a great sign that this city has evolved past the days of "Naptown." But it's also an indication that many event planners are scheduling in a vacuum.
Choosing the right time, place and day of an event provides the first step to bringing in that throng. Yes, big events inevitably pop up, like that arbitrarily scheduled May Pacers playoff game that can derail even the best-laid plans. But I keep seeing yearly events that cannibalize each other's attendees. These are soirees with similar demographic targets and affinities, like ethnic festivals or art events directly competing against each other.
In defense of our art party planners, scheduling an event can prove a frustrating exercise.
Issue #1: Too many calendars
This town is awash with online calendars. And each version has its own quirks for entering event info. I faced it when working to schedule an event for the optimal time, and I see it now as I compile a monthly calendar for the local print edition of Angie's List Magazine.
Yes, I realize that there's a certain level of control that different organizations and media outlets like to exercise over their calendars. And never mind the myriad web infrastructures that sink attempts at synchronicity. Still, it shouldn't be impossible to imagine one central place where an organization could input all the pertinent deets about the event, and it would spit out to the various online outlets and into print and broadcast.
On the flip side, orgs would have one central repository to check dates on the master calendar.
Issue #2: Timeliness
Some organizations are slow to update their info from last year's event, or they wait too long to publicize it. Case in point, I received a Facebook Event invite on Monday that was professionally done with crisp, neat graphics. Too bad the event was for that Saturday!
So how far out should an organization plan? For announcement purposes, your absolute deadline is four weeks to get on some calendars. But I would set your dates months out, especially if you have a solid reservation with a venue. You don't have to have all the loose ends figured out when you make this announcement. In fact, keep adding in details as the event nears, so that you'll have new things to communicate at each announcement.
Issue #3: Lack of coordination
While events lasting a week or more like IndyFringe don't infringe on, say the Indiana State Fair, it's the one-shot events with similar focus that can create anxiety. We learned the hard way with Primary Colours that scheduling the first night of Installation Nation on a First Friday did not dovetail an audience like we thought.
And actually, there's nothing wrong with contacting that other org. Together, you can make sure that your events don't collide, but you can even coordinate so that you're cross-promoting and supporting each other.
Issue #4: High concentration
Given the wild mood swings of Mother Nature, scheduling your event during the relative security of summer and fall months makes sense. But is also piles our weekends with too many choices. I'd love for this city to escape from the rollercoaster of tons to do on one Saturday and relatively nothing going on the next.
September has become the absolute worst culprit in the arts community. Fueled by new theater seasons and sparked by the Arts Council's late August Start with Art kickoff and the Indianapolis Star's and NUVO's Arts Guide issues, many local arts organizations feel like they need to schedule their big events during that month and spend a good chunk of their ad budget on a quarter-page ad. Adding to the overscheduling, I counted six ethnic festivals in September alone.
Spacing these events out might not be an easy feat. Sometimes it's hard to convince an event to move. Can you imagine suggesting to someone to move the Penrod Arts Fair to something other than "Indiana's Nicest Day"? I'm thinking not a chance.
But in this traffic jam of events, I'm thinking ahead to dreary January and February. Perhaps maybe the arts community can schedule some events for then to draw us out of hibernation and fight cabin fever.