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How to save your special event when all appears lost

Constance Aguilar

What do you do when the rug is pulled out from under you? That’s a question that I’ve been faced with recently, a question that leaves people scrambling, frantic, and with an overall pessimistic disposition.

I’ve been a player in planning a beer festival for the past three years. Canfest, the world’s original canned beer festival, created in 2009 by Buckbean Brewing Company owners Dan Kahn and Doug Booth. It was the perfect idea: A one-of-a-kind event designed to be a marketing tool that allowed Buckbean to stand out amongst the crowded sea of canned craft beers.

The event caught fire. It was by all means a success. Every year it grew in attendance and brewery participation numbers, and I added elements such as live music, raffles, and a new nonprofit beneficiary. We worked to make this more than just a beer event. It was a cultural splash, and suited Reno’s quirky image and taste perfectly. It was ideal for us. That is, until early 2012 when Buckbean had to close its doors.

So there I was. The problem with a beer festival that ask out-of-state breweries to attend on the idea that festival supports a movement is that they want to see an anchor brewery behind it. And so do sponsors. It gives the event legitimacy. Without Buckbean I didn’t have that. But I wasn’t ready to give up.

Along with my partners from The Abbi Agency, Ty Whitaker and Abbi Whitaker, I decided that the event must go on. We were determined to carry out Canfest for the fourth year, and still make it better than ever. Here are some of the tactics we used to assure that Canfest wouldn’t become just a memory.

1.Secure a new title sponsor: Easier said than done. While the event is growing and has incredible potential, it’s still in its early stages. We gathered numbers from the limited crowdsourcing we did in previous years, testimonials from sponsors and supporters, and made a detailed budget sheet to present the benefits and needs to potential sponsors. That is key when approaching a large ticket item like title sponsorship know your benefits. It’s obvious that you want something from the other party, but you need to be organized, tactical, and confident when assuring them it’s an ideal partnership.

2. Assess the nonprofit: Canfest switched nonprofits during its third year to support the Reno Bike Project. I consider that one of the best decisions we’ve ever made, and here’s why (something to think about for everyone): They have an overwhelming number of supporters. They were able to staff the event with volunteers and provide help through grassroots marketing, add interactive elements to the event, and entice a wide demographic of people to come to Canfest. Point: They are popular. Get a popular, supportive, and (best of all) appreciative nonprofit to partner with. And to top it off, they’re super cool people.

3.Use marketing: Promote the living daylight out of your event. We use TV, newspaper, magazine, blog and social media coverage to help spread the word of Canfest. Don’t be afraid to call producers, editors, etc. and tell them about the new changes to your event. It’s newsworthy when you secure new partners and sponsorship, so use that to your advantage.

4.Continue to add elements: We realized that what makes Canfest so exciting is the fact that it’s an experience. People come for the whole package. So this year we did a few things that helped carry on that momentum. We launched our third annual blogger contest, in which we pick a blogger who enters and fly them to Reno for Canfest. We’ve planned pre-events at various bars and the Great Basin Food Co-Op to build excitement and get canned beer into the hands of potential attendees. We plan to feature a plethora of carnival style games during the festival, and have an exhibitor section with a variety of products to showcase. Again, this helps make Canfest into more than just your average event. It’s a spectacle not to miss.

5. Stay positive: The most important thing to do. Keep your chin up. If you want to carry on the event and put all of your blood, sweat, and tears to make it happen, then obviously you’ve got a passion for it. I have passion for Canfest. Iit’s not just a beer festival to me. So I poured all of that devoted and optimism into making it happen this year. A smile and a good attitude go the longest way.

Thanks to Mammoth Brewing Company, Canfest has a new title sponsor. They took a chance on us and we couldn’t be happier to have them on board. Canfest is an event that we hope to continue for years to come.

(Canfest will take place from 6-10 p.m. Nov. 3 inside the Reno Ballroom. Tickets are on sale at the Silver Legacy box office, Ticketmaster and CRAFT Wine and Beer. You can find out more information at http://www.canfestbeer.com.)

Constance Aguilar is the social media specialist at The Abbi Agency in Reno and producer of Canfest. Contact her at Constance@theabbiagency.com, @ConnieAguilar or 775-323-2977.