How to Get an "Eventful" Economic Boost

Helpful tips to ensure your city's events make a positive impact
March 13, 2017
Holyoke St. Patrick's Day Parade Facebook Page
Smartly Resourced

St. Patrick’s Day in the medium-sized mill town of Holyoke, Mass., is a month-long affair. In the days winding down the winter months, the local public works department (DPW) starts to sweep the streets of sand and debris, and begins working on another annual – and rather unique -- project. This project involves painting four-foot shamrocks in the street, one after another, along a two-mile route in preparation for the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Roughly 400,000 people are expected to attend the 66th annual parade this year, which will include 15,000 marchers, several dozen floats and over 30 marching bands. In addition to the parade, there’s a popular 10K road race, a business breakfast hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and a JFK award ceremony named after the former president who was also the first person to receive the award in 1958.

The costs of these events are not trivial -- police overtime, clean up, utility costs, portable bathrooms and the burden of some businesses affected by road closures or customers avoiding the crowds can add up. These types of events require a significant amount of organizing and it can be difficult to find long-term volunteers. But the economic upside can be enormous. Following are some tips to keep your Saint Patrick’s Day and other events in the “green.”

Complete an economic impact study. Partner with a chamber of commerce or business group to do an economic impact study. Having the data on how successful an event is can help offset criticism and attract more partners.

A study on the Holyoke Saint Patrick’s Day events showed a $20.5 million boost to the local economy. The Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival in Ocean Springs, Miss., brings in $13 million for the town of 18,000, according to a study conducted with the help of Mississippi State University.

Take advantage of the boost to civic pride. Every community has its share of complaints, but special events can bring out families and community members who may not be as involved other days of the year.

Free booths for local nonprofits help spread a message of goodwill. Make sure the city has a booth as well. It’s a good way to get information out to residents, engage people in surveys and brag about new projects underway. It’s also important to engage new volunteers and supporters to keep civic pride going year-round.

Think sustainability and scale. Boston, Toledo and San Diego are only a few of the cities that have had to cancel First Night celebrations due to financial difficulties. Boston recently scaled back its New Year’s festivities to a smaller geographic footprint, and invested in a new month-long attraction called Winter Wonderland, featuring a skating rink surrounded by a temporary holiday village with food and vendors. These changes ensured a successful holiday season rather than placing all bets on one night. 

Message and market your event. The 2016 Rio Olympics received negative press in the months leading up to the event with headlines like “Laundry List of Problems Facing Rio.” But the marketers and sponsors of the event helped to overcome some of the controversy through memorable marketing like Puma’s app “Boltmoji” and Under Armour’s “Ode to Michael Phelps.”

Earth Day Texas is an example of great messaging and marketing without the multimillion price tag of the Olympic sponsors. The organizers provide an EDTx app that not only offers needed logistics, but also gives relevant information, news and tips about the environment. They also utilize a smart social media campaign to attract Hispanics and young professionals.