Creating and Marketing a Food Festival (Podcast)
In this episode we talk to Kevin Baxter, owner of Vivid Festivals, who has over 20 years experience working in entertainment and marketing. Kevin talks to us about his upcoming food festival, The Big Dill, and his goal to build the biggest online pickle brand through events, content and community building.
- Building a brand around something people have a preexisting affinity for
- Finding the right partnerships
- Moving away from the food sample model
- Short and long term strategies for sponsors
- Building awareness and an online community
- Utilizing influencers
- Promotion, promotion promotion – including activations
- Communication is the key to a better experience for all
Find out more about The Big Dill – The Worlds Largest Pickle Party
Kevin has 20 years experience working in entertainment and marketing. He started out as a Marketing Manager at the Kahunaville entertainment complex. Quickly progressing to Director of Marketing after a hugely successful promotional campaign. Kevin went on to start his own events and promotions company. Working with artists such as Flo Rida, DMX and Method Man to produce large-scale concerts and nightlife marketing. Kevin’s next project was creating Philadelphia's first Cheesesteak Festival, which was a huge success, selling 27,000 tickets. In 2016 Kevin founded Digital Force Agency, based in Philadelphia. A branding agency that specializes in digital marketing. In 2019 Kevin launched his second company Viral Festivals which produces The Big Dill brand, an online pickle brand and festival.
Lisa: Welcome back to Ticketbud Tidbits, where we share tips, advice and insights from event organizers, for event organizers.
In this podcast, we talk to Kevin Baxter, the organizer of the Big Dill, a pickle festival held in Baltimore. Kevin has spent the last 20 years working in entertainment and marketing. He started out as a Marketing Manager at the Kahunaville entertainment complex, quickly progressing to Director of Marketing, after a hugely successful promotional campaign.
Kevin went on to start his own events and promotions company, working with artists such as Flo Rida, DMX and Method Man, to produce large scale concerts and nightlife marketing. Kevin’s next project was creating Philadelphia’s first Cheesesteak Festival, which was a huge success, selling 27,000 tickets.
In 2016, Kevin founded Digital Force Agency, based in Philadelphia, a branding agency that specializes in digital marketing. In 2019, Kevin launched his second company, Viral Festivals, which produces the Big Dill brand, an online pickle brand and festival.
Kevin uses his festivals to showcase the abilities of his digital agency. In the episode, Kevin talks about creating a brand around something people have a pre-existing affinity for, such as pickles or cheesesteaks. His goal is to build an online pickle brand through events, content and community building.
Kevin says planning started with finding the right partnerships, working with experienced vendors who can help you create a great experience, putting in the legwork to see these people in action, before asking them to be involved.
Kevin brings in experts for managing event day logistics, starting with choosing a venue with good infrastructure, experienced in managing events, and people who know their stuff when it comes to managing a carnival, food trucks, concerts, gate management.
Kevin explains why he doesn’t want to follow the food sample model that a lot of these festivals do. He talks about strategies for gaining sponsorships, and how to turn that no into a yes, even if it means it’s for another year.
Kevin focuses on creating a community through a big lead-up in awareness, and a huge effort in building a social presence, and utilizing influencers, leaving no stone unturned, in terms of promotion, with boots on the ground, getting out to lots of local events, to do activations to get the word out.
Kevin stresses the importance of good communication with all of the key players; food trucks, vendors, venue, everyone involved, gaining insights and ideas from everywhere, to create the best experience. His strong communication strategy also applies to attendees, so they know exactly what to expect on event day, and can maximize their experience.
There’s all that and more. Kevin shares of lot of learnings, so I hope you enjoy the episode!
Lisa: Hi, Kevin. Welcome to the podcast.
Kevin: How are you? It’s great to be here.
Lisa: It’s great to have you. Let’s chat a bit about your background working in events and promotion. You have experience marketing large scale concerts, organizing food festivals, and you’ve also founded a digital branding agency. Can you tell us a little bit about this?
Kevin: Yeah. When I left University of Delaware, I thought, like most people in Delaware, I might go to a bank or something. I happened to take a job with a place called Kahunaville, which at the time, they were like these large entertainment complexes, that happened to be one in Delaware. I kind of learned the ropes there from a guy, Mark Green, and David Tuttleman.
It was my first foray into nightlife marketing, and to use my skills. This was also, not to date myself, but around 2005, when social media really came on the scene. So, I effectively understood the power of that early on, and was able to use social media to really drive events. That’s what I kind of became known for.
After Kahunaville, I went on to found my own company that was basically nightlife and event consulting. We’d throw our own events, as well, and that was using a lot of social media power, as it grew and grew.
That’s kind of how I got the idea that I wanted to get more into the digital world; digital marketing, digital branding. So, I went back to the University of Delaware and studied digital marketing, and then founded my own company, Digital Force Agency.
We have a location in Philadelphia, Center City. We help brands, some startups, but other brands, excel on the internet. Our philosophy is the only thing that matters these days, on the internet, is attention. So, we help build content and campaigns that it’s not just posting on social media, but it’s posting with a purpose. It’s creating engagement, which is key to anything.
A lot of people don’t look at social media the way we do. We create relationships, and that’s what branding is all about.
If you look at our communities – we started this Big Dill community in Maryland, in May. We have 6,000 people on the page. They’re all active. They’re very responsive, and that’s because we know a lot of their names. We talk to them. We create micro-content, and that’s how we help build these events.
That’s kind of what we specialize in.
From there, I also did a Cheesesteak Festival. I just really came up with the idea, and did the marketing for it. Obviously in Philadelphia, that was a huge success – 27,000 people. I did that as a consultant, just the idea, and that kind of gave me the idea of understanding how food and certain elements could be brands.
You can’t necessarily own cheesesteaks or pickles, but you can create a brand around them, and they already have a binder, an affinity. People love pickles. People love cheesesteaks. That’s kind of how we got into this.
We knew, especially with pickles, it’s a perfect demo, because it’s 23 to 35-year-old women. But it’s also almost like a lifestyle beyond just a food. We do merch, we have a mascot, we do pickle-themed booths. There’s so many little fun things that you can do on there.
And then, with my background, I wanted to infuse more in there. So as you’ve seen, we have the carnival and we have a lot of different things.
That’s kind of our trajectory. We have the two companies. But we use the festivals and whatnot to showcase our digital abilities. So, when people ask what you do, I like to show them our resume, which is “Look at our engagement.”
Last year and this year, we have all of our numbers. We can reach up to a million people with these events, through our digital prowess.
Lisa: When you did the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Festival – I nearly said cheesecake the other day. I haven’t experienced cheesesteak. I know that Philadelphia is famous for it. So, this was your first big festival. There would have been big learning experiences from that. What did you take away from it?
Kevin: There was. Like I said, I had the idea. I still own the trademark, and I had the marketing. I did all of the marketing. There were some things with operations that I thought should have been improved. I had never done a food festival before, so it really taught me, the amount of people that do come to these things, how passionate they are about them.
But the side of operations and the things that you have to get right, that’s been a learning experience. I didn’t operate it, but that’s what we talked about in the beginning. I put a lot of time and resources into looking at all different things, because people do these food festivals all the time now. They’re big, big things.
But they do come with crowds. They come with lines. They come with a lot of things that you have to, over and over – you have to vet the right vendors. You have to make sure that they understand how many people are coming, how to feed them.
Traditionally, these things are done as sample fests. I don’t like to do that anymore, because I think that creates a level of expectation. So, if you bought eight sample tickets, you’re expecting to get all eight samples. If you only get six, then you might be really disappointed. So, we like to really focus on the entertainment and all of those other aspects, and then allow our vendors to just sell.
So, if you choose to wait in line or you want to buy something, that’s your choice. Very much like – where it came to me was going to a Phillies game or an Eagles game – same thing. There are lines. People wait in these lines, but it’s your choice to wait in them.
When you pay to sample, you almost expect “I’m going to get these,” and it creates a little bit of disconnect with the people. So, that’s kind of how we really thought it out and tried to make them as good as possible.
Lisa: Where did the idea for a pickle festival come from? Can you share the strategy behind creating a festival around a pickle brand?
Kevin: I can’t take credit for it. In Pittsburgh, they do a giant pickle fest. It’s called Picklesburgh. So being in Pennsylvania, we knew about it. It’s just an awesome event. I think they did 200,000 people this year. It’s free.
So, we kind of thought “Let’s look at something similar,” but we’re not into just copying. Where ours is different, it’s more of a party. That’s why we call it the world’s largest pickle party. Certainly vendors, we have a lot of things, but we have the carnival, we have awesome bands, we have a lot of drinking experiences, with great partners. We wanted to take more smaller crowds, because Picklesburgh is 200,000 people over three days, change it more into a model of like 4,000-5,000 people over one day, in a larger space.
But then, be able to take them from city to city. That’s our ultimate plan, is to be almost like a traveling pickle tour, and then we’ll have certain vendors that are regional, that will come with it.
It’s really great for them, because the pickle companies, a lot of these people depend on these pickles. They’re farmers and whatnot, and they have family brands. So, that’s the benefit that we go to them. Instead of just a one day festival, we really brand them. We really get them known.
We’re trying to eventually turn this, when we become more and more profitable – because there’s a lot of upfront costs – but we want to link up and help farmers, and make the Big Dill a way that we can have a charity that will help the farmers that are in need. Because I’ve heard a lot of their stories, and that’s something that I really want to be passionate about.
Lisa: That sounds good. Where do you start, with planning an event like this? What are the key priorities and considerations, when you first get going?
Kevin: You’ve got to look at, first of all, venue, number one. Finding the right venue, that was really important to us. We’re at Power Plant Live, which is part of the live venues and the Cordish Company. They do events all year round, so we felt like they had good infrastructure, staff that could understand what it means to bring that many people to an event.
They have everything in place. They have the bartender, security. All of that’s in-house, and they’re used to doing events. So, this is, I think, a great plan for us to partner with somebody that does events all year round.
Once you find that in the city, the first thing we do is always launch all the social. We don’t sell tickets right away. That’s never our model, because we spend three months really, really branding, and letting people know what’s the product. What are they buying into?
And putting the entertainment together, the elements, me and a guy that works for me, Chris Stansberry, we literally drove down to Maryland every weekend. We went to farmer’s markets, fairs, anything we could. We looked at vendors, but we looked for vendors that could execute lines quickly, that had unique products. Then, we’d go up to them and say “Hey, we want you to be part of this.”
The first year, a lot of people are apprehensive, so there are a lot of people that we just let come in free, just because we knew that would be good for the guests. That’s a lot of stuff, when somebody’s buying a ticket, they don’t get. They always say like “Hey, what am I getting?”
I think, as an event producer, that’s something that’s important. They don’t understand the hours, the time, the logistics, the everything that was put, to ensure that when you come there, it is going to be a great experience.
We have this one guy that made this giant trolley car, and he turned it into a pizza oven on wheels. We wanted to do pickle pizza, and we wanted to do our version, which is going to be a bacon pickle pizza. So, he’s going to make it, and he can get one out every four minutes.
Those are the type of partnerships that we like to build. We’re really excited. It’s going to look awesome and it’s going to feel awesome.
Our ultimate goal is we want this to feel almost like a Pickle Disney World. You walk into this world of just pickle madness.
Lisa: I love it! What are the key elements of your role in putting this together? I know your background is obviously in promotion. Is that where you’re heavily focused?
Kevin: Yeah. Obviously, I run the company, so there’s a lot of different moving parts. But my specialty is the content, the vision, creating the mascot with my Art Director, and how the brand plays out. Then, we have other people like Chris , in my office, who is great, who is more of a digital strategist.
We’ll just go over how we want to implement. Digital marketing is really about what I call fishing. You’re throwing out a lot of lines, and you’re looking at what bites. You’re trying to learn audiences, what elements sell, how to create content. We do a lot of micro-content, like I said, personalized content.
But it’s really all hands on deck. I can’t stress enough, and it’s not a “woe is me” or anything, but especially the first year or two, you’re literally probably getting four or five hours of sleep a night, going into it. Because there’s all little things.
Lisa: There are so many things.
Kevin: Contacting your sponsors, talking to them. Anything and everything. Then, you want to personally even – I personally call every vendor, because I didn’t do that in the past, and this year I just want to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. I want to make sure they’re prepared, they’re ready, they know how many people are coming.
What’s their game plan? Do they have any ideas? That’s big, too. We’ve never been to Baltimore. There are some people that have done festivals here. I want to know what works, what didn’t work.
Again, when you’re dealing with a large crowd, you could have a perfect plan in place. There’s always going to be things that happen.
Lisa: Always. Every event, you’re going to learn things from. It’s great that you’re taking that perspective from all of the different vendors and people that are participating in the event.
Lisa: The upcoming Big Dill food festival is promoted as the world’s largest pickle party, as you said. It’s being held Sunday, September 22nd, at Power Plant Live in Baltimore. The website says you have every type of pickle-themed product, from fried pickles, pickles on a stick, pickled eggrolls, bacon pickle pizza, as you mentioned, and pickle ice cream!
Tell us about all the different varieties of food, because it’s not just pickles, right?
Kevin: We didn’t just want it to be about pickles. A lot of people think that at first, like “What am I going to do there? Just go smell pickles or something?” Obviously, we have amazing pickle companies, and they come with pickles you never even thought, like fun, themed pickles, and the whole nine.
But we also wanted fried pickles, so we went out and got this guy, Pickle Me Pete, from New York. He’s a very famous guy. He’s going to come down with two trailers. He makes the best fried pickles. He pumps them out like nobody. He’s got specialty dipping sauces. I’m really excited. People are going to get some of the best fried pickles that they may have never had, straight out of New York.
Then, the other things are the themed food. Pickle eggrolls, people go nuts over these. We’ve got somebody. We’ll hit up vendors, food trucks, anything. We’re like “These are our elements. These are things we have to have there.” And they’ll make them. We’ll work with them.
The pickle ice cream -.
Lisa: What on Earth?
Kevin: It started in New York, as well. I think it’s called Lumpy’s or something, Lucky’s. But they did one first. All of these pickle things – really, there’s an article out there, Picklemania. Pickles have been taking life by storm since 2018.
Now, I think part of the fun of coming to this is, “Is that going to taste good?” What does pickle bacon pizza taste like? What does a pickle eggroll taste like? Some things are more – the ice cream has a hint of a dill flavor, but it also has chocolate in there. So, it’s unique, the sweet and saltiness of it. It’s actually very good.
We actually do a pickle beer, as well. We found this brewery, Slate Brewery, awesome people, and they’re going to create this pickle beer, along with a cucumber beer and a strawberry beer, for the festival.
So, a lot of fun stuff. On a Sunday in September, when you usually get really nice weather, to stroll around and kind of enjoy every little different pickle entity.
Lisa: There’s all kinds of pickles and food, but it’s also a country music concert, carnival games and competitions. Can you tell me a little bit about those?
Kevin: Yeah. We wanted to beam it with country music. To me, on a Sunday, when you’re either sipping spiked lemonade from Smirnoff, who is one of our sponsors, or a Bloody Mary, just some good country music. We’re in the mid-Atlantic, as well, so we went out and got Radio Nashville, which is one of the best country cover bands on the east coast.
And then, we wanted to put some games in. If you’re going to come, you’re there for six hours, you need some stuff to do. So we went out and we got this guy who’s really good. We’ve got carnival games, you can rock climb, we have axe throwing, we have Skee-Ball, we have a golf simulator where you can go and play golf. There’s a lot of fun activations.
That comes with a ticket. Our second tier actually comes with kids. We don’t actually give you kids. You can bring two kids under 12, and you won’t get a wristband. You can do all of the activations throughout the day.
That was the other thing we really wanted to stress, was here’s a great event where you can come with your husband and your kids. You can go off, maybe have a little drink, relax. You can be with the kids. They can play games. You can all have a family fun atmosphere, grab some pickles on the way out.
What I always thought about was the circus. I always call this is a little bit of a pickle circus. We want people to think “The Big Dill is coming to town!”
Lisa: I like that.
Kevin: Today that’s riding into town, and you can have a great time there.
Lisa: There’s a pickle eating competition as well, isn’t there?
Kevin: We have that, and our brine chug.
Lisa: What is that?
Kevin: You’re chugging brine, pickle brine. Who can chug it the best? We have an awesome partner, which is the Brine Brothers, who was featured on Barstool Sports. They make this organic brine that you can wake up and drink. It’s actually very good for you. If you ever have a hangover, it’s perfect for that, as well.
We have people lining up to do this. We have them submit next week. We’ll pick out the ten best people. We teamed up with two MCs who are veterans of the circuit, so they kind of lead the whole day – the MCs and the maestros – all these fun little activations that we do.
We’ll have an entertainment schedule when all this stuff goes on. We also have the art of teaching pickling. We have a professor from the University of Maryland coming, and she’s going to teach you, three sessions, how you can pickle at your house, which is pretty simple.
We have, from Geico, who is also going to have their lizard out there, a giant pickle wall. So, you can take pickle-themed pictures with your friends. It will be sent to you digitally, and you can reminisce about this awesome day that you had.
Lisa: That sounds like a good activation. It’s like part food festival, part carnival, everything. How do you balance all of the different things? Because it’s a concert – how do you balance all of that?
Kevin: Each element, that’s why I went with people that I can trust. Entertainment has its own department. I always tell people it’s the Bill Belichick model, “Do your job.” In these things, we have a plan for each one. The carnival is being run by a guy who has been in the industry for 35 years.
That’s why some of these things cost more. Again, I harped on it. When people look at this, they wonder “Why is there a ticket price? Why is there this? Why is there that?” They have to understand we went out and got the best of the best, because I know – you’ve done this for 35 years. You know how to handle lines, how to get people.
Your operators are going to be the best. Your machines are going to be safe for the kids, and all of that. That was very important to me. I feel like when I got people who were veterans, who know how. Food truck people who have done this, that I can feel comfortable that they’ll be able to do their role, and every element will go on as good as possible.
Lisa: I think that’s huge. As you said, food festivals are becoming very popular. But I do think that some people are doing it, and they might know how to promote an event, but they don’t know how to run all of the logistics that goes onto putting an event together, and they don’t ask for the right help. That’s huge, getting that insight from people who know those things.
Kevin: You have to look at everything, from how they come in, to the flow, to the lines. You go over it, over and over, and it’s still, again – and I stress this to people all the time – there’s still going to be lines. If something is popular, it’s no different than going to the county fair. But as long as it’s organized.
And the other thing that we really do, and we’re going to start heading into this as the event gets closer. We try to educate our guests. Everybody who got a ticket will get a packet, and the packet will say “How to enjoy the Big Dill.” There will be a map on there, there will be instructions, there will be where everything’s at, when to arrive.
That kind of educates everybody, so they feel like they can already have an idea of how this thing is going to go.
Lisa: Communication before the event is huge, just setting those expectations, so people know. The worst feeling is when you turn up to something, especially something that you’ve paid for, and you’re like “I’m not really sure what’s happening or where to go, or where things are.”
What is the process for getting all of the food vendors involved, and how do you manage those relationships? You said you were talking to them individually. Do you have contracts with them, to ensure they turn up? How does that work?
Kevin: Absolutely. We have contracts, deposits, and we stress to them – the only thing you can really do, because there’s only so much you can do. But we do tell them “Listen. If you don’t make enough food and whatnot, and you embarrass us, you’ll never be back.” We try to explain to them this thing is going to grow more and more.
We hopefully have gotten enough of the good people. They don’t want a bad day on their end. We have everything organized in an app. We use Monday.com, that has everything, so we can have our eyes on everything.
And then, every element, just like pickle companies is one element, we talk to them. “Hey, this is what we’re expecting. Here’s this. If you run out, that’s going to reflect poorly on you, but also on us. We’re building a brand here.”
Hopefully, people get it. Unfortunately, you’re always going to have a couple people who just don’t listen, but you’re hoping, as well. Luckily, one of our food vendors, she runs the association for food trucks, so I had a really good talk with her yesterday. She is going to actually hit up everybody, and say “This is how you have to make it.”
Sometimes that helps, because they don’t know me, but they know her, and they know that she is really going to know what she is doing.
The other thing, too, is we also asked them to limit their menus. If you’re a food truck, you usually do 20 items or 15 items. You’re going to do four, because you’re going to make sure you can pump out four items and do them really well.
Lisa: When people are getting food and drink, do they need to buy tickets and tokens, or is it just cash and card at the vendor?
Kevin: The only thing that’s included in food is our top VIP. We offer what we call a pickle brunch. But we try to stress to everybody, you’re not getting eggs benedict and whatnot. But it’s a really nice pickle brunch where we’ll have bagels, and we’ll have a lot of good stuff, so you can come in there.
VIPs get in an hour early, and they have their own space. They’re able to come up there, munch on all of this fun stuff. There’s a Bloody Mary bar, where they get drink tickets, so they can have a Bloody Mary up there, Mimosas. That’s nice.
The other packages don’t include any food, but they do have a drink ticket. So, the first drink is on us.
Lisa: After that, they can just pay with cash and card?
Kevin: They can pay cash and card, and the venue runs all of the liquor, so they have all of that set up with their experienced bartenders. But we do something that’s really cool, which is our Liquor Experiences. We have signature drinks.
We have a guy who does the original Pickle Shot, which is out of Maryland. It’s a vodka-infused pickle drink, and he’s going to be doing shooters in oyster shells, which is pretty cool. And then, we have Smirnoff who came in, and they’re going to be setting up an old-style lemonade stand. We do homemade lemonade that’s spiked with Smirnoff.
We also do pickleback shots. We have an awesome partner in [inaudible 24:27] and the Brine Brothers, and that is your traditional pickleback shot experience. People really love that, as well.
Lisa: You’ve got a number of different sponsors supporting the event. How did you go about securing sponsorships, and what sort of sponsorship opportunities did you offer?
Kevin: We do sponsors a little differently. Traditionally, people do like gold, silver or bronze. But we do it more what I would consider experiences. We sell our experiences. If you wanted to do the pickleback experience, that is in our deck, and you can sign up for that. If you wanted to do the photo wall – Geico took that this year – then you can join that.
We really try to work with sponsors to say not only do we need dollars to support some of this, we really want activations throughout, and we want you to be able to – whether it’s the entertainment stage or something – you can own that part. I think that that helps, because it gives them a visual.
And really, if somebody goes to an event, and now everybody left with the Geico logo on every photo that’s going to be shared everywhere, it’s a huge value, than traditionally just maybe putting the Geico logo on a sign.
Lisa: Everything is moving much more toward activations, which have a lot more value. And they get to be part of the experience. It is much more involved.
Kevin: What we also do is – a lot of people say no. That’s part of the game. “No.” So, if you’re in Baltimore, we invited them out. If they said no, we said “Can you send a representative, somebody from your company? Everything’s on us. I want you to experience this. I can guarantee you probably will say yes next year.”
That’s another strategy that we have with some of the larger companies in that area.
Lisa: That’s a great idea, to get through the no’s.
Kevin: Yeah. Sometimes you have to see it to believe it, and then you understand the value.
Lisa: What are some of the challenges leading up to the event? What are the things that keep you up at night, along the way?
Kevin: There are so many things. You want the guests to have a good time. That’s the end of the day. You’re almost throwing a wedding here. You’re trying to think. We’re not from Baltimore, so we obviously have to communicate.
It’s driving a lot, down there. It’s thinking of everything, logistically. Things are going to come up that you never expected to come up. You’re also, in marketing, you still have to sell tickets. And operations. We have to have operations meetings, but we also have marketing meetings.
We have a banty of influencers that help us. I think it’s just really managing all of the processes, and the emails. You can’t imagine how many emails that I send. You’re also on other peoples’ time. When you’re trying to get something done, they might be busy, and back and forth. So, there’s a lot there.
We also have a lot of activations coming up, because we have a mascot. We’re going to go do a Ravens tailgate, and we’re going to have him there with a DJ, and one of our sponsors. In the next couple of weeks, we’re literally going to be in Maryland all the time, doing activations, going to farmer’s markets, doing grassroots. I still believe in that.
Saturday, we’re loading up my truck, and we’re heading down to all of these farmer’s markets and handing out flyers hand to hand. We try to do everything we can, because in the beginning, I always tell people building a brand, the first year you’re just putting a seed in the ground, and you’re watering it. You’re hoping by year four, five, six, now you’re really going to bear fruit, and all of your hard work.
We also collect a lot of data, so next year, we’re not going to have to do as much of this, because hopefully everybody had a great time. Then, they’ll be able to be like “Oh! I want to buy tickets right away for that!”
Lisa: You mentioned influencers. How are you using influencers for the event?
Kevin: We reached out to as many Baltimore and D.C. food influencers. We wanted to show them elements, so we had all of our vendors this weekend, make their elements; so, the pickle eggroll. Then, we want them to highlight it. They’re food influencers.
“Look at this amazing pickle eggroll! Would you like to have this? Well, it’s going to be at the Big Dill. Here’s where you can get it.” Some of these people, obviously, we give them discounted ticket links. I’m sure if you see the backend of our Ticketbud, we probably have more referral links than anybody has ever seen in their life!
We try to use anybody who can get the word out. We’re Viral Festivals for a reason. We get things viral, because we use an approach of just trying to get as many people to talk about things, as possible.
Lisa: You had all different types of ticket packages and ticket types; early bird, VIP. What was your strategy around the ticket programming, to maximize revenue?
Kevin: We do a tier process, so people do get confused. It sometimes helps, but they think we’re always selling out. We’re not selling out. We’re selling out of that tier. So, if you’re in your first tier, and you went and bought a ticket to go to this, in July, congrats! Because you got a really great price on that, and we appreciate you supporting us early on.
As the event comes closer, obviously the demand is there. We can only let so many people in. Scarcity creates people that will want to buy. We also have rewarded the people early on. So, we don’t tier up crazy, but each tier goes up a little bit more.
We usually finish out about $20 for a general admission ticket. That would be day of, if we haven’t sold out.
Lisa: What are the benefits of working with an organization like Ticketbud, to help you manage event ticketing and registration?
Kevin: You guys do a lot. First of all, I loved your platform, because you work right with Stripe. That was very important to me, and I’m sure that you know that. Most companies, they will hold the money, and that can be very difficult for an event producer. These things can cost $40,000, $50,000, $60,000 to put in. If all of your money is tied up, how do you effectively do all of this stuff?
So, I really love that about your platform. It’s a great platform. I know you’re going to continue to evolve it. I love that you’ve upgraded it, that it’s very clean, and that you allow analytics. We’re able to somewhat track. There are some things that I wish we could dive a little bit deeper into, but we can always talk into that.
As a digital marketing company, it allows us, with the widget, to integrate right into our site. Those are all things. I just really felt like you’ve started moving your platform where it’s really user friendly, and it allows us, as event producers, to not worry about a lot of the logistics, in terms of processing tickets.
Lisa: One less headache you have to worry about. Can you give me an overview of the setup process for an event like this? On the day, what are you doing?
Kevin: We’ll have a complete site map, a digital site map, and we actually have two different plans. We never talk about it, so I won’t even say the word. But in case weather was less than nice to us, we would have that plan. And then, we obviously have our normal plan. We go over that over and over, almost like you’re getting ready for Super Bowl.
I have my team come in early. I have hotel rooms for them, so they’ll be onsite the day before, and just kind of go over everything, chalk everything up. We let all of the vendors know they have to be there by 9:30. If you don’t get there by 9:30, you can turn around and go home. That’s only because gates open at noon. We like to be set up and ready by 11:15, 11:30, just to give everybody a second to breathe.
The last thing you want to do is go into these things, and you’re right there, and people are coming in. And then, the day starts. The higher-ups like myself, we have a merch tent, as well. We sell great branded merch, so we’ll have a team running that.
But we like to just take it all in, and have a walkie-talkie, and just any fires or anything that needs to be put out. We’ve very excited, obviously, to be working with Live, because we’ll have a lot more managers and people overlooking everything.
The show goes, and we follow as much the plan, as possible.
Lisa: You’re working with a production company, as well, to help with some of this, aren’t you?
Kevin: Yeah. We hired a girl that does large-scale productions, over 20,000 people, for the event. She kind of has a lay of how these things work. We all work together; us, the venue, everything together, to ensure that this is going to be the best possible experience for our guests.
Lisa: What tips and advice do you have for event organizers, when it comes to promoting and managing a food festival?
Kevin: Obviously, I see so many people – and I made the mistake early on – they always call their events “something-something festival.” You’re never going to stand out. That’s why we’re called the Big Dill, because I wanted to change that. I was just tired of everything being called “this-this festival.”
Create a brand around it. Create something that’s unique and different, and has a personality.
Then, the first thing is digital. My brother is heavy into ecommerce. He runs a brand, and he always likes to tell me “You’re always on Facebook, and Facebook’s dead.” I differ. I let him know.
Lisa: It depends on your demographic.
Kevin: He’s selling jeans, so he loves Instagram. I love Facebook, because it really is a community feel. That’s the first thing that we do, is we create a page. We create an event. We want to get everybody in a room. That’s our first goal, is to get people into an event or somewhere, where we can talk to them. We can build them up, we can build the crescendo.
We spend a lot of money doing that, to collect them, to create content, to do all that, to really get them charged up. For us, we call it our pickle army. We allow those people also to have perks. We have really cool socks and shirts and merch.
Let’s just say you could send out your referral link, and you sold six tickets. Well, guess what? You get your socks and your shirt sent to you, ready for the festival, for free. There’s a lot of little things where we want to use those people and people who bought tickets and know friends and whatnot, who can help us spread the word.
And then, we’ll look at different things. For this market, we did a pretty large substantial radio buy with a country music station, IHeartMedia, just because we hadn’t been in Baltimore. We also reach out to a lot of bloggers. We reach out to media, anybody, Fox45. We usually do a morning show the week of. We bring all of our elements.
These are all little things that you can do. I tell people this; never stop looking under rocks. Anybody and everybody, hit them up, talk to them. The worst thing they can say is no, but they know about your event.
We also call a lot of big corporations. We find a liaison, somebody, because there’s usually an email list, and we’ll give them a corporate discount. What I love about your platform is you can send one of the links, and it’s cut out right there. The discount is right there.
You can say “Chase Bank, here’s your code. Here’s your this.” It makes it very simple, and they can feel special, that they’re going.
Those are all the things we do. We do a lot of activations, as well. We’ll go anywhere and everywhere, to create kind of a stir, where there’s a ton of people. You bring a seven-foot pickle mascot, and people take notice.
Lisa: It gets your attention, doesn’t it? Something more personal – what career advice would you like to give to your younger self?
Kevin: My younger self? I think I was always a very passionate and creative person. But I really didn’t know how to put it all together, to be honest, for a long time, as far as how to make it into a vision that could work, and I could monetize. It took me a lot of trial and error.
I would say, to one thing, I’m 42 now. But it still feels young. And when you’re on the right path, and you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like a lot of work. So, I’m in a really good spot now. I have some really good people that I work with, and we really, really believe in what we’re doing.
One thing that I always tell people, the festivals are just like the activations, or just a party. That’s why it’s the party. What we are doing here is building an online pickle brand. We want to have the biggest pickle page within three to five years, on the internet, where we can highlight products, talk about pickles, anything and everything. Pickle content that we’ll all create in our studios.
That’s the goal. And then, if we get sponsors and whatnot, high enough, which I think we can, these things might be free. So, you can just go to the Big Dill as part of being part of our group or whatever it is.
Building an online brand is our ultimate goal here.
Lisa: Seeing as we’re talking about events, I was going to ask you about a great event that you’ve attended, and what you liked about it.
Kevin: I attended Firefly in Dover. It’s a big music festival. It was made by Red Frog, which I really like their story, because I’d like to follow it. They did Tough Mudders. They were just a small marketing organization. They saw this huge plot of land in Dover, and created a giant music festival around it. Coachella actually bought it.
It really opened my ideas to what you said, like the carnival and all of that stuff, why I started doing that, and activations. Because I wanted to try to do all of that with a food festival. I really like the future of being able to – people want escapism. We all live in these worlds that are very digital these days.
I like the ability, like Disney started, where you can go into a world and escape for a day. I wanted to see. A lot of people – and you said this, too – there’s so many food festivals, so many. But no one is changing them. No one is doing anything different. We wanted to do something different.
Lisa: I can see how much in demand you are. Your phone is running hot. Thank you so much for talking with us today, Kevin. It was great to have you on the podcast.
Lisa: A few thousand people have already pre-purchased tickets to the Big Dill Pickle Party in Baltimore. If you’re quick, you might be able to grab some tickets online. Otherwise, there will be limited tickets available at the door, hopefully, if it doesn’t sell out beforehand.
Kevin: Yeah. I’m sure you could see the numbers, but we had a good first month. Then lately, in the last couple of days, it has spiked unbelievably. We’ve caught viral fire here, so I would get them quick because these things, when they catch fire, they sell out very quickly. It will certainly be a great day, whether you’ve got kids, you’re coming with your boyfriend, whatever you want to do, you’re just a pickle lover.
If you’re a pickle lover, you have to be here! We literally have people that drive from Vermont, all over, to come to this festival. They have a great time. It’s the ultimate Sunday fun day!
Lisa: Thank you so much! I’ll let you get back to work!
Kevin: You got it.
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