Planning the Austin Chicken Wing Festival: Q&A with Event Organizer Jesse Island

Jesse Island, organizer of the Austin Chicken Wing Festival

In May, people flocked to south Austin to eat endless wings and cast their vote for the best wings in the city at the Austin Chicken Wing Festival. So, we caught up with the organizer of the event, Jesse Island, to learn about his experience planning a festival with Ticketbud.

The following Q&A with Jesse highlights an event manager’s experience coordinating a food festival. In it, he shares, from an organizer’s perspective, what it’s like to manage ticket sales and promotions for large festivals and events.

What inspired the creation of the Austin Chicken Wing Festival, and what are the primary goals of the event?

The Austin Chicken Wing Festival was inspired by Wing Fest, which took place in Austin in 2017 and 2018. However, the event dissolved since organizers didn’t have the team they needed for promotion and implementation. So, I met with one of the organizers to see what it would take to make a wing tasting festival of my own. He told me everything they did right and everything they did wrong. So, for everything they did wrong, I hired someone in that area.

How do you select and manage the vendors and partners participating in the festival?

To recruit vendors, I asked everyone on my team to share their top 10 favorite wing places and also added spots published on lists and articles online. Then, we took to guerilla marketing. We showed up to 150 different places in matching gold t-shirts to try the wings and share more about the festival. From there, some restaurants really latched on.

austin chicken wing festival planning team in matching gold t-shirts
Photo courtesy of Austin Chicken Wing Festival.

One thing I learned from my initial meeting with the Wing Fest organizer was that it was important to put these vendors first. If there are no wings, there is no festival. So, I put vendor management high up on my list and treated them like gold.

Is this your first time planning a festival? How does it compare to other events you’ve planned?

This is the first event I’ve organized at this scale. However, I have hosted events that required blocking off downtown streets before. I am pretty good with permits, and I know how to coordinate and negotiate with the city.  Some people don’t realize the time and cost of acquiring permits for large-scale events.

Having the event outside of the city limits made it easier, but it still required a 6 month lead time. We had to get mass gathering permits, food permits and also needed a fire marshal on site. 

Having the event outside of the city limits made it easier, but it still required a 6 month lead time.”

Jesse Island, Festival Organizer

I should add that the timing of the event was not random either. I had a member of my team research in the Farmer’s Almanac for the driest spring weekend on record. We’d rather have heat than rain.

What marketing strategies did you use to promote the festival?

Our marketing strategy used a little bit of everything. We used paid stuff on Instagram and Facebook and worked with magazines and influencers. We did radio segments where we’d have people call in for giveaways. Our team pass out flyers and put on the gold t-shirts to visit bars and wing restaurants to talk to people about wings. We did pretty much did everything we could think of. 

Why did you choose Ticketbud as your festival ticketing platform? 

It was important for us to source locally, so I was glad to use Ticketbud. I looked into other options – Eventbrite is super cumbersome and Posh doesn’t offer check-in services. Plus, Ticketbud has less intrusive service charges than other event ticketing platforms.

“Ticketbud has less intrusive service charges than other event ticketing platforms”.

Jesse Island, Festival Organizer

Are there any features or integrations that Ticketbud provided that catered to your event’s needs?

Custom ticket layouts, hidden ticket options, discount codes – I utilized it all. From a user standpoint, it was not difficult to use. And, I was able to easily track and base budgets off of growing ticket sales. 

Did using Ticketbud compliment or enhance your marketing and promotional efforts?

I used the referral tracking links to incentivize my team to help with ticket sales. Each person got a unique code to share and earn commission. It was easy to track and helped with promotion. 

How has your experience been with Ticketbud’s customer service?

Ticketbud is not difficult to use. But if something ever was, I could just send an email and would usually get a response within an hour. I probably asked about 10,000 questions about how to make the most of the platform for our event and got help implementing every option, including staff support at the event itself. Our entire team enjoyed working with Ticketbud, and I expect a great working relationship for years to come. 

Attendees enjoying the eats and austin chicken wing festival
Photo courtesy of Austin Chicken Wing Festival.

How did Ticketbud enhance the attendee experience?

Everything was seamless. No one had issues with wrong orders or missing tickets. We utilized Ticketbud’s scanners on event day and it made it so easy for people to get in. There weren’t any long lines. There wasn’t any friction. It was quick, and it was easy. 

Did you utilize any of Ticketbud’s reporting and analytics tools? If so, what metrics did you find most valuable?

“It’s true what they say – 50% of your ticket sales will happen in the last 48 hours”. 

Jesse Island, Festival Organizer

It’s true what they say – 50% of your ticket sales will happen in the last 48 hours. So,budgeting for event can be super difficult. Ticketbud’s reporting tools really helped me plan around this.

With ticket reports, I was able to keep track of the money that was coming in throughout the sales cycle. And as we got closer to the event, ticket breakdowns helped us prepare for who was going to what and how we would need to stock things like the bar.

What advice would you give to others planning a festival?

Hire people that you can trust to do things that you cannot do. There is so much that goes into planning an event. You’re not going to be able to do it all. You’re going to need help.

Is there anything you’d like to add about planning a festival or your ticketing experience?

The event exceeded my expectations. It was fantastic to see the smiles on everyone’s faces. Every single person was having a good time. And I can’t wait to do it again. 

The Austin chicken Wing Festival
Photo courtesy of Austin Chicken Wing Festival.