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Event Management 101 with New York City Wine and Food Festival's John Trumble
by Chris Carver
on September 20, 2016

Warning: If you're hungry, you may not want to read this. Or just call for Postmates now.

With how much of a media frenzy the food industry has experienced over the last decade, I thought it would be fascinating to sit down with one of the top wine and food festivals in the country. So what better place to start than NYC. 

Official Name:
The Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine and Food Festival presented by Coca Cola. Or just NYCWFF: pronounced “nick -wiff”
Attendees: 55,000+
Events: 100+ at 25 different venues.
Celebrity Chefs: 500
NYCWFF Full Time Staff: 12
Pounds of Beef Consumed: 150,000
Total Raised for No Kid Hungry & Food Bank for New York City: 9.5 million dollars

NYCWFF Event Management Interview
The calm before the storm at NYCWFF. We all know this feeling. Photo Cred: NYCWFF

One of the main reasons I wanted to go behind the scenes of the NYCWFF was because their Managing Director, John Trumble, doesn't come from the culinary world. With a background in production at MTV and Gilt, I figured he'd have a plethora of event management experience and advice to share.

Let's just say, I was not wrong. Enjoy.

Event Management Interview with NYCWFF
Now that's some freakin meat. John Trumble really gettin into his work.

You ready to jump in?
Let’s do it.

So, where did you growth up?
I’m originally from Colorado. But have been on east coast for about 15 years

Big family, small family?
I have a younger brother Matt, who lives out here in New York as well, but my folks are from a big family. My father's one of 9 and my mother's one of 10.

Oh, wow.
Yeah. Big Catholic families.

What really gets you fired up?
First and foremost the Denver Broncos. Then skiing. Then a good burger. The burger conversation is always one that's at the forefront for the festival. One of our biggest events, Burger Bash has 30 to 35 different chefs doing their best take on the burger and Rachel Ray hosts it.

John Trumble Interview NYCWFF
Event Management Tip #1: Sometimes you have to have to get your hands dirty. John doing his best to lead from the trenches.

Speaking of a good burger, what are your go to toppings?
Generally speaking, I think less is more. People try to get super fancy and do all these crazy add-ons. But nowadays, It's really about the blend of meat that you're using. And it's not just about chuck. It's about what other proteins the chef is using to add flavor…

NYCWFF Interview
Sorry Vegans. This may not be the article for you. Photo Cred: NYCWFF

And then there’s the bun. I like my bun toasted slightly and I like lettuce, pickle, I like a little bit of a special sauce. Maybe an aioli. Something to give it a little jazz.

That sounds freakin incredible

No words....

When you think about the festival in 5 years from now, what are you most excited about?
Well, tech and business are impacting the culinary world in such a big way right now whether it's a food delivery system or how technology is influencing the dining experience in restaurants. So, I think in 5 years, you're going to see some really, really innovative things, both at festivals and the way people go about producing them.

What are the pros and cons of hosting a food and wine festival in one of the top food cities in the world?
FIRST: One of the biggest cons, is that no matter where you are or what you do in Manhattan, space is limited. There's only so many places where you can have 3 to 6000 people gather in Manhattan. And because NYCWFF is a non-profit, we obviously don't have the dollars to play in a Madison Square Garden or something like that so we have to get really, really creative on how we produce events.
Event Management 101 at the New York Wine and Food Festival
Kind of a cool backdrop for an event. Photo Cred: NYCWFF

SECOND: Is that it's so expensive to do anything here in the city. Especially to produce an event.

The pros are a different story.

FIRST: Since New York is one of the top culinary destinations in the world, the food scene here is unrivaled. Not only do you have some of the best restaurants in the world, the diversity of cuisine of cuisine is incredible. You can get a really wide range of dining experiences here, which I’d say is the number one benefit to hosting our event in NY.

SECOND: Is that chefs want to be here. It's Manhattan. You come here and you do anything, you're playing with the best of the best in your backyard, so I think that applies to whether you're a chef, you're a day trader, you're in real estate, you're in finance. If you can make it here in Manhattan, the theory is you can probably make it anywhere.

Event Management Tip #2: Influencers who also want exposure can be a great compliment to your brand and marketing. Photo: NYCWFF

Do you and the team feel more pressure because it’s such a big culinary city?
I think that the pressure quite honestly comes from making sure that we're delivering for the charities. The reason we're producing this festival in the first place is to raise money for two really great organizations in No Kid Hungry and Food Bank for New York, so there's pressure there to make sure that we're getting the best deal and the best chefs. I think that the credibility of the New York City festival speaks for itself. We have Michelin award winning chefs that want to come cook here and do events here on top of the celebrity chefs.

Photo Cred: NYCWFF

With more and more music festivals creating culinary experiences, how does that impact you, concern you or excite you in any way?
Well, personally I find it kind of fascinating. South by Southwest, 20, 30 years ago was an indie music festival for a bunch of Deadheads in Texas. Now it's one of the cultural epicenters for everything from movie premiers, to music, to tech and big key-note discussions. They started a food vertical called SouthBites a couple years ago. It’s very representative of the kind of vastness of the media culture today and I think that that is good and bad in several ways. I think that it scares me a little bit in the sense that there's so many options for people to choose from these days. On the other side of that coin, I think it's really exciting to see how things are growing and changing.

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Do you have any tips for managing a team and for managing big personalities like celebrity chefs?
It's funny this just came up. We actually just finished reviews for the staff and one of the things I feel very, very strongly about is the ability for people to grow in their career. I think if you were to take a poll, you would find that everybody wants to make a little bit more money and to feel like they're growing in compensation. I feel like the idea of staying static in your position or not growing your skill set can really stagnate somebody. So no matter what their responsibilities are, I talk to all of them about figuring out how they want to grow. That way, we can figure out how we can apply those interests to the festival. I think that not only engages the staff member, but also makes them work a little bit harder, because they're more invested in what they're doing.

John Trumble, Lee Shreger (NYCWFF Founder) and the NYCWFF event managementTeam

I also try and apply that to a lot of how we deal with the personalities and the different chefs and hosts that we have at the festival.

With one of the biggest wine and food festivals in the country, can there ever be too many cooks in the kitchen?
Yes. I actually say that quite a bit. I sometimes joke here internally that it takes an act of congress to make a decision, and so I think that without sounding too cliché, there are sometimes too many cooks in the process. Luckily, our team is so incredibly passionate about what they do, that it all comes from a good place.

Also, part of being a really good leader is listening and knowing it's not always about you speaking, it's also about you listening and reading the room. 

Photo Cred: NYCWFF

How do different food trends impact the festival?
I think that's another thing that Lee Schrager our founder is very good at. We discuss every year in late and Q4 and Q1, how we want to kind of rebuild the festival and also bring back some of the mainstays, like Burger Bash. We’re definitely making sure we’re keeping our fingers on the pulse of food trends and pop culture.

For example: this year we’re introducing a new event called Broadway Taste, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka. We are basically pairing 14 to 15 different plays with a chef, where they’ll collaborate on a dish that kind of speaks to or is from the play in some way. These types of out of the box events, will not only engage the real hardcore food geek audience in the city, but also fans of Broadway hits like Hamilton.


In what ways are you focused on building the brand of the New York City Wine and Food Festival?

FIRST: We have a great new partnership with Coca Cola, which we recently announced. We have some really cool things with them in the coming years, which we think will be great for the brand. 

SECOND: It comes down to using your social channels and building relationships with the chefs, because at the end of the day, people are going to come to your events because they want to feel the rub of the chefs that we have coming here. One of the ways we built those relationships is by showing value in being associated with us and the ability for the chefs and restaurants to market themselves to a bigger group. I think it really comes down to marketing to those people and saying listen, we're one of the most credible and valuable culinary festivals in the US. There is a mutual benefit in collaborating with each other.


Speaking of a major sponsorship like Coca Cola, Do have any tips for managing a first time sponsor relationship?

FIRST: Is to be a “yes person”. Although you don't want to just say yes and then not deliver, but too often people say no to something because that's not how it’s been done in the past. I think people would find that if you seem willing to work with them, you will get a better product back in return. Whether it’s a small startup company or big brand like Coca Cola.

SECOND: Is to be specific. Everything nowadays is quantifiable. So... whether it's how many likes you get, or the analytics on the media value you’re getting from a media partner (or whatever), make sure to be specific on both what you need and what you want, because things can easily get lost in translation. So the tighter the plan and the more specifics you give, the better you or they can respond to changes.

THIRD: Is all about follow up. I think persistence in follow up is definitely a third really great asset or key in being successful in sales.

And sponsor relations is sales.

And by the way. You can add this to number three: Pick up the phone. Too many people send over an email or two and wait for someone to get back to them. A lot of times, if I have a question for someone, whether it's a sponsor, a staff person, a chef, a vendor, it's usually sooo much faster and much more personable.

Here’s a scenario: you're a little over a month out to NYCWFF. What are you focused on?

FIRST: By far and away the number one top priority is selling tickets. Whether it's marketing or using the social platforms and the chefs that we're engaging with, it is by far and away selling tickets to these events that has become our focus.

SECOND: I would say is sponsorship dollars. We are dully self-funded, which means that we bring in every dollar, between the sponsorship sales and then the ticket sales that we get. 

THIRD: Is all about making the chefs feel taken care of and helping them to produce a great event.

Marcus Samuelson doing his thing. Photo Cred: NYCWFF

Given how much of a media frenzy there is around food now, how does that impact the event?
The media frenzy is changing the landscape of how you think about traditional marketing and PR and you have to change with the times or you're going to be kind of irrelevant.

One major strategic example of this is leveraging influencers on social media. They have really large followings on Instagram or SnapChat or Twitter; which has really shifted the power from traditional marketing to more organic and grassroots marketing. So this past year we decided to do an event with a bunch of Instagrammers with large food followings. We went to Black Tap, this really popular, cool burger joint in the city and had a photo contest.

Definitely something we will be doing again. 

In your work life, are you insecure about anything?
Very much so. I actually have this discussion with my wife a lot. One of the things that drives me to work so hard is that I have this feeling when I'm having a conversation with a peer or somebody in the industry, that they're looking at me like what is this guy saying, why is he here, he shouldn't be in this room. I think that that makes me work even harder to try and be the best professional that I can be.

Well you're not alone John, I think most successful people have that feeling. Whether they admit it or not. 

Parting wisdom?
I was once told that every time you see someone or meet somebody that you admire (personally or professionally), ask them what the greatest piece of advice they ever received was. Then put all of those pieces of advice in a cookie jar. Throughout the years, you'll start to assemble this incredible cookie jar of advice and you can go there and dip your hand in when you're faced with a problem.

I'm going to go eat now.

You hungry now? Photo Cred: NYCWFF 

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