(8 minute read)
No matter what type of event you are managing, one of the most important aspects of your operations is ensuring you have a smooth "advance" process.
The reality of our event world (even the virtual event world in many cases) is that we rely on so many individuals and groups to help pull off a great experience. Therefore, having a procedure in place to collect, track, manage and communicate all of the details each person needs to submit and understand to help the event run smoothly is imperative (especially in a post COVID-19 world).
Whether you are managing the advance for your entire event org or for a specific department (artists, sponsors, speakers, exhibitors, vendors, press, etc.), we wanted to share some advice and tactics from some of the best in the business.
Enter: Julie Daily of MCP Presents
We work with some incredibly talented administrators and after working with Julie we knew we had to get her to share some of her best practices.
In this interview, Julie shares:
- Her priorities as a Back of House Operations Manager.
- Her tactics, advice and challenges throughout the entire event life cycle.
- How she sets up her advance and approaches communication with each person involved.
- Best practices for managing credentials, catering and last-minute changes on-site.
- How her advance might change after COVID-19
- And more...
Where did you grow up?
Upstate New York. I grew up in the burbs, just north of Albany, the capital.
Big family or small family?
I’m from one of those big loud New York families. They’re the best! Both of my parents were born in New York City and then their families relocated to the suburbs, just outside of the City in Rockland County which is where my parents met. My siblings and I were the first ones in our family to grow up upstate.
How did you first get into events?
I was studying Fashion Business Management at FIT and I had every intent of becoming a buyer. After my first internship at a showroom, I ultimately decided the industry wasn’t the right fit for me. The summer before my senior year, I was randomly talking about Bonnaroo and my grandma mentioned that her godson is one of the co-founders, which was very much news to me. I convinced my grandma to give me his email address and I emailed him about an internship at Superfly. He helped me get my foot in the door with an interview and I started interning my final semester of college. They hired me right out of my internship and the first two events I worked were GoogaMooga in Brooklyn and then Bonnaroo, which is really quite the intro to festivals. It was the most amazing experience. I was sold and here I am.
That's great, shoutout to grandma! How did you move into your role now?
I was with Superfly for 5 1/2 years. I started as an admin assistant and at the time they were really a small company. I worked on-site at all of their festivals and I was advancing all the needs of the internal staff. That was how I became familiar with the festival advance process. A couple years later, as the company was really starting to grow, I got promoted and started working on the client services team which was really agency focused. I worked with brands like Intel, GNC, Jeep, and Nickelodeon. Once I left and moved to Denver, I freelanced for a few years on events like Electric Zoo, which is how I was introduced to the MCP team. I just transitioned into a full-time role with MCP in February.
What is your role at MCP and what are you focused on?
They hired me as their Back of House Operations Manager. I primarily focus on things that affect the working staff. For instance, I’ll hire the caterer, oversee the credentials team, and build the database for the entire advance process.
For those who may not know, can you briefly describe what the advance process is?
Very simply, it’s working with each department to determine what they’ll need to function properly on-site. This is all encompassing of asset & equipment needs, as well as personnel needs. My focus is very operational, but each department has their own advance process for gathering the needs of the groups they’re working with (i.e. artists, sponsors, press, etc.). Ultimately, all of that information is funneled to me through our advance system.
What kind of information do you normally advance for an event?
Lodging deadlines tend to be the first thing to come up, but from there I’ll generally start with assets and equipment. I work really closely with the event ops director and the site ops director to determine the categories of items that we’re tracking and build the advance from there. Standard categories include radios, golf carts, tables and chairs, heavy equipment, storage, signage, etc. These are all things people need to do their jobs and operate on-site. After assets and equipment, you move into the personnel advance which includes things like credentials, lodging, travel, catering, parking and vehicle passes.
Photo Credit: Electric Zoo
How far out from an event do you begin planning an advance and what does that process look like?
I start overhead planning about five or six months before the event. I use a template to put together a timeline with various due dates and run them by the teams they relate to. Then I lock in Lennd as our database vendor and I start setting up the system roughly four months out. Once the setup is complete, I ask our internal team to submit their feedback and notes by a specific deadline before we go live.
I also like to send out a ‘pre-advance’ to our departments while this is going on to get an early idea of what people need in terms of lodging, vehicles, catering, credentials, etc. This information helps us get quotes from vendors and set the budgets. It also gets people thinking ahead to what they’ll need on site. Obviously, things are going to change, but it gives us a good reference point.
What else do you think about when setting up an advance? How do you make the experience user friendly?
I always create a guide to make the process more approachable. It’s a 10-page PDF with important information, step-by-step instructions and screenshots on how to navigate the system. I also like to set up different asset categories in Lennd with their own individual forms. When each form is its own to-do item, you feel more productive because you can check that item off your list. It also makes the task less daunting.
Lennd's portal system allows events to customize the details each group and person needs to submit, order, request, etc.
Do you have other tips for advancing assets & equipment?
Asking the right questions for different categories of equipment is key. We usually want to know who’s picking items up from the quartermaster and how to reach them. If we’re delivering to a location, we want to know exactly where things are going, when they need to get there and who the point of contact is. Stuff like heavy equipment and signage can get more granular. You need to gather all of the little pieces to help the site team stay organized and prioritize everyone’s needs.
We also like to ask what dates people need things. We’ll comb through and figure out which teams can share equipment like golf carts - who only needs theirs for load in and who can share theirs on show days. This helps find savings.
How do you approach credentials & parking?
I definitely rely on Lennd’s Assignment Manager feature. It’s an amazing tool that gives your vendors, sponsors, and guests the power to control their own credential assignments down to show day swap outs. It takes a lot of the work off of myself and other managers who don’t have the time to go back into their computer every five minutes and update names. It also allows us to not pull as many bulk packets, because we’re letting people control their own allotment virtually instead of picking them up and distributing them internally.
Lennd's Assignment Manager
How about the catering side of things? Any best practices there?
Catering is a hard thing to get right. I think there’s more error when you’re assigning meals to individuals especially with last minute swaps or late additions. I was excited to use Lennd’s bulk catering requests this year with BUKU. I think bulk requests would be more effective because people can submit counts based on how many people are on their team. If meals are assigned individually, people forget to go back and make changes or delete a person if they are no longer coming and it skews the numbers, which can end up costing us more.
What are the biggest challenges you experience when advancing events?
Sometimes when the database is live, people will treat the deadlines like they are suggestions. It’s important to stay on top of people and set a lot of reminders.
When I go live with Lennd, I send out calendar invites to every department head and every person advancing to get it on their calendars. This helps them look ahead to see what’s coming and receive reminders on their calendar. I also send out my own reminder emails.
I also try to help people where I can. Sometimes I’ll reach out and tell someone “Hey, email me quickly what you need, I'll do it for you and then we'll sync later on any more specifics.” You want to support people but also hold them accountable.
Lennd's customizable dashboards provide real-time status updates for each group and person.
What happens when someone isn’t fully engaged during the advance process?
People will arrive on site, realize they forgot to advance an important piece of equipment like a golf cart, and now there aren’t any golf carts available for them. I then have to try and find ways to accommodate people’s needs that weren’t accounted for. It adds more work to everyone’s plate and people get frustrated when things get delayed or are unavailable. Not to mention late adds or changes always end up costing an event more money.
The advance process is incredibly important. When things are organized and submitted on time, we can pull reports on time and we can go through the numbers and compare them to our original bids. It also helps keep things running efficiently. Everyone can continue doing their job without being disrupted by someone who forgot to advance something.
How do you coordinate reviewing & approving requests with your team?
Once a section of the database closes, I do a quick check to see which departments haven’t submitted for certain categories like golf carts and radios. I usually have to re-open the forms for a few groups and give them a couple days to get their stuff in. After all the information is in, I’ll pull a report of requests for each resource and make sure the relevant questions and answers are included. Then I consolidate these reports into one master Google Sheet for us to review as a team.
We’ll look at the total number of requests for each resource and compare that to the original quotes from our vendors that were placed using the pre-advance. We also pull reports from previous years for comparison. If the numbers are way off, I’ll ask departments if they over-ordered or forgot certain things. There are also budget restrictions that we have to be mindful of when we’re negotiating approvals.
Once everything has been reviewed, I pull a final report and have our team review the information one last time before we communicate it widely. The whole process can take about two weeks.
Let’s move on to some final questions. What do you look for when hiring others to join your team?
I’m looking for team players with good communication skills and great attitudes. The operations department is usually first to get on site and last to get off, so you really want a strong team by your side for weeks on end.
How do you see events changing over the next 10 years?
It’s hard not to think about how the current state of things will have a lasting impact. When large events come back after COVID, there’s going to be a new spirit for safety and cleanliness. We will need to get ahead of best practices and this is something we’ve already started thinking about. COVID aside, I think we’re all used to seeing a lot of festivals with similar line-ups every season. I think producers will have to keep stepping it up to find ways to stand out and create a unique experience for their fans.
Do you think this COVID experience will impact what you are advancing from different groups and people?
I definitely anticipate this experience affecting the overall advance process. Thinking ahead to some of the new policies and procedures that will likely be put into place for live events, I foresee us introducing new categories and items into the advance process, such as PPE.
Beyond COVID, how do you think the advance process will evolve in the next 10 years?
My crystal ball can’t see that far, but I just know the advances in technology will continue to impress me. Will we have Siri-esque virtual advance assistants doing the work for us? Probably.
Nothing can replace you Julie!
Ahh thank you.
Photo Credit: Electric Zoo
Can you tell us about one of your standout event experiences?
When I was on the Superfly client services team, I had the opportunity to go to China a handful of times. My first time working an event there, my coworker and I had just finished counting out our 100 or so show passes and I moved three feet to answer a question and when I turned around all the passes were gone. They pulled the security footage and saw that an elderly lady stole them from right under my nose. The next year I thought I learned my lesson and I locked up the passes and they still got stolen. I had to start carrying the credentials in a backpack that I kept on me at all times. Traumatizing.
If you could interview someone else in the event industry, who would that be and what would you ask them?
I would love to talk to someone who works closely with political events like the inauguration. I’m really curious about how you coordinate an event with such an extreme level of security.
And if you could advance any event in the world, what event would it be and why?
If someone asked me to work the NHL Winter Classic featuring the New York Rangers, I definitely would not be upset about it. Let's go Rangers!
We might be able to make a few introductions.
I'm ready when you are!
Lennd is a next generation event management platform that simplifies operations and logistics so event teams can work smarter, move faster, and improve their ROI.
To learn why some of the most respected event teams trust Lennd to power their operations or sign up for a demo: www.lennd.com
MCP Presents is a full-scale event production and promotion company founded in 2002 by a tight knit group of music lovers with the desire to create world class events. In the past 14 years, MCP has become a nationally recognized leader in the industry with some of the most in-demand festivals in the country under its control. www.mcppresents.com