Our latest interview is with Zach Edwards, the Director of Ticketing and Crowd Services at AC Entertainment (ie. Bonnaroo, Forecastle Festival, High Water Festival and about 1000 concerts annually). So he might know a little bit.
I was really excited to catch up with Zach because managing ticketing operations and safety is no easy task at any level, especially with some of his events. So I knew he'd have some incredible nuggets of wisdom.
Here are just a few:
- You can't earn a college degree in ticketing...
- If I'm not improving our operations in the month afterwards, I’m missing a huge opportunity...
- To be frank, if you’re in ticketing, you need to be plugged into marketing.
- Collaboration is key and trust is imperative.
- Don't be afraid to know less than someone else.
- One step at a time, one decision at a time.
Thanks for taking the time to meet with us Zach
My pleasure. Love what you all are doing with the blog. Happy to share any advice that might help.
Just in case I butchered the introduction, what is your current role?
My current role is Director of Ticketing & Crowd Services for AC Entertainment. I oversee all of our ticketing operations for festivals and concerts. I also oversee emergency response, weather monitoring, medical services, and other critical services that provide safety and security to the patrons.
How did you get started producing events?
I had no intention of ending up in this role. I started my professional career as an attorney in the labor/employment law industry, and after realizing that wasn’t my calling, I decided to get back into live events. As a student, I worked in ticketing at the University of Tennessee. I took my ticketing experience to the NBA and then to the City of Charlotte. I networked and made sure I was indispensable. An old supervisor of mine kept his eyes open for me and then I got the call about AC Entertainment. Networking and leaving people with a great impression of your work can pay off in big ways, even when you’re not expecting it.
What are you focused on at each stage of the production process?
The bulk of the work is done at this time. At 3-6 months out, I am focused on scheduling, advancing equipment such as tents, tables, and trailers, and communicating with municipalities and security vendors to ensure the security and emergency response is dialed into the site. I am also ordering credentials and wristbands. I partner with the design team to showcase the vibe of the event. This is one of the more fun aspects of my job.
I’m BUSY. During the entire process, I get the most anxious and excited when the first patron arrives on site. That’s the first indication that your ticketing, security, and traffic planning are working together. If one of them isn’t working, I immediately make adjustments on the fly to ease issues for patrons. I am also focused on keeping the contractors and staff safe. I am in a constant state of preparedness for anything. I am never “done” until every patron and worker is safe and off-site.
Load Out/Month After
This is the best time to rip it all apart and analyze every aspect because it’s still fresh. I take inventory of the good things we did and the things that need improvement. You cannot rest on your laurels. If I'm not improving our operations in the month afterwards, I’m missing a huge opportunity to really enhance things for the following year.
What are some best practices you recommend following each of these stages?
Breathe. I know that sounds existential, but it’s the truth. At each stage, something is not going to go to plan, and being able to be nimble and agile will make your job less stressful. I’ve had plenty of plans fall apart for one reason or another. If I dwell on the dissolution of the plan, I’m not making progress on the solution.
Do you advice for the best way to deal with the chaos and challenges that come with this role?
Focusing on individual steps can really ease the anxiety. Plan your steps out, and then stick to them.
What are your most & least favorite parts about this process?
Most favorite: The day when patrons arrive.
Least favorite: The day when patrons arrive.
I say both of these because it’s fulfilling in a way that’s hard to describe. I enjoy seeing people arrive at our site with big smiles, ready to enjoy themselves. The flip side is when they arrive I am now focused on their safety and security. I grew up playing soccer as a goalkeeper. I’ve always relished having the responsibility of being the last line of defense, but I also understand the gravity of that responsibility.
What kind of technology do you rely on to work more efficiently?
My laptop and my phone. With the cloud services, my phone has just become an extension of my laptop. I use A LOT of spreadsheets to keep each event organized, and my online calendar is invaluable in staying on track.
What manual processes would you like to see technology replace/automate?
I would love to get a mapping feature that allows me to see my security deployments from an overhead view. I do that manually right now but I would love the ability to import that information.
What key metrics & reports do you rely on to help you do your job?
I am constantly looking at our layaway plan metrics and ticket sales. Homeland Security and the Live Nation Global Security team are also providing reports on any international or domestic issues they are seeing. They are both incredible resources that keep me updated while we plan our events.
Producing events is a team sport. What are the key departments and people do you collaborate with to do your job?
MARKETING. To be frank, if you’re in ticketing, you need to be plugged into marketing. I have always described it this way, “In ticketing, my job is to build the framework of a house, similar to a contractor. I can create hallways, side rooms, entry doors (coupons/promos/fulfillment processes), but if I don’t bring in an interior designer (marketing) to make the framework look incredible, I’m not going to sell that house.” Our events are like that, if I build this framework without marketing input and understanding their goals, we’ve got a contractor and a designer at opposite ends of an idea. We need to be on the same team to be successful at moving tickets.
What leads to effective coordination between you and the marketing department?
Open communication and collaboration. The first step is to close the gap to ensure we’re both working toward the overall goal: what will help sell more tickets.
What types of roles do you fill? And what do you look for when hiring people? (e.g. what makes a great credential manager)?
I hire credential and box office managers and some of the customer service front-line staff. When I hire for supervisory roles, I look for two things: “Can you thrive and make sound decisions in a busy environment?” and “Can you bring some outside perspective to the role?”
Do you have any tips for keeping a team happy and productive while working on an event?
Just because you’re running the operation, doesn’t mean you have the best ideas. It needs to be a collaborative process, and you have to be able to trust those in your supervisory roles to make great decisions. I’ve learned so much from my teams and I hope they have learned from me as well.
Are there any final tips & best practices that you would share with others in your role?
You can’t earn a college degree in ticketing. You learn from someone who learned from someone else, and it all happened on the job. Proprietary setups don’t encourage collaboration. Network when you can, reach out to others in the industry for answers, and don’t be afraid to know less than someone else. And finally - again - breathe. One step at a time, one decision at a time.
Everyone has at least one. What’s your craziest event experience?
During High Water 2019, we had some serious weather coming through Georgia and Alabama. It was looking like we would have to evacuate the site. As the weather got closer, my five weather monitoring apps and our on-call meteorologist were all seeing different levels of impact. I couldn’t reach a consensus, so I started calling friends in central and eastern Georgia and asked them to call me if the storm reached them. I knew that would give me about an hour’s head start. Sometimes you just have to make a decision that wouldn’t fall within the normal parameters.
How do you see your role (and events in general) changing over the next 10 years?
I think we’ll begin to see a lot more fan interaction with the events. Artists will start to take advantage of technology and use wristbands, phone apps, or something we haven’t seen yet to interact with fans.
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
AC Entertainment is internationally recognized as an innovative leader in creating, producing, booking, and marketing first-class live entertainment experiences - from festivals and concerts to all types of special events. As co-founders and producers of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, producers of The Forecastle Festival, founders and producers of the Big Ears Festival and High Water Festival, and through the over 1,000 concerts we present nationally each year, we take special pride in those unforgettable, spine-tingling moments that everyone remembers, long after the lights have come up. www.acentertainment.com