Organising events in Northern Ireland
How to organise an event in Northern Ireland, including types of event, legal issues, planning, promotion and advice for success
In recent years, Northern Ireland has hosted many high profile events such as the Giro d'Italia and the Irish Open. Local music, culture and food events play an important part of the region's tourism offering.
Organising an event such as a festival, concert or conference takes careful planning. You will need to consider any licences you may need and plan how you will promote your event.
Types of events
Examples of national, international and local tourism events in Northern Ireland such as concerts, exhibitions and sporting competitions
Events can range from large national and international events to smaller local events. These events all contribute to Northern Ireland's tourism offering.
Some examples of types of event include:
- sporting competitions and events
- trade shows
- awards ceremonies
- fan conventions
- food events
- music events
- cultural events
- art events
- theatre performances
- film screenings
International tourism events
International events are those that attract visitors from outside of Northern Ireland. These events highlight Northern Ireland as a tourism destination to global audience. This may include TV and media coverage. Major events can generate economic benefits to Northern Ireland and can leave a lasting legacy.
National tourism events
National events can showcase Northern Ireland's people, places and personality and provide authentic tourism experiences. These events can enhance the profile and appeal of the local area and attract visitors from Northern Ireland and beyond.
Plan and organise an event
Set event objectives and consider the various elements of your event, such as the venue, catering and entertainment
The key to running successful events involves advance planning and detailed organisation.
Set your objectives
The first part of planning your event is to decide what your goals and objectives are. You should ensure your objectives are SMART (specific, measurable, realistic and time). Read about setting your marketing objectives.
Plan the elements of your event
You will need to decide on aspects such as:
- dates and times
- site or venue
- site design or venue set up
- team - eg hired staff or contractors
Consider how these elements will help you achieve the objective of your event.
It's important to think about health and safety during the planning process. See events health and safety.
Ensure that your budget covers all your costs. Ask your suppliers and contractors when they will require payment. Selling tickets in advance of the event can help with cashflow. See business budgeting and cashflow management.
If you are charging for your event or have limited capacity, consider whether you will allow visitors to book through an event registration or ticketing system. This could involve an online service or be built into your own website. You may choose to simply charge admission at the door.
You will need to think about promoting your event well in advance. See promote your event.
Promote your event
How to promote your event by developing a brand and creating a marketing strategy and plan for promotional tactics
In order to ensure a good turnout, you will need to promote your event. Consider how you will raise awareness from the start of the planning process
Branding can help your event stand out to potential visitors. Think about the following:
- name - give your event a name that is memorable reflects what you are trying to achieve
- tagline - come up with a tagline that effectively describes your event and makes it sound appealing
- logo - create a logo you can use to represent your event
- visual elements - using a particular unique colour palette and design can enhance your branding and look professional
Your branding should feature on your website and social media, on any advertising and at the event itself. A strong, recognisable brand will enhance your reputation and set your event apart from the competition.
Your marketing strategy and plan
You will need to develop and strategy and plan to promote your event. This will include:
- analysing the market and your positioning
- deciding who your audience are and how to reach them
- setting marketing objectives
- planning your tactics
- creating a plan and timeline for implementing your tactics
- monitoring and evaluation
Tactics you can consider are:
- advertising - eg local magazine and newspaper listings, billboards, radio
- public relations (PR) - eg press releases, launches
- direct marketing: the basics - eg direct mail, email marketing
- online advertising such as search engine optimisation (SEO) and pay-per-click and paid search advertising
- social media marketing and advertising
Promote a business event
If your event is for a business audience, such as a seminar, conference or trade show, you can promote it free on the nibusinessinfo.co.uk Events Finder. Complete the online form to register and get your events listed.
Support and funding for events
Tourism NI’s tourism event funding programme, including goals, criteria and example events which have received funding
Tourism NI run an annual events funding programme. International and national tourism events are able to apply for funding if they meet certain criteria. The main goals of this funding are to:
- enhance visitor experience
- increase visitor numbers and spend
- ensure year-round motivation to visit
- enhance Northern Ireland's international profile
- create a legacy
International Tourism Events Fund
International tourism events are those that attract out of state visitors, where the event is their main reason for visiting. Events like this showcase NI on a global stage as a unique tourism destination through media coverage.
To qualify for this funding, events must meet certain criteria such as:
- visitor numbers greater than 5,000
- overall budget greater than £150,000
Events that have benefited from the International Tourism Events Fund include:
- North West 200
- Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival
- Foyle Maritime Festival
National Tourism Events Sponsorship Scheme
National tourism events showcase Northern Ireland's regions and destinations. They offer visitors an authentic cultural experience.
To qualify for funding, events must meet certain criteria such as:
- visitor numbers greater than 1,000
- minimum expenditure of £50,000
Applying for funding
The funding programme is open for applications for a short time each year. Check with Tourism NI for information and updates about applying.
Regulations and licences for events
Information about the legal requirements you should consider when organising events such as entertainment licences and health and safety regulations
There are a number of legal considerations to be aware of when organising events. You will need to comply with health and safety law and obtain licences for certain activities.
Certain types of entertainment require an indoor or outdoor entertainment licence from your local council. This may include:
- theatrical performance
- circus acts
- boxing, wrestling or martial arts contests or displays
- film screening
Find more information about who requires an entertainment licence.
If alcohol will be sold at your event you will need to ensure that the venue holds a valid liquor licence. If your event is taking place away from a licensed premises, an occasional licence may be required.
See selling alcohol.
Health and safety
When organising an event, health and safety should be a top priority. Your responsibilities include carrying out a risk assessment, ensuring the site or venue is suitable and managing traffic and crowds. See events health and safety.
The following organisations can give you advice on your responsibilities for running and managing events, you should contact:
Event organisation checklist
A checklist for event organisers to keep track of the planning process from the initial planning stage to the post-event evaluation
Forward planning is the key to organising a successful event. Use this checklist to keep on top of things.
Initial event planning stage
Carry out your initial planning at least four to six months before your event:
- decide on your goals and objectives
- begin designing your event brand
- choose the date
- decide and book the venue
- get cost estimates from suppliers
- decide who will be responsible for various aspects of organisation and hire staff and contractors
- identify your speakers, entertainment, caterers and exhibitors
- identify sponsors and partners
Finalise event details and start promotion
You should work out the finer details of your event three to four months ahead of it taking place. This includes:
- liaising with speakers, entertainment, food stalls and exhibitors to arrange travel, accommodation, logistics, presentations and contracts
- arranging event booking and ticketing if required
- working out what licences and permits you might need - see regulations and licences for events
- beginning to promote your event
Your promotion plan and timeline should lead right up to the day the event.
Final event checks
One week before your event, make your final preparations:
- finalise the agenda
- brief staff, contractors, entertainers and speakers on the final timings and arrangements
- finalise numbers for seating, catering etc
- liaise with the media, if this is part of your event promotion
- confirm logistics such as site or venue set up, deliveries and travel arrangements
After your event there are a number of things you should do:
- carry out any post-event PR
- conduct a post-event survey - find out what visitors enjoyed and what could be improved
- conduct your own evaluation, including an evaluation of the budget and expenditure
Planning and running an event - Sunflowerfest (video)
Sunflowerfest is an annual three-day music and arts festival in Hillsborough that started in 2010. The festival has grown each year with increases in tickets sales.
Vanessa Magowan, festival co-founder and Director, explains how they plan and organise the annual event. Vanessa describes how they manage the planning process and coordinate health and safety.
Vanessa highlights the marketing channels and promotional steps that make the festival a success. She also mentions organisations that offer event planning advice, funding and support.