Princess Kay finalist sitting to get her face carved in butter

Lessons Learned as Events Make a Comeback

Fea­tured Pho­to Cour­tesy Becky Church Photography

As COVID restric­tions are lift­ed and peo­ple begin to gath­er again, we want­ed to reflect on the whirl­wind of the past 16 months – specif­i­cal­ly when it comes to events. What did we learn? How will this affect events mov­ing forward?

We posed those ques­tions and more to three of our clients that had major events this past year:

Take a look at what they had to say below when it comes to flex­i­bil­i­ty, the future of vir­tu­al ele­ments in events, the val­ue of lis­ten­ing and the “Show Must Go On” mentality.

What did your event/program look like in 2020? What did/will it look like in 2021? Plans for 2022 yet?

Chris Jones: We shift­ed our 2020 Word­play event right as the pan­dem­ic was devel­op­ing. We made the deci­sion in March to go entire­ly vir­tu­al for an ear­ly-May street fes­ti­val event. Instead of a one-day event, with mul­ti­ple stages and venues, we shift­ed to a five-week livestreamed fes­ti­val. The Loft was one of the first book fes­ti­vals in the coun­try to attempt this mod­el, so we had to invent every­thing as we went. In 2021, we returned with a sim­i­lar but more com­pact mod­el, shift­ing to one week ver­sus five. Both events drew large num­bers of peo­ple from around the coun­try and world.

Mau­reen Bausch: Taste of the NFL, a long-stand­ing NFL “par­ty with a pur­pose” that helps tack­le food inse­cu­ri­ty, is held each year at the Super Bowl to gen­er­ate funds for GENY­OUth, a non­prof­it ded­i­cat­ed to cre­at­ing health­i­er school com­mu­ni­ties. The event typ­i­cal­ly attracts local res­i­dents and fans attend­ing the Super Bowl who enjoy the oppor­tu­ni­ty to indulge in deli­cious foods, min­gle with NFL play­ers and see great enter­tain­ment. Due to the pan­dem­ic, GENY­OUth seized the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate the first-ever vir­tu­al Taste of the NFL @ Home expe­ri­ence.  It was a deli­cious suc­cess as celebri­ty chefs Car­la Hall, Andrew Zim­mern, Tim Love and Lashee­da Per­ry cre­at­ed game day recipes while thou­sands of par­tic­i­pants cooked vir­tu­al­ly with them. Plus, there was a vir­tu­al “Chalk Talk” host­ed by CBS Sports and GENY­OUth Board Mem­ber James “JB” Brown which fea­tured sports greats includ­ing Pey­ton Man­ning, Derek Jeter and Cla­res­sa Shields. The best part of all is that through the gen­eros­i­ty of spon­sors and par­tic­i­pants, over 50 mil­lion school meal deliv­er­ies were made possible!

There­sa Reps: Our pro­gram looked entire­ly dif­fer­ent in 2020 with­out the Min­neso­ta State Fair and hav­ing to make every­thing vir­tu­al. It all start­ed in May when we select­ed our final­ists for Princess Kay of the Milky Way (the young women who get their like­ness sculpt­ed out of but­ter). We typ­i­cal­ly select those can­di­dates at an in-per­son leadership/judging event, but instead, they were select­ed and announced vir­tu­al­ly. Then, the real plan­ning began as we deter­mined how to con­tin­ue with the rich tra­di­tion of Princess Kay while keep­ing every­one safe. We were able to make but­ter sculpt­ing hap­pen, just with­out the crowds. A select num­ber of fam­i­ly mem­bers were able to be present, and we adapt­ed the but­ter booth to allow for social dis­tanc­ing and masks were worn. We livestreamed through­out each day so fans could still enjoy watch­ing the sculp­tures come to life. Addi­tion­al­ly, we usu­al­ly have a large crowd for the crown­ing of Princess Kay, and in 2020 we instead had a small pri­vate ban­quet that was also livestreamed to the pub­lic. For 2021, we are plan­ning to do coro­na­tion in-per­son again and but­ter sculpt­ing is sched­uled to return to normal.


How has the pan­dem­ic affect­ed how you’ll run your event/program in the future? (If at all?)

Chris Jones: We’re very much plan­ning to return to a live event in 2022, but we’ve learned some lessons along the way around deliv­er­ing vir­tu­al con­tent. There are poten­tial audi­ence mem­bers we reached that would nev­er be able to make a live event in Min­neapo­lis. We’re eval­u­at­ing our options and costs to try to deliv­er more hybrid pro­gram­ming (part live/part vir­tu­al), and we hope to build that into the next ver­sion of Wordplay.

Mau­reen Bausch: For Taste of the NFL 2022 in Los Ange­les we are plan­ning a one-two punch with a live event on Sat­ur­day, Feb. 12, and then the sec­ond edi­tion of Taste of the NFL @ Home on Sun­day, Feb. 13. First, we are cre­at­ing a true culi­nary joyride with a live event set for Sat­ur­day, Feb. 12. at the Petersen Auto­mo­tive Muse­um. The event will be host­ed by return­ing chefs Car­la, Andrew, Tim, Lashee­da and a few of their friends and fea­ture NFL greats, enter­tain­ment, food, drink and even a James Bond car exhib­it at the muse­um. Then on Super Bowl Sun­day, Feb. 13, we will once again host the Taste of the NFL @Home event as a vir­tu­al oppor­tu­ni­ty for home cooks and foot­ball fans every­where to tune in and “home gate” to prep their Super Bowl Sun­day tail­gate foods and snacks. And, once again, there will be a Chalk Talk with top ath­letes and sur­prise spe­cial guests.

There­sa Reps: Because of the pan­dem­ic, we learned that we can do things vir­tu­al­ly. We are plan­ning on imple­ment­ing more vir­tu­al ele­ments to our pro­gram as we move for­ward. For our judg­ing event in May 2021, we had a hybrid in-per­son judg­ing but vir­tu­al lead­er­ship ses­sions. This made the ses­sions more acces­si­ble for those inter­est­ed, which is a great byprod­uct of switch­ing gears in 2020. We are con­tin­u­ing to explore vir­tu­al options where it makes sense, and we wouldn’t have done that as will­ing­ly if it weren’t for the pandemic.


What have you learned about event plan­ning over the last 16 months? What was your biggest “les­son learned” moment?

Chris Jones: I think the biggest les­son was that old adage of “the show must go on” is real­ly true. We could’ve eas­i­ly decid­ed to just can­cel Word­play amidst all the chal­lenges, but instead we built some­thing pret­ty spe­cial for the moment. This helped estab­lish Word­play as inno­v­a­tive, adapt­able, and some­thing that con­tin­ues to build in our com­mu­ni­ty. We would’ve lost all that if we’d can­celled. So, I think the biggest les­son is that even when chal­lenges come up, you can do it—you just need to find a way.

Mau­reen Bausch: Nim­ble­ness has always been a key asset when plan­ning events – large or small.  The biggest les­son we learned was the val­ue of listening…listening to the pri­or­i­ties of our spon­sors, the rec­om­men­da­tions of our chefs, the news envi­ron­ment, the NFL safe­ty pro­to­cols and the vibe of the nation.

There­sa Reps: There is val­ue in gath­er­ing in-per­son and vir­tu­al­ly. There is a place for both in the events we plan, and we need to be strate­gic on when to use both.


The pan­dem­ic forced these event plan­ners to think on their feet and come up alter­na­tive plans. Turns out, some of these “alter­na­tive” plans may have some stay­ing pow­er for years to come.

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