Festivals and Events Ontario (FEO)
(Annual Conference)


by Festival Nomad, Gary McWilliams

Why Go…

Once a year, Ontario festival and event organizers meet at the Festivals and Events Ontario (FEO) annual conference. This year the conference was held in London, Ontario. The organizers all meet to learn the latest trends in their industry. It is a chance for them to learn, present and exchange ideas. The reason I am including this event on the Ontario Festivals Visited website is simply to show readers the dedication that most festival and event organizers have for their events. The people who attend this conference, many at their own expense, know that knowledge is the key to providing their visitors with the best product (event) possible. The following article and photos are intended to give you an overview of what the conference attendees experienced over the 4 day event. At the end of this article I have included a list, with links to their websites, of the "top 100 festivals and events" in Ontario. The names of these festivals and events were announced at the final conference event, the President’s Ball. The main conference starts on Friday, but two days prior, special certificate courses are offered separately. Many festival and event organizers take advantage of these extra courses. Taking theses courses help individuals gain credits towards becoming a “Certified Festival and Event Executive(CFEE). Such topics as “Administration/Management” and “Operations/Risk Management” were presented as CFEE Certificate Courses. Having attended last year’s certificate courses, I can ell you that they are very comprehensive and informative. Other none certificate courses were offered on Thursday for those who arrived to the conference early, topics included: “Event Planning 101”, “Designing and Selling Your Sponsorship Program” and “Board Development”. Unfortunately, Judi and I could not attend the pre-conference sessions this year, so after leaving our home in Cobourg at 5 o’clock in the morning, we arrived at the conference centre just on time (8:30AM). On arrival we checked into the hotel and then moved to the Festivals and Events Ontario registration desk. The conference, for us, was about to begin…

Friday Morning…

After checking in at the FEO Conference registration desk, I went directly to the Atrium area where the morning activities were taking place. A buffet breakfast was being served, so I joined the other delegates. Judi had some other business to take care of so she went off on her own. Just after I arrived, opening ceremonies started. After being introduced, the Honourable Peter Fonseca, Ontario’s Minister of Tourism, spoke to the delegates about how important festivals and events were to Ontario’s economy. Following the Minister’s remarks, FEO President, Larry Blundell, took the stage to welcome the delegates and to introduce the Keynote Speaker. This year’s keynote session was to be an “event”, rather than a “speech”. The event, “The Beehive Game Way” was led by Michael Fletcher with help from the Neworld Coaching  crew. The object of the game was to help delegates network with each other. This reflected Festivals and Events Ontario’s overall philosophy and mission of “Festivals Helping Festivals”. The “Beehive Game”, once everyone understood their “role”, was a great success and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves! The next part of the morning session was a visit to the “Marketplace”. This is where suppliers to the industry set up information booths to introduce their products and services to the conference delegates. The delegates crowded into the Marketplace to discover what each supplier was offering. Most the year organizers are so involved with the planning of their own event they don’t get a chance to go to other festivals to see what is new or what other attractions are available. This makes the Marketplace an important part of the conference, because it gives delegate the opportunity to discover new and exciting ideas and products for their festivals or events. Some of the many suppliers I visited included: Shauna Cowan of the Canadian Raptor Conservancy; Ken LaSalle of KenJen Animal Stars and Petting Zoo (Click HERE for Blog article); Bryan Couture of the West Coast Lumberjack Shows; Maria Cal of K and K Insurance Canada and Karen and John Anderson of the Travelin' Riverboat Show. A luncheon was served while delegates continued to explore the Marketplace. Part of the festivities during the luncheon was a performance by children’s entertainer, Mary Lambert. The delegates enjoyed Mary, especially when she had a member of the audience come on stage to help her with one of her songs! After lunch it was time to get back to work, the afternoon sessions were about to start…

Friday Afternoon and Evening…

The afternoon was devoted to two 1 ½ hour learning sessions. The first period offered sessions on “Developing a Critical Path for Your Event – Part 1”, “Media Relations” and a “Panel Discussion featuring the managers of the International Plowing Match and the Hillside Festival”. I attended the panel discussion. The first speaker was Jan Bonhomme, who was the overall manager of the 2007 International Plowing Match (IPM). The 2007 IPM was held in Leeds-Grenville. Jan took the IPM from conception to the final presentation and was at it for 3 years. Jan told us about the trials and tribulations of developing, planning and managing such a major event. With nearly 1,500 volunteers, 600 exhibitors and 63 different committees, the event went off amazingly well. The next speaker was Rachel Thompson manager of the Hillside Festival which is located near Guelph. Rachel told us the history of the event and about its phenomenal growth over the past few years. She also described the festival's philosophy to have a totally “green” event. After both speakers had finished their presentations, questions from the audience were answered. After a short coffee break, the second set of sessions began. The second period included the following topics: a “Panel Discussion by the managers of the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest and the Niagara Fall’s Winter Festival of Lights”, “Volunteers… A Resource Worth Nurturing” and “Developing a Critical Path for Your Event – Part 2”. Like first period, I chose the panel discussion. The first speaker was K-W Oktoberfest, Executive Director, Larry Blundell. Larry told us about the inner workings of the festival and the challenges of keeping the festival fresh and innovating each. 2008 is the festivals 40th anniversary and, according to Larry will be bigger and better than ever. A new initiative now in the works is the “Ultimate Oktoberfest Experience”. He told us that this “experience” is based on the “Disney model”. Achieving this will involve creating a new “ultimate experience” training program for its volunteers! The second speaker was Dino Fazio, General Manager of the Winter Festival of Lights – Niagara Falls. Dino talked about the trials of revamping the festival over the past 4 years and how it is now emphasizing the “lights” portion of the festival and reducing/eliminating some of the more costly “free” entertainment. He said that it was a long and difficult process but necessary for the long term health of the festival. As with the first session I attended, questions were fielded from the floor. After the final sessions were over, delegates were left to rest and relax until the start of the “Evening Social and Suppliers Awards Night”. The evening started off with an amazing “FIESTA” buffet. The theme of the conference was “Fiesta del FEO” and this evening and the food certainly reflected this theme. During the buffet we were entertained by two of the industry’s suppliers, Ken LaSalle, KenJen Animal Stars and Bryan Couture, East Coast Lumberjack Shows. Ken’s contribution was the “Celebrity Pig Races”. Somehow he convinced several “celebrity” delegates to put aside their dignity and participate in the race. By the way, the only pigs participating were the “FEO celebrities”! It was noisy and hilarious and everyone enjoyed themselves! Bryan set up a dart board contest where delegates got the chance to throw 2 magnetic darts at 4 “very small” dart boards. If a contestant could get both darts to stick, they would win one of Bryan’s famous miniature chain saw carver chairs. There were a lot of attempts, but very few chairs were given out! After the buffet, we all went to the hotel’s ballroom. This was where the “Showcase” stage had been set up. Showcase performances were about to start. The “Showcase” features artists who are interested in showing their acts to festival organizers. It is their hope that some of the organizers will hire them for their festival or event. The following is a list of the groups that were featured:
** Sultans of String/Chris McKhool
** Pan Out Now
** Endless Summer
** Letters to Elora
** Piano Man
The quality of the evening’s entertainment was exceptional. The audience was enthusiastic in their appreciation. Throughout the evening’s entertainment, the “Supplier Awards” were announced and trophies handed out. With the last performance over, delegates retired to their rooms. Tomorrow was going to be another busy day! Saturday Morning…

Breakfast started at 8:00 AM. Breakfast, served in the Ballroom, was beautifully laid out buffet style. The morning’s session was the Festivals and Events Ontario Annual General Meeting. FEO President Larry Blundell started the formal part of the meeting by asking for approval of last year’s AGM minutes. Larry then went over the annual reports submitted by the various directors and committees. In listening to President Larry’s farewell address (this was Larry’s last year as FEO President), you could see and hear the pride he had for this organization. 2007 had been a transitional year that saw the old Executive Director leave and the new Executive Director installed. Even though there had been change, he told us that a positive surge had taken place to make FEO a strong voice in the advancement of festivals and events in Ontario. After Larry’s speech, the delegates were asked to vote for new members of the Board of Directors. With voting completed, it was time to decide which morning session to attend. There were several sessions to choose from: “Efficient and Effective Event Tools”, “Getting the Gates Open – A Real Challenge at Times”, “Integrating Cultural Diversity Into Your Event”, “Radio Advertising and Promotions: Maximizing Your Event’s Potential” and “Greening Your Event – Zero Waste Community Event Toolkit”. I chose to attend the Radio Advertising and Promotion session. The presenter was Lara Scott, Events Coordinator for the Corporation of the Town of Cobourg. Lara, whose husband works for one of the local radio stations, gave great insight into the world of radio advertising and promotion. Lara was able to emphasis her remarks by playing examples of “good” and “bad” radio ads and promos. Judging by the number of questions asked by those in attendance, this was a very interesting and needed topic. The session lasted right to lunch time. The hotel ballroom had once again been set up, this time for lunch. Lunch was a sit down affair with a Showcase being presented. Today delegates were treated to a performance by “Fleetwood Dreams”, a “Fleetwood Mac” tribute band. With lunch and the FEO Conference Showcase over, it was time to go back to work, the afternoon sessions were about to start…

Saturday Afternoon and the President’s Gala

After a great lunch, it was time to choose which of the first afternoon sessions to attend. Our choices were, “Capitalizing on Culinary Tourism Within Your Event”, “Internet Marketing Part 1 of 2”, “Best Practices”, “The War of 1812 – 1814: National Commemoration of a Nation-Building Event” and “Copy Writing”. Having an internet site of my own, I chose the “Internet Marketing” session. The presenter for this session was Paul Tobey. Paul, in addition to being a very entertaining expert on Internet Marketing is also a very talented Concert Pianist and marketer of piano products and services. Paul’s fantastic knowledge of the Internet and marketing his website and its product through the Internet came as a result of many years of trial and error. He is now passing these lessons learned on to others through he Internet marketing courses. Paul’s unique style of speaking keeps everyone on their toes and glued to what he has to say. The first part ended after Paul explained the Internet and how it worked in relationship to websites. After an 1 ½ session, packed full of information, we broke for coffee! The second sessions we had to chose from were: “Booking Entertainment That Will Engage Your Audience and Enhance Your Event”, “Internet Marketing – Part 2 of 2”, “Making Your ‘Brand Image’ Jump Off the Page”, “Leadership Excellence – Leading from the Heart” and “Managing Risk and Reducing Liability Through Proper Training”. All of the sessions sounded great. As always, it is very hard to choose which one to go to. The problem with being only one person is that you can’t clone yourself to attend multiple sessions. Fortunately Festivals and Events Ontario records the sessions so that they can be listen to later. I decided to continue with the “Internet Marketing”. This session went into the heart of marketing a website. Paul’s ideas shatter many of the “truths” that many websites designers believe in. These ideas were fascinating and thought provoking. I came away with the feeling that I still had so much more to learn. The main point I learned, though, was that your website had to be visible to all those seeking your type of products or services. This meant that a website needs to be high (1st page or 2) on the main search engines – Google and Yahoo. Paul gave us many great tips. With the last session over we now had an hour to freshen up, dress in our best “duds” and “rumba” on down to the “Fiesta del FEO” President’s Gala reception! Tables were set up in the Atrium and refreshments were being served. Part way through the reception 6 beautiful ladies in bright fiesta costumes entered the room to the delight and amusement of the crowd. Many pictures were taken for future scrapbooks. Finally the doors open to the Ballroom and we all walked down the corridor to it. On our way, we passed brightly lite palm trees and a magnificent ice sculpture. The Gala had truly begun. The evening was a combination of well deserved awards, delicious food and non-stop entertainment. There were several FEO Achievement Awards. These awards are presented to festivals and events in several categories. The winners of these awards represent the best in our industry. The Achievement categories included:
* Most Innovative Sponsorship Program
* Most Innovative Partnership
* Best Fundraising
* Best Volunteer Program
* Best Community Involvement
* Best Greening of a Festival or Event
* Best Media/Marketing/Promotional Campaign
* Sponsor of the Year
* Best Official Printed Program (3 dollar levels)
* Best Poster (3 dollar levels)
* Best New Festival or Event (3 dollar levels)
* Best Visual Campaign (3 dollar levels)
* Best Merchandise/Souvenir Idea (3 dollar levels) This evening's "Showcase" featured non-stop entertainment and included:
** The Dance Company
** Johannes Linstead – Guitar of Fire

** Everything Fitz
** Loco Zydeco
** Cathy Korpi

Finally, at the end of the evening, Festivals and Events Ontario announced the "Top 100 Ontario festivals and events" .