One of the most important philosophies of Laurel Main Street is to work together with others toward a common goal. We find others in our community who believe as we do and we develop partnerships, strategies and plans to see new ideas come to life. Our purpose, first and foremost, is the revitalization, preservation and economic growth of Laurel’s central business district, or “Downtown Laurel”.
We can’t do it alone.
As a part of the Mississippi Main Street Association we not only have the systems and tools in place to further growth, but we have become part of a network of incredible organizations that work together to see all of Mississippi’s communities lifted up.
Every year MS Main Street hosts an event that embodies this philosophy of growth – Back Stage Pass. Bob Wilson, MMSA Executive Director, said, “Back Stage Pass focuses on planning for festivals and special events that reveal your town’s authentic character through the sharing of ideas and like experiences with other event planners throughout the Southeast. We invite event planners from towns of all sizes to join us for fun, networking and learning as we explore ways to develop and enhance events that build community character and contribute to the creative economy and overall quality of life.”
This year’s event was a partnership in and of itself, as MS Main Street worked alongside Visit Mississippi and the Mississippi Arts Commission to “nurture and promote creativity and creative development in the state,” said Malcolm White, Visit Mississippi director. “The Back Stage Pass partnership is a great example of how government can work together to provide constituents with training and tools needed to build top-notch events that positively affect budgets and bottom lines.”
The 2015 Back Stage Pass Event
The 4th Annual BSP event was held in Hattiesburg January 21st and 22nd, 2015. More than 200 community builders, leaders and planners stepped through the shining glass doors at The Lake Terrace Convention Center, excited to learn how to build and grow successful festivals and downtown events from the shared experiences of their peers and the unique insights of a broad selection of experts and industry leaders.
Robert St. John, Hattiesburg restauranteur and author, opened the event with an inspiring keynote focused on the importance of capturing your town’s authentic character and unique story.
Breakout sessions covered a variety of topics from social media to finding and training interns to the importance of thinking strategically when planning events and festivals.
Judi Holifield, LMS Executive Director, and Bethany Byrd, LMS Social Media Manager and Content Strategy Partner, were invited to present on Laurel Main Street’s signature event: The Loblolly Festival.
Building & Promoting an Annual Event: The Loblolly Festival
The Loblolly Festival is an event like no other – it is the embodiment of Laurel’s unique history and the character of our beautiful city. The lessons learned through the creation and ongoing development of this growing festival are valuable to those who, like us, want to see the unique spirit of their town come to life through an annual event.
Every year, as the last festival-goers head home and the vendors start to pack up their creations, the LMS committees, members, partners and volunteers, led by Judi Holifield, begin to look toward the future. In fact, the most important element of the Loblolly strategy is what happens after the festival – the “post-mortem”.
Building a successful event with the post-mortem
During the BSP presentation, Judi explained the importance of incremental improvement and of the lessons learned each year through this exercise. The post mortem is about more than recognizing each year’s successes and shortcomings, it is about finding ways to improve and grow, year after year.
Through Judi’s implementation of the post-mortem, Laurel Main Street has been able to create:
- A Culture of Problem Solving – By focusing on solutions rather than problems, LMS is able to strategically improve its festivals and events over time.
- A Culture of Growth – By focusing on the long-term impact of festivals and events, LMS is able to not only build on previous ideas and successes, but to use the festival to achieve a larger goal – the revitalization and growth of Downtown Laurel.
- A Culture of Engagement – By being aware and receptive of new ideas, partnerships and opportunities, and by empowering others, LMS is able to build key relationships that lead to the growth and increased impact of its festivals and events.
We hope that the insights and personal experiences Judi shared with the Back Stage Pass attendees will help them to build a festival that will not only represent their town, but that will grow and improve over time through strategic planning.
Promoting local events through online marketing
“Small town festivals aren’t about the vendors, the funnel cakes or the music – they’re about the people who call that tiny town home, and the celebration of all of the things that make it deserving of the name.” – Bethany Byrd
In early 2014, Bethany Byrd, president of Own Your Hill, partnered with Laurel Main Street to help guide our offline efforts into effective online marketing strategies and to help build relationships with our community through social media, email marketing and content strategy and creation.
At the Back Stage Pass event she presented the 5-step content marketing formula she created to successfully promote the 2014 Loblolly Festival. The formula, based on inspiring the local community to action and building the overall brands of both the festival and the LMS organization, resulted in increased attention, engagement and connection with our audiences both online and off, before, during and after the festival.
Get her full 5-step Loblolly Formula to Local Event Marketing Success here.
We hope that the information presented by Judi and Bethany was useful and inspiring to those who attended their presentation and are thankful to the event organizers for inviting them to share our successes and the lessons we’ve learned.
We know that, through organizations like Mississippi Main Street and events like Back Stage Pass, the future of Mississippi’s downtowns and communities is bright and by helping each other, we will all move forward toward a shining future.