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When events come to Wellington, stories get told

By David 10 Sep 2014

VWOAP Hannahs Laneway Banquet 01

Last month, at the New Zealand Association of Event Professionals Awards, five of the nine accolades given out went to Wellington events. There’s no question our city excels at hosting major events of all kinds, and that these are important drivers of our tourism industry. As we head into a bumper year for events in 2015, we need to recognise and grasp the opportunity this presents with both hands.

Alongside our regular events, 2015 brings us opportunities around the Cricket World Cup, FIFA U20’s World Cup, the commemorations for the ANZAC Day centenary, the 150th anniversary of Wellington’s capital status and, as we learned at the beginning of the month – at last – a stadium concert by a global superstar.

First and foremost we need to make sure our events are well-attended. That’s why PWT and the Wellington City Council work hand-in-hand to make sure every event delivers in terms of economic and social impact. And, (as I said in my last blog), it’s why the WREDA proposal is critical for concentrating maximum resources and efficiently leveraging them to deliver a high-value events calendar.

Far beyond simply a ticket-selling exercise, however, through associated media coverage and word-of-mouth, (amplified via social media), events enable us to tell the story of our city to the world.

Make no mistake; when events come to town, stories get told, one way or another.

Make no mistake; when events come to town, stories get told, one way or another.

We need to be proactive about influencing the quality and direction of those stories however we can. We’re a little city in most contexts – we need a strong, audacious and confident voice to cut through and deliver the message that Wellington is a competitively vibrant Australasian city.

We need to develop a mindset where we recognise the storytelling potential of our events. Here’s the kind of thing I mean:

  • An event is a ‘whole-city’ experience. For instance, when people come to WOW® they don’t just go to the show. Their trip is about the shopping, the dining, the street atmosphere, the time with friends and the show.
  • Big events create big memories. For some people, Elton John will be their first ever stadium rock concert experience. For some it will be the first time (or the last) they see someone they’ve listened to their whole life, perform live. Either way, how important will that moment be, and how often will they tell that story? What could be the details that make it ‘perfect’? What could spoil it?
  • Events can connect with the city’s culture. When the FIFA U20 World Cup comes to town, we can shine a spotlight on Wellington as a genuine ‘footballing city’. Yes, we have the Phoenix, but what are the stories of the guys behind the Yellow Fever; what drives them? Or the suburban kids who do a thousand keep-y-ups a season as part of their training? What are the moments and who are the characters in the story of Wellington’s football culture?
  • Events help us define our identity. Wellington has a significant role to play in New Zealand’s commemoration of ANZAC Day in 2015, and in our own 150th anniversary as a capital. As we reflect on the past, what stories will resonate with us most powerfully? Which do we choose to champion as points on a line that connects previous generations of Wellingtonians with our vision of the city’s future? The stories we enshrine in our commemorations will speak volumes to others about who we are and what we believe.
  • Events are about participation. Everyone who attends an event contributes to the experience. As such they often feel a measure of pride in taking part and helping to make it happen. This is especially true of community-driven events like Around the Bays, the Karapoti Classic, CubaDupa, Ciclovia, Gardens Magic and so forth. These events can tell a story of Wellington as a great place to live and work; a place where people feel good coming together as a community to participate and support each other. How can more Wellingtonians be inspired to take up and enjoy these challenges?

If we tell these stories well and make sure they’re heard by, yes, Wellingtonians, but also people from other parts of New Zealand, Australia and the rest of the world, then the reputation of this city will grow, and with it the social and economic prosperity of our city.

As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”. If the things they’re saying about Wellington are the things we who love the city know and believe, then all of us stand to benefit.

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