You had an innovative event idea, and you went with it. Your gut was right. You sold out every ticket.

So you did it again. And again. And again.

Somewhere along the line, your flare for innovation flagged. And here we are: new year, same event. Maybe it doesn’t quite sell out every time anymore. Meanwhile, all around you, you’re noticing fresh event ideas and wondering, why didn’t I think of that?

Culture shifts, people change, and new ideas emerge. Today, events are expected to be open-minded arenas. Diversity and inclusion are critical to attendee experience.

If your events could use an infusion of progressive change, take a lesson from Jorge Portillo, founder of Hard French, an outdoor daytime soul music dance party in San Francisco.

Dare to do something different

Every good idea starts as a radical idea.

For Hard French, event evolution has been critical to staying in business for the last decade. It started as an underground dance party for “alternative queers and brown folks being pushed out of traditional gay spaces in the city,” as Portillo puts it.

San Francisco has always been a progressive place for gay people. But the Castro — the traditionally gay neighborhood in the heart of the city — was too mainstream, so Portillo and his co-founders envisioned a pro-gay scene featuring punk, Latin music, and soul. “We wanted an atmosphere where we could enjoy the music we liked,” says Portillo.

At the time, this was a crazy idea. Yet, the event was wildly successful from the start. The regular dance parties at the El Rio became, according to Portillo, “a diaspora of types, and those folks pulled more people like them to come to events — not necessarily representative of the gay mainstream.”

Accept feedback with grace 

You will get negative feedback. It’s how you handle it that counts. 

At some point along the line, Portillo and his crew decided to throw a party to celebrate May 5th. They didn’t want to call it “Cinco de Mayo” — a traditionally Mexican theme that has been culturally appropriated in the U.S. So they organized a Pico de Gallo party instead. 

The event planners at Hard French thought it was a cheeky idea, but unfortunately, the feedback was not great. Some Latinx in the community were miffed that Hard French was “bringing Latin culture down” with a lack of respect for a time-honored tradition. There was bad press, and it took the event brand a while to recover.

  1. Be humble about your mistakes

To evolve your event, you have to be willing to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from failure. 

The planners behind Hard French learned a valuable lesson from the Pico de Gallo fiasco. “Diversity and inclusion — there’s no one right answer,” Portillo says. “The effort is always the most important thing, but if that’s the point of your events, you’re going to face challenges at a lot of different levels.”

Take in feedback. Be humble about constructive criticism. And never get defensive.

Address the faux pas

Don’t try to brush your mistakes under the rug.

It took Hard French a while to recover from the gaffe and the bad press it received from Pico de Gallo. But once they did, they incorporate the feedback and moved on, having learned a lesson.

Addressing mistakes directly will help to show that you’re committed to real change — not just using equality as a marketing tool.

Evolve again, and again, and again

Never stop adapting. 

Hard French started with a unique idea. Over time, though, the fringe dance party started to feel too mainstream. It was attracting a different crowd than the one Portillo and his team intended to serve. And the events just didn’t seem as fun or radical anymore.

“It was starting to lose the core flavor,” he says, “and become, for lack of a better word, gentrified.”

So the team decided to pivot. Now, they host only a few big-scale events a year — most notably, to celebrate Pride Week and the Folsom Street Parade, another hugely popular LGTBQ event in San Francisco.

Portillo says, “Non-mainstream events that are focused on a particular area of diversity or awareness, and which try to tap into a particular community or culture, have to be ready to change and shift. They can’t just scale up infinitely from their original form. If they want to stay true to their core premise, they have to adapt as they go.”

Find tools and technology to scale event evolution

As you strive to become a modern, even progressive event brand, you will make mistakes. Rest assured, says Portillo, “It’s all about intent. Saying you’re an inclusive event is a winning strategy.”

No matter what, your diversity and inclusion goals will help you grow — if you put the right foundation in place so you can scale up as you go. Always choose event management and ticketing tools that will grow with you.

Read more about how to keep up with event evolution in the ebook Making Your Events More Inclusive and Diverse.

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