Live events are back.
Whether you’re new to staffing events or just shaking off the dust from a pandemic-imposed year-long hiatus, we’re here to get you up to speed.
From the moment you’re tapped to staff for a live event, we’re laying out how to get from point A of accepting the job to point Z of making it a success through your staffing efforts.
So if you’re the labor manager, payroll manager, labor coordinator, or simply the person in charge of staffing, check out our breakdown of best practices when crewing up for your next event.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Maybe you’ve been hired by an event company to staff its projects for the year.
Or, maybe you’re in discussions with a potential client about producing a one-off event for their company.
Regardless, before you dive into the actual staffing process, you have to know what you’re dealing with to know how to staff.
Assessing the scope of work for each particular event is critical as there are so many moving parts (and different needs) that will impact how and who you hire.
But more importantly, these decisions will, of course, affect the budget and determine if the project is even doable. We’ll expand on these staffing-specific costs in a later section.
To properly assess the scope of work, ask yourself:
What are the types of roles this event requires? Do you need highly skilled lighting technicians for an absurd light show or is this just another small business conference?
Depending on your needs, this consideration and all of the other ones below, will greatly affect who you need to hire, and of course, cost.
Is it a weekend music festival where each crew member is staffed each day, all day?
That may be the case, but are they working 14-hour days? You likely don’t want to deal with breaking overtime laws. Maybe multiple shifts will be needed for each role during each day? Or maybe a few staff members might end up performing different jobs and you'll have to determine if dual pay rates are needed per each person. (But that's a payroll consideration, something we'll talk about soon).
Not to mention build or load in days you’ll have to account for, and of course, breakdown days following the event.
We’re going to expand upon this when we talk about budget, but it’s important to bring up when determining the scope of the event.
Get a solid understanding of which roles can be hired locally and which need to be non-local crew.
Say you’re running an out-of-town event and you need a PA, hiring locally is probably best. Though, maybe you're working the next Super Bowl halftime show, and you need your favorite tech director. But he lives in New York and the game is in Los Angeles. It might be worth the extra expense flying him across the country, to ensure his expertise.
In general, it’s usually more common that higher-level positions travel for live event work.
Depending on familiarity with an out-of-town location and the expected staffing resources there, it might be worth it to bring on a local event company. But as we will discuss next, it will definitely have cost considerations.
All of these things (and many more as this is by no means exhaustive) play a huge role in staffing successfully. And each consideration helps determine the staffing-specific costs when laying out the budget.
If it seems like a lot, well, that’s kind of because it is!
But fortunately for you, this is not a one-woman (or man) show. These broad questions should always be discussed in greater detail with everyone involved.
A huge part of staffing for live events is maintaining consistent and clear lines of communication with pertinent team members – especially the leader of the project.
This person might be referred to as the event director, tech director, or project manager.
Be sure to carve out time with them to go over scope way before staffing occurs.
Should we move on?
Ah, if only it were that easy…
Assessing the scope of your live event will likely also require a series of conversations with the client.
These conversations might look and feel a lot like a game of blind tug of war.
Is the client asking for a date too soon- one you likely won’t have enough time to staff for?
Or, this is always a fun one, maybe they are expecting a first-class event with an economy-class budget?
Whatever the case, be clear on what you can or cannot do internally, and then communicate that to the client.
Know ahead of time what will impact your budget. Staffing-specific costs may seem obvious, but these costs go way beyond staff’s hourly rates.
When you laid out the scope of the event, you determined how many crew members you needed, what types of roles you needed, and how many days you needed each of them for….these, along with their individual rates, (some likely union rates), load in/load out days, dual pay rates, and a slew of other considerations will all impact the budget.
And whether you’re working with these hires individually or through another company, ensure you’re able to pay them compliantly. Costs for payroll services are substantially less than the fines and fees later due to (even accidental) non-compliance.
Local hires will generally save on fees because local hires are, well, local. No need to put them up in a hotel or provide transportation for them. Another bonus is that they likely will be familiar with the event venue, so if you ask them to run an errand, they likely won’t get lost or waste time.
There may be times you want to hire crew you’ve already worked with before.
Hiring non-locals and perhaps even flying in this out-of-town crew is usually best when they’re department heads or they fill a position that requires strong expertise as mentioned above.
But regardless if they’re top dog, their presence will still cost you. Anyone you’re transporting to an out-of-town event might necessitate the following expenses:
Just to name a few.
Be sure to write them up a crew deal memo or an even more specific and legally binding contract outlining all of the details of what you will and will not be responsible for.
This is a key consideration to really mull over. Because this could be one of your biggest expenses depending on the outside company’s rates.
If you’re putting on an event out in the middle of nowhere, with little knowledge of the area, and have to execute within tight time constraints, the pros of spending the extra dough for peace of mind might make sense here.
Trying to plan for an expense termed “unforeseen” may feel a touch counterintuitive, but you can never be too prepared for a live event.
Some considerations to keep in mind:
There’s a lot that can and will happen over the course of a live event production.
Budget high - when it comes to budget, a general rule of thumb is to plan high.
Look to the previous year - if you have data from the prior year for the same event, use it as a guideline. You might plan for a general increase in wages of 1-2% regardless of any change in scope of your event. But should the event be expanding in any way, reflect that in your staffing budget. If the overall budget has increased by 5% or 10%, so should yours.
Only by determining these factors, adjusting the staffing budget accordingly and confirming that you will have that budget for your staffing needs will you be able to start hiring.
It’s also important to keep in mind that staffing is only one component of the overall budget. While it’s the most important budget to you, each department head – production design, marketing, and so on – has their own budget to work with over the course of the event planning and its execution.
Knowing what you have to work with, as well as how that compares with the other departments, may be useful in negotiating either with your event director or the client themselves to get the funds you know you need to successfully staff for the event.
Now with all of these considerations in mind, let’s get to staffing.
A quick suggestion…
Consider staffing three months in advance.
This isn’t a golden rule and knowing when to staff for an event can vary from project to project, but three months is generally the minimum amount of time you want to give yourself.
More time is always better because as the following explains, you’re going to have a fair number of details to work out as you begin to staff.
Here are some considerations and things to look out for when you’re hiring companies, out-of-town crew, and locals...
Pending budget, time constraints, and familiarity with the event location, subcontracting may be your best option to help with your staffing needs. As mentioned above, yes, it will be another expense, but that fee can definitely make up for the time, energy, and possible frustrations in trying to hire locally on your own.
A local event company will generally have their own vetted crew, which leaves you with one less to-do.
That being said, be clear about your expectations. Know not only what they will want for a fee but also what you will get in return for it. Be clear about roles that need to be filled, qualifications required for those roles, and all other determinants for a competent staff.
Additionally, you'll still have to vet the person in charge of the company. So, If you have any colleagues or even friends who have already used a company they like, obviously referrals are best.
You already know this will cost you, but maybe you’ve made the decision because it makes the most sense for your situation. And not having them and their expertise on board might cost you more later.
And if you plan to hire local crew for other positions, these are the folks who will be looking after them, which can provide peace of mind.
Let’s say that you’ve decided local hires are the way to go, but you want to source and vet them yourself. Fair enough.
But as with hiring non-local staff and local event companies, don’t overlook the possible constraints of hiring local individuals:
We just mentioned having backups should someone whom you staffed leave for another opportunity, but the truth is that people don’t just leave projects – they leave the industry, too.
The live event space has a significant amount of turnover, which is why part of your job, whether you’re in the middle of staffing for an event or not, is to always be recruiting.
And aside from always searching the Internet, keep track of and keep in touch with the hires you already know.
Besides being your one-stop-shop for payroll, Wrapbook can also be a source for keeping tabs on your past hires with its log of contacts.
It’s also a great way to make sure you’re up to date with everyone’s pay rates so that you don’t inadvertently go over your budget.
Over time, you'll likely build an impressive list of competent staff. And while each year, it does seem to get harder to find reliable live event workers, if you're always looking to recruit new hires while maintaining relationships with past ones, you'll likely be in a much better place when it comes time to staff your events.
While the fast-paced nature of the live event space generally feels like a sprint, to be successful, it might be best to think of it more like a marathon.
If you're locked in for next year’s event and have a crew you like to work with, put them on hold now.
Live event crew can have somewhat nomadic lifestyles, and the industry itself is competitive.
Don’t wait to track them down a few months out from that next event. Do what you can to prepare for that event as soon as possible.
That being said, if you are the labor coordinator or working with that person, you’ll also need to work out that expense for a year into the future.
As mentioned at the very top of our breakdown, communication is key, so talk to your client about possibly needing some of next year’s budget funds early to ensure that
you can do those early crew bookings. After all, it’s in their best interest that you come prepared for the next live event.
Staffing for live events is a considerable undertaking. And as with virtually every other part of this industry, it’s all about communication and planning. Keep the lines of communication open with your event director, the client, and the crew.
Be prepared for the worst-case scenario so that you’re (almost) always prepared.
But most importantly, be confident in your hires. Each person plays a vital role in making sure that event goes smoothly, so consider carefully who you want and why. And at the end of the day, know that you don’t have to go it alone.
Reach out to a payroll expert at Wrapbook to simplify some of the monotonous legalese of payroll compliance as you staff.
And in the meantime, take a deep dive into how to run payroll for live events.
Scouting production locations? We’re breaking down 10 states with considerable film tax breaks so you can get the most bang for your budget buck.
Wrapbook's newest resource is our podcast, "On Production," which features experts in the field and tips on how to navigate the production world. Check it out!