Organizer Q&A: A Classic Crawl Sprints Through Growth

Today’s organizer Q&A is with Christopher Festa, who grew a Chicago bar crawl with 60 of his friends into an annual holiday event with 10,000 people – get ready for TBOX 2011!

You’re in an elevator with a group of people and have 30 seconds to convince them to buy a ticket to your event. What do you say?

I throw the world’s most incredible pub crawl, Camp TBOX 2011. It’s in the winter in Chicago. It starts at 8:00 a.m., you go to 36 bars, more than 10,000 people go dressed in crazy outfits; it’s an absolute knock-down, drag-out LOVEFEST. Tell your boss you won’t be making the office party this year!

OK, we’re in! What are the details?

Camp TBOX 2011 – Festa’s 16th Annual Twelve Bars of Xmas, The World’s Most Spectacular Pub Crawl, takes place in Wrigleyville, Chicago, Illinois, on Saturday, December 10, 2011, from 8:00 a.m. through closing time.

TBOXSM stands for “T”welve “B”ars “O”f  “X”mas. It’s a Christmas Pub Crawl which has grown to an attendance of more than 10,000 people, with participants from more than 40 States coming in 2010.

What are the goals of your event?

The goal is to provide a unique, dynamic, and compelling holiday-themed entertainment party experience. Over the years, TBOX has generated a tremendous amount of buzz, energy, and excitement, and we want to provide all our crawlers with a magical and unforgettable day of crazy and SUPER-CONCENTRATED wild fun.  We also want to make this a very successful day for all the great establishments in Wrigleyville we use for the event, and for our valued sponsors, including Miller Lite, who has been with us since 2003 and grown their participation each year.

Who is putting on your event? What does the team look like?

Festa Parties Incorporated, Founded and Owned by CEO Christopher Festa of Chicago, Illinois.  I, (Mr. Festa) and my Staff produce TBOX each year.  It was a personal event the first 7 years as it grew to around 1,600 people, and then I converted it to a commercial enterprise in 2003.

What was the original inspiration to host your event 15 years ago actually?

I (Christopher Festa) used to host an annual party in my one-bedroom Chicago apartment called “Festapalooza” – after the 4th year, it had gotten so out of control, that I realized he had to take the partying outside the house to avoid getting evicted!  As someone who loves Road Trips and likes to keep things moving, the idea of a pub crawl seemed like the perfect solution, and the first “TBOX” took place in 1996, with about 60 people – mostly work friends and softball teammates – showing up.

What did the original event look like?

First of all, there was no planning. None! I just called a few friends and sent out an inter-office electronic memo with a schedule of 12 bars. Very few people had e-mail back then. TBOX1 started at 4:00 p.m., so everyone could sleep as late as they wanted, and at the first bar, NO ONE showed up for 45 minutes.  I literally sat there alone on a bar stool, and drank 2 beers until 2 of my friends showed up at 4:45.  At the next bar, about 15 more people came, and we were off and running!

How has it changed over the years?

Now that TBOX is a commercial enterprise and destination event, it’s something I think about, talk about, plan for, and work on year-round. Back in the first few years, it wasn’t a big deal, and I didn’t really think about it until around Thanksgiving.

The event actually used to have 12 individual bars in sequence. Now, it has 36 bars in a Round Robin. Until around 2003-04, very few people dressed up – maybe a santa hat here or a red sweater there – now, everyone dresses in incredibly elaborate costumes planned far in advance.

I also used to make a few special badges that said “VIP” for close friends – now we have a “Royal Court” of 55 event leaders. And the “Opening Ceremonies” – which used to consist of me and a dozen friends walking from my apartment to the first bar, holding a torch and humming the Olympic theme – are now an elaborate Hollywood-style production in front of 1,500 people onstage at the Cubby Bear. Pretty much everything that used to be handmade is made professionally now, and everything that was done the day or week before, is now done months before!

What have you done to market your event? What has worked well?

Word of mouth, word of mouth, word of mouth! Aided at first by email, then by social networking, and we now complement that with generating awareness through our other annual events, BeadQuest, Cover Your Bases, and the 3-Legged Crawl, and have small street teams at Chicago bars and street festivals.

Also, I jokingly call the Royal Court my “other” marketing department. They are a great group of loyal and enthusiastic evangelists for TBOX, and I press them into service to have cards on them, spread the word on Facebook, and tell all their friends.

What do you love most about planning this event? What has been your favorite part this year?

I think my favorite part has become the last 3-4 weeks before the event, when everyone comes to our office to pick up their participant kits. We get to meet, talk to, and answer questions for everyone in person, and it really helps build the excitement and “indoctrinate” people into the TBOX experience – especially the “TBOX Virgins” – those who have never been before. It’s funny to see how nervous they are about what they’ve gotten themselves into!

Do you have any favorite stories from years past?

So this one time, at TBOX… that’s actually our tag line for Camp TBOX 2011! There are, I’m sure, thousands of stories from TBOX every year. I try to focus on making sure it is our guests who leave every year with amazing stories and memories that will make them count the days till the next year’s TBOX! Personally, though, I get a huge kick out of having one special day of the year where I know I’m responsible for thousands of people having an absolute blast. It’s a rush!

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