Years ago I sat in a circle with a group of holistic birth professionals, including a midwife, childbirth educator, chiropractor, acupuncturist, massage therapist, photographer & doula. We were sharing our frustration with an upcoming corporate-style baby fair at which booths would run an average of $800 – $1000, far out of our price range. And so of course we began to scheme and dream about creating our own fair: Birth Fest.
Envisioned as an alternative to the larger-scale convention centre baby fairs, we wanted to create something truly local and affordable, showcasing the best of what our community had to offer. Birth Fest was a beloved part of the Vancouver birth scene from 2006 – 2011, welcoming hundreds of families each year.
After five years we were ready for something new, and decided to let go of this vision. Here are a few of our lessons learned along the way:
> Be Clear on your Vision
What kinds of booths do you want to include? Services? Baby Gear? Artisan Crafts? As well, consider what age range you want to represented for families with young children? Look carefully at your booth selections to ensure there is a good balance of options for families at all stages of pregnancy and new parenthood.
You will also find it helpful to set clear criteria on booth selection. Consider the types of businesses that might apply to join you and how you feel about larger companies such as a pharmacy, education savings plan or chain baby store being included? Do you want to meet the WHO Breastfeeding Code as part of your criteria?
> Create Partnerships
If your goal is to keep the event affordable for small businesses, the price of a large hall can be daunting. Consider approaching a local community center or church to collaborate with you by donating the space? Is there a local print or online magazine for young families that might join you as the event sponsor? Identify local businesses that might be open to donating materials such as flowers, balloons & helium, snacks for volunteers (pick up the day-olds from the bakery the night before), and raffle prizes.
> Share the Work
While you certainly could plan a birth and baby fair all on your own, it will be a lot more enjoyable as a team effort together with a few other like-minded businesses. Recruit a team of volunteers to help with set-up, the greeting table at the event, and clean-up (which admittedly is harder to get volunteers for). New doulas are often more than willing to contribute as this is a great chance to get connected in the birth community.
> Have fun with the Decor
We discovered there are countless ways to spruce up a community gymnasium. We wanted the feel of a “Birth Lounge”, using luscious pinks and red cloths (sourced from a discount fabric warehouse), plenty of holiday light strings, and flowers on every table. Cover a birth ball with pretty fabric and throw it up in the basketball hoop! Set up a breastfeeding nook with cozy chairs (hauled in a truck from your living room) and pillows. A tent borrowed from a local farmers market vendor combined with a few rocking chairs, pillows & stools from home created a lovely quiet nook for parents with babies needing to breastfeed or have a snuggle.
> Use Social Media
I’ve got good news for you. When you’re marketing a birth fair, you have the ability to tap into the social media channels of every single company represented at the fair! Be sure to offer booth owners great content to share via social media, including an informative website, a facebook event page, and even a fair #hashtag. If you see yourselves doing the event again in future years, take the time to document this year’s events with photos & video footage to create a slideshow or movie to help promote next year’s event.
Organizing your own birth fair is a lot of work, but there are significant benefits attached to your efforts. There is of course the obvious benefit of creating a fair tailored to your niche market and showcasing your birth practice. More important, however, is the impact of taking a leadership role with the fair – increasing your visibility, building relationships, and best of all, establishing yourself as a hub within the birth community.