By: Courtney Fogle (@courtnxyfogle


John VanderHaagen is the Public Relations Manager at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, known for its large-scale events in Grand Rapids, MI. In this episode of PR Hangover, John talks about the PR logistics of large-scale event planning, particularly the Summer Concert Series.


The majority of events at Frederik Meijer Gardens are seasonal, which means they have to plan ahead. John says that if they didn’t have everything planned, they would just scramble last minute. Many of these events are recurrent, but they use different strategies based on their goals and include a variety of committees for planning. They have to focus on shareholders, public relations, event logistics, volunteers, and more. The organization prides themselves on always implementing new ideas for their events, even when their overall media plans are similar.

Since they juggle the planning of numerous large and small events, they like to stick to their calendar and timeline to keep everything running smoothly. Most meetings and tactics are planned months in advance, including social media. For social media, they use a combination of Sprout Social and Facebook scheduling tools.

Summer Concert Series

Their famous Summer Concert Series just had its sixteenth season. This series takes place in the Meijer Gardens Amphitheater with 1900 General Admission tickets and a newly renovated 430 extra seats. The series includes 30 different shows, June through September, with national acts ranging from older music like the Beach Boys to newer music. On Tuesdays in July and August, they have both local & regional music showcased, which is free to members and is included in the series general admission tickets.

Keeping the Audience Interested

Because the Summer Concert Series is an annual event, they have to find ways to keep their audience coming back. They have 2,900 member households that have the first chance to buy tickets. One way they engage interest is their rule of thirds: ⅓ repeat acts, ⅓ new acts, ⅓ varying combinations of new and returning acts. They work hard to obtain a good mix of entertainers for their member base, trying to include both older and newer music.

The goal is to have something that the audience won’t be able to find at other West Michigan venues, such as their tiered lawn amphitheater, sculptures at the venue, and outdoor experience.

Finding Acts

Frederik Meijer Gardens uses surveys from sponsors, members, staff, and volunteers to find relevant acts for the concert series. Then, they use a booking agent out of Utah that has strong relations to the music industry so he can easily find acts that he knows will sell. He works to find the best bands, best price, and communicate with these artists’ management teams. John says the booking process starts about 6 months out because artists make their summer plans based on album release schedules and tour schedules.

To see a list of 2018’s performers, click here!

Safety Plans

“It’s not the most enjoyable part of event planning, but it’s got to be a cornerstone of what you do,” John says. Frederik Meijer Gardens doesn’t need the same amount of security staff that a large venue does, but they make sure they are well equipped for any disaster. Security generally manages crowd control and small threats, but they are prepared for larger disasters, as any big event needs to be. They have a manual that has a disaster plan for a variety of threats, which includes the process of alerting the media, public, and staff. John says it’s important to have a plan practice these situations just in case something does happen.

To hear more about event planning at Frederik Meijer Gardens, click here!



Courtney Fogle is a junior studying Advertising and Public Relations. She is currently the Podcast Director for PRSSA and an account associate at GrandPR. Courtney is a singer-songwriter, with hopes to combine her love of music and PR so that she can work in the music industry managing artists and their brands. In her free time, you can find her listening to music or taking pictures of her cat, Oliver.