Q&A: Catching Up With Public Event Pro TR Gourley

In the new BizBash questionnaire, we get to know the creator of attention-grabbing public events like the Lantern Fest, Slide the City, Color Me Rad, and more.

By Claire Hoffman November 1, 2018, 7:31 AM EDT

Photo: Courtesy of TR Gourley

TR Gourley is an event creator, entrepreneur, and consultant who specializes in public, attention-grabbing events through his Salt Lake City-based company Happy Fun Events. Gourley and his team have launched six ongoing public events that have drawn more than three million attendees to date, including the multi-date Lantern Fest, which will take place in St. Louis on Saturday. His traveling Slide the City water-slide event currently holds the Guinness World Record for “the longest distance traveled on a slip and slide in one hour.”

What are you working on right now?
I’m developing a few projects right now I am really excited about. I’m gearing up to launch a new event called One United Voice that is a giant crowd sing-along. We just had our first test event and we are about to kick off our 2019 tour. That one is going to be insanely fun.

I’m also working on a series of courses and content to help people get their ideas off the ground, literally. How many life-changing ideas are at the bottom of your trash can? This will be the first time I’ve ever shared my creative process for crafting new ideas and converting them into profitable companies. I am a tad nervous, but mostly excited.

One thing about being an eccentric event creator is that there are always a few top secret ideas in the developmental stages.

What's in your event day bag?
My event bag is critical. I learned early on that I can’t live without it. I sport a fanny pack paired with a chunky headset and trusty seven-year-old sneakers. This is my power suit.

In addition to a few extra wristbands and some cash, I always have a few gadgets with me: 1) A phone battery and a long charging cable. Nothing kills your mood like a dead phone on event day. I like a battery with enough juice to charge three or four phones—I love the Mophie charger and the 10-foot charging cable from Native Union. 2) A pocket knife; I like this one from James. There are lots of boxes and last-minute shipments to bust open. 3) Hand sanitizer. I borrowed this one from my friend’s diaper bag and now it’s my favorite. I will keep buying this brand because I love Jessica Alba and I support female entrepreneurs. 

Also, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich—it's hard to beat when you need to eat—and a Snickers bar.

What books are inspiring you right now?
My brother just finished writing a book called Getting Better at Getting Better. I’ve read that a few times. His perspective on life is refreshing, and it inspired me to look at the world differently. 

I also love reading biographies of famous people from history—it’s kind of like having them as a personal mentor. These types of books remind me that anything is possible regardless of your condition, struggle, or means. If they can do what they did, then I can do what I’m doing; no excuses. Also, it is a riveting dinner conversation. It makes me feel like a history buff, and that is the kind of buff I will flex. I think my favorite biography recently is The Agony and the Ecstasy about Michelangelo.

What's your favorite new piece of technology?
It isn’t new, but I love Alexa. She keeps my music going (country is my favorite), tells me jokes, and would never let me walk outside without knowing the exact temperature. She’s a keeper.

“I love how fast-paced the decision-making is on an event day. The momentum leading up to a successful event is thrilling.”

What's the biggest thing affecting the event industry right now?
Social media. The nature of viral content rewards the unique experience, and that is the professional push this industry needs to innovate.

You used to be able to have a fun event, market it a little bit, and get a bunch of people to show up, and that was enough. Nowadays, a fun event is just the minimum. It’s been rewired. You really have to immerse yourself in the experience you’re selling and design how your event attendees will interact with every facet of the event.

How will they communicate socially and digitally about this moment of their life? How can you create an impression that can become a brand? You’re not just selling to their friends, you want to take their “feed” into consideration, too. If you want to succeed in the event space, you have to have a strong element of virality. 

Our events have always centered around the extraordinary—whether it’s a 1,000-foot slip ‘n' slide, racing giant trikes, or sending up 10,000 lanterns, we’ve had a lot of photo-sharing at our events. What is fascinating to me is how this format of virality is being picked up by other types of events. I saw a video recently that Vox published about how museums are using “Instagram Traps” to get their guests to share on social media. It’s wild.

What was the most memorable event you've attended lately?
When I go to one of my events it’s work, so I like going to other events I have nothing to do with. My favorite is the Stagecoach Music Festival. It’s three days of not working and not being responsible for anything but showing up to sing at the top of my lungs.

How is your job different now from what it was five years ago?
Five years ago, I was doing it all. I would plan the events, book the venues, secure the event permits, book the Porta Potties, do all the marketing, reply to customer emails and phone calls, pick up the trash, the list goes on and on.

I’ve been able to recruit strong employees and build a world-class team. Now, my role has evolved into leadership and working to empower my team to refine each aspect of our production process. It is an art to duplicate an experience across the globe.

When you’re small, you can do it all. When you get bigger, that’s no longer an option. You have to foster a sense of comfort in order to let go, so your team can manage the details.

What do you love about your job?
I love how fast-paced the decision-making is on an event day. The momentum leading up to a successful event is thrilling. I tether tents, talk to customers, get my hands filthy, and narrowly avoid dehydration all day. I watch parking lots fill and empty with gratitude, because that means we did it.

In any other business, you work for months to build a product and count down to your “launch” and then the real work actually starts. In the event world, you work really hard for months preparing for one day, and then it’s all done. The payoff is really rewarding and I can sleep for 72 hours straight afterward.

I also love getting feedback and hearing from our attendees and the families that come out. I feel good about the joy my events provide.

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