The Social Strategist Part XVII: The National Cherry Blossom Festival’s Diana Mayhew and Effective Event Management

The cherry blossoms are here! The cherry blossoms are here!

I know, as if you needed any reminder.

This year's Cherry Blossom Festival marks the 100 year anniversary of the first gift of cherry trees to the U.S. from Japan. Diana and her team will create more than five weeks of events to mark the occasion.

Washington, D.C. is officially swathed in shades of pink and will be for the next few weeks as the nation’s capital celebrates the arrival (and sad departure) of these gorgeous blooms. Cherry blossom time is always special, but especially so this year thanks to the centennial celebration of the first gift of 3,000 trees by Japan.

And what a celebration it will be. The National Cherry Blossom Festival will expand from its usual 16 days of programming to five weeks of festivities, and include everything from a parade to a pink tie party featuring cherry blossom inspired cuisine and cocktails (naturally). That’s a whole lot of events to plan.

Social strategist Diana Mayhew, president of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Behind the festivities is social strategist Diana Mayhew, the festival’s president and a small staff of seven employees who work year round to ensure that the festival is strategically organized to meet its objectives. After all, the festival is not just about pretty flowers.

Consider the festival’s impact for a moment. An estimated 1 million people will visit the blossoms this year, bringing in more than $126 million in expected venue. Nearly 1,500 volunteers will help to execute the events.

The Social Strategist traveled to cherry blossom headquarters to speak with Diana to hear more about what the festival can teach us about effective event management. Here’s a preview of her tips:

  • The devil is in the details (and relationships). There is no substitute for putting in the time to oversee the untold number of details to put on an event. People-to-people power and relationships are the way to get things done.There is not a computer that can help you; electronic or new wave,” Diana says. “Having personal relationships with people” is crucial.

  • Make your event sustainable. Especially so if you have a recurring event. Long term planning, and creating a measureable goal and objectives, is imperative. Diana and her team also regularly visit other events to get ideas.

  • Create partnerships. The impact of the National Cherry Blossom Festival is thanks in large part to corporate and community partners. But how do you create effective ones? “I think a key [to building partnerships] is about aligning objectives. Each organization has to understand completely what the other’s objectives are and they need to align,” Diana recommends. “If they don’t align they become messy and it’s not natural.”

  • Evaluate (and not just through numbers). Diana says: “The minute the festival is over we are recapping from last year. We are evaluating. What worked? What didn’t? What could be improved? What should we continue for next year?”

Yet to Diana, the National Cherry Blossom Festival is more than just an event. It’s an experience with responsibility.

“To have so many people – not just locally, but nationally and internationally – interested in what’s happening with the festival gives us an obligation. We have a piece of history we are preserving. Part of our job is not just to have an event, but to celebrate the gift of trees because we have a world treasure here,” she says.

Listen to my interview with social strategist Diana Mayhew to learn more about effective event management the cherry blossom way.


(Streaming audio requires QuickTime. Download the free player.)

About the Author:

John Trybus is a researcher at Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and a master’s degree candidate in the PR/CC program. His day job is working as the manager of outreach and public relations at the Jane Goodall Institute where his main area of focus is planning Goodall’s perpetual 300-day-per-year global speaking tour. He has traveled with Goodall to more than 30 states to date, reaching an estimated 35,000 people in person per year in the U.S. alone. He was named one of PRNews’ 15-to-Watch public relations professionals last year and is a passionate cause consultant. You can find him on LinkedIn.

About The Social Strategist:

The Social Strategist: A Conversation on Cause Based Communication is an audio project of Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication that aims to create a dialogue on effective cause based communication while showcasing best practices of the most successful organizations, companies and people working in the field today. Each episode of the program is focused on one guest and the series aims to ultimately answer the question: what are the traits of an effective social strategist?

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