Deadlines, Departments & Documentation: How to Get Your Activation Approved

event permitting


One of the challenges we as a Sales Agency face frequently is securing the necessary permits and regulatory approvals on behalf of our clients’ projects.

The most creative, disruptive viral or newsworthy activation imaginable won’t garner success if it is shut down due to lack of compliance.

We often tell our clients to not let permits or regulations stop the creative process or slow down the creative genius; at the same time we ask to be kept in the loop so we can advise on what may be needed along with the costs and timelines to secure those things.

There are a myriad of permits, approvals and certifications that may or may not be required for your activation . . . . how do you find out what they are, if you need them and how you get them?

Most major markets have Permit Expediters, a company like ours, who can be hired to source venues and secure approvals and permits as needed. They often work on a project fee basis and sometimes on an hourly fee structure. Should you decide to use an organization like ours, do your research. Review their website, read their case studies, call their clients. What is the complexity of the projects on which they have worked? Do they have experience in areas you do not? Will they save you time? Save you money? Make you look like a hero to your largest client? Only you can decide if you find value in using a 3rd party.

There are four key areas to look at in determining what you will need to ensure your activation will be fully approved.


Know your Market

Each market has different rules, regulations, requirements and approval processes. Some markets are relatively “activation friendly” and don’t have a tremendous amount of approvals needed. Denver is one such market. Others have a more heavily regulated environment and require a permit or an approval for nearly every component of your activation. San Francisco is a more heavily regulated market than many others in the US.


Know your Venue

Understand the requirements of the venue(s) selected in each market. Is it private or public space? As a general rule of thumb when selecting venues, privately owned space is more expensive and less regulated. Public space is less expensive, but often if more heavily regulated, requiring more permits, inspections and approvals. Sometimes the cost savings in booking a public space is negated by the number of permits, inspections or licenses required.


event permitting

Photo by Seth Reese on Unsplash

Know your Team

Examine your personnel resources. Do you have the skill level, expertise and staff time necessary to do the research on what is needed in each market, secure the permits, line up the inspections and provide the licenses? If you are booking at a private venue, do they offer this service as a part of your site fee? If not, are they willing to do it for an extra fee?


Know your Activation

Last but certainly not least – know your activation. Know it inside and out from the ground up. Are you sampling food? Prepackaged or open? Are you sampling only or will you be selling? Is your activation ADA compliant? Do you have a generator? Is it embedded in your tour vehicle or is it a standalone generator? Do you have inflatable, extra pieces of signage or pop up tents? Will there be stage, lights, music or other amplified sound? Knowing these things will help you determine exactly what is needed to get your activation approved and keep it running without issue. Adding or changing elements down the road may put your activation approval at risk, so it’s best to have a firm activation outline and run of show in place prior to beginning the approval process.


event permitting

Potential Paperwork

What sort of information does the city want to know? Why is it needed - and what should you be asking your partners to provide? How should you present the information when attempting to ensure success? Read on to find out more about the most common types of permitting and necessary applications done to host an activation.

Health Permits

These are often required for sampling of product. These are obtained through the county Health Department. Some counties do not require a health permit if the samples are pre-packaged, but may require a certificate from the packing facility. Other departments require a health permit regardless. There are high risk and low risk health permits; typically the cost is greater for a high-risk permit. Departments may have long lead times for processing applications and late fees for those submitted inside of the required timeline. It’s best to plan ahead to minimize these costs. In some instances you may be required to pay for an inspection on event day. If your activation is found to be out of compliance it may be temporarily or completely shut down and/or fined. Have a copy of your health permit on site and be prepared to show it if asked.

Fire Permits

Fire permits may be required if your activation footprint includes a gas generator, large tents or open flame cooking. It's a good idea to have flame retardancy certificates for all tents on hand, in the event you are asked for proof of such. These can be obtained from the manufacturer. You may or may not be required to have a fire inspection on the day of your activation and there is a cost associated with these inspections.

Amplified Sound Permits

If your venue is a public space, is it likely they will require an amplified sound permit. There may be limitations on decibel levels and/or hours during which time amplified sound is permitted, if allowed at all. Amplified sound permits are typically not required on private property, though they may have restrictions on decibel level and allowable hours of operation.

Structural Permits/ADA Compliance

Depending on the complexity and often times the height of your activation, a structural permit may be required. These are usually obtained through the city or county Building Department and often have a long review and approval process. Be prepared to furnish stamped engineered drawings by an engineer licensed in the state you are activating. Some public space venues like San Francisco Recreation and Parks will also require wet stamped engineered drawing, even if a building permit is not required. Having an ADA compliant activation is important and usually required nearly nationwide. It’s important to understand what constitutes ADA compliancy and ensure your activation is available and accessible to everyone who wants to attend. Knowing what ramps need to look like in terms of rise of run, cable cover, wheel chair ramps and ADA lifts are all items to consider when developing your activation.


Nearly every place you'll want to activate will require some proof or inclusion on your insurance (Or at least they should!). Minimums and specific types of insurance vary by location, but be ready to reach out to your insurance provider for each activation you do. Note there will likely be some requirements laid out in your contract, but you can usually ask for requirements separately as well to pass on to your provider. Your Certificate of Insurance needs to be in the hands of the property holder or agent prior to your event.

With proper planning, careful research and mindful implementation you can insure your activation is fully approved and runs smoothly start to finish no matter what market(s) you are activating in!

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