The reverse Glastonbury effect, crisis management and Instagram marketing: what we learned from the 2017 AIF Festival Congress

The reverse Glastonbury effect, crisis management and Instagram marketing: what we learned from the 2017 AIF Festival Congress

The independent festival sector took centre stage this week for AIF's 2017 Festival Congress. 

Hundreds of delegates attended the sold out event, which concluded yesterday at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. 

AIF has revealed that the flagship event, which also includes the Independent Festival Awards, will move from Cardiff, where it has spent the previous four years, and take place in Sheffield in 2018 following a tender process earlier this year.

Here, we look at some of the highlights and things we learned during yesterday's proceedings...

The reverse Glastonbury effect

The opening Brave New Worlds panel heard how Glastonbury's absence from next year's festival calendar was more of a hindrance than a help to other events. Mama Festivals head of creative production Joanna Mountain said: "We know that people buy fewer tickets in the years that Glastonbury is not on, which is completely counter-intuitive." Mountain pointed out that the buzz around Glastonbury often spurs on ticket sales for other festivals taking palce later in the summer. "It's in the media, people are thinking about festivals, it's just in the consciousness," she explained.

The session's main purpose was to examine how the non-music elements of a festival contribute to its identity and longevity. "Our actual No.1 thing that people come to Wilderness for is food - and then the second thing is the general atmosphere," said Mountain. "Just 7% are coming for the headline act." Bestival creative producer Cara Kane noted: We've got pretty similar statistics - 25% of people said that they came due to the atmosphere and the creative input of the show which I definitely think is a changing trend." Phil Smith, co-founder of Coalescence Collective, added: "I've probably gone to a festival once in my whole life for the line-up. I've usually gone because of the feeling, the atmosphere and the creativity of a particular event. It doesn't need to have a great headline line-up unless you're a big, big festival."

All three panellists reported 2017 to have been a difficult season. "It was pretty tough trying to push tickets this year," said Smith. "I think it's no secret that tickets were really hard to sell this year and we've seen a few festivals go," lamented Kane. "At the same time I guess it makes everyone work harder to make sure their shows are on point." Mountain added: "The industry itself is still growing - it was up by 6% last year - and if we're all finding it hard to sell tickets it must be because the pie's bigger."

Crisis, what crisis?

After a festival summer overshadowed by the disastrous Hope & Glory and Fyre festivals at home and abroad, PR specialists Paul Kennedy and Ella McWilliam led a discussion advising about PR and communications crisis management. "There are a couple of examples that probably scream out to us all about what not to do," said Full Fat's McWilliam. "Hope & Glory Festival - there are a few things in relation to that that you really should not do as a festival organiser. Definitely do not go to Twitter and reveal your emotions and feelings and also diversion of blame because people by nature don't like that. I think you have to accept responsibility in your role as a festival organiser in that. Also, don't be defensive, it's really important that you are open and honest. In addition to that, have a statement and stick to that statement. Things can go wrong - it's really important that you have a confirmed and pre-agreed statement about what that is - circulate that across your socials and then stick to it. Don't then go off on a tangent."

Zeitgeist Agency's Kennedy continued: "Promoters have got egos, of course they have - they put on some amazing shows for lots of people to attend. But when you're in the middle of a situation that is rapidly developing on site, the promoter jumping on social media and letting their ego take over is incredibly fun for the media to pick up on and portrays you in a really negative light. When something goes wrong it can be a really emotional time for the promoter so you try and take that emotion and ego out of the comms and keep the comms very much about what's happening now and what we're doing to address that."

To grow, or not to grow

The Growing Pains session looked at how festival organisers managed the growth process, and soon found itself reverting to the ego theme. “I think running a festival is inherently selfish because ultimately you're creating your dream line-up or this Neverland for a few days," said ArcTanGent founder and festival director Goc O'Callagan. "You're creating this alternative reality for a few days. I don't think you can do that without an element of ego. It's a combination of doing something for the love of what you do but knowing that you can do it in a certain way to deliver an event that the people want to come to. If you don't have that element of self-conviction you're not going deliver an event that people want to return to year after year."

Discussing the motivations behind Portsmouth's Victorious Festival, operations, infrastructure, procurement manager Terri Hall said: "For us initially it was about Portsmouth, this very densely populated city that unfortunately was completely overshadowed by the rest of the South Coast. It's lovely, there's some really interesting parts of Portsmouth that are completely unheard of and so we really wanted to tell people about them and start to create a bit more community feel with the festival. We realised very quickly that family was super-important, we have a huge family area - three generations more often than not come to the festival. Slowly people are really starting to recognise Victorious as part of Portsmouth now, it's really improved the entire city's reputation, which we're so pleased about."

Unfinished monkey business

As the title suggested, the Instagram for Live Events session offered insights into how the live industry can benefit from using Instagram in their marketing. Presenter Chiara Michieletto, of Music Ally, pointed to Gorillaz’ recent campaign for Humanz as a textbook example. “Tell a story,” she said. “I feel like people are super engaged when you have a story and a background behind your festival or your artist. So one to take inspiration from is Gorillaz. This year they killed it on their strategy. But one thing they did on Instagram that I thought was really simple, but still really on point was they created a book for each of the band members. They had to revitalise the band after a hiatus of a few years and tell a story in order to lead in to the release of the album.” 

For more stories like this, and to keep up to date with all our market leading news, features and analysis, sign up to receive our daily Morning Briefing newsletter

subscribe link free-trial link

follow us...