1. Hmmm. I agree with Anthony’s point on too much choice as I wade through the scandalous amount of Myspace/Facebook/email/text flyers and plugs for events that are out there.

    That said, I’m not sure that just picking out highlights is an easy solution and I would much rather try and squeeze in seeing two or three events than sit at home and do nothing.

    Personally, I’d be just as happy taking the time to look over a complete festival line-up as I’d be reading in-depth copy on one event. The important element for me is to get a good understanding of the ethos, concept or flavour of the festival.

    Professionally, when promoting events that are part of a festval programme, I think it is important to give people an idea of the bigger picture. The whole idea of a festival is its collective power surely?

  2. Interesting. The too-much-choice conundrum is a fact long known by marketing types; I was reading a book on this stuff which cited a financially failing shampoo company which offered something like 15 varieties of shampoo. On the advice of consultants they cut the range to three or four, and bingo, instant sales pick-up. Creatives might scoff at the money men sometimes, but they do have a trick or two up their sleeves on occasion.

  3. Just as an example of what I mean, when I saw the listings for the Fierce Festival (sorry to single them out – there are others) here – http://www.myfiercefestival.co.uk/index.php?controller=event&mm_action=list even I was a bit baffled, and I had some connection with what was happening. I can well understand a more casual audience being turned off by it.

    I agree with Lyle that the power of festivals is in the number of things going on. I think what I’d like to see is more care taken in presenting all that info. By all means show off the long list, but have a quick menu of ‘don’t miss this’ things too.

    Or maybe there are reasons organisers can’t promote some events over others. Maybe it’s the remit of outsiders (like CiB?) to point out the highlights.

  4. The power of a festival is in the collection, the promotion of a subset does miss the point a little for me. It doesn’t help though that sometimes not-totally related events/happenings are pulled under festival umbrellas — that does dilute the ‘brand’ and cause confusion.

    While places like CiB can help navigate by offering recommendations, I think it’s down a little to organisers experimenting with different promotional tools and methods. Rather than the monolithic ‘programme’ (and treating the website in the same way) being the main source there are maybe other ways to get info out there. Costs money and time of course.

  5. How do you choose which performance/exhibition/workshop to highlight and what not to?? ArtsFest this year is set to have over 450 events!We’re experimenting with how to get that message across without boring the life out of people, but we won’t manage to please everyone.
    The comments above are all really interesting but if we do have smaller highlighted events or ‘not to be missed’ lists who is qualified to make those decisions?The things that stand out for me ( a mother of a two year old) may not have any significance for others. ArtsFest is a Birmingam City Council produced event and because of this must have a corporate image portrayed, hence the broadbrush promotion.In my eyes CiB has the independent status to comment or someone of a similar ilk.
    These are my personal comments as a coordinator, not the voice of Birmingham City Council.( just in case)

  6. During the Fierce Festival I made the suggestion to Helga Henry which would apply to a number of other festies.

    Run a Lucky Dip scheme where punters say what days they’re free and what venues they can get to. They then pay £20 or so and get randomly allocated tickets to 2 or 3 events.

  7. I suppose it really depends on the nature of the festival, what the content is and how long its on for and therefore how to market it.
    With Supersonic it takes place over 3 days and on the whole most people come for the whole weekend, a very focused time of engaging with the content, where its all made very easy by being in the same location.
    However even within this we create our program so that there are at least 3 or 4 similar types of acts or talks/films that will appeal. Festival organisers need to think about their audience ie if they like A recommend B help them make the links. Program clusters of similar content.

  8. With Flatpack, we always have an advance flyer which gives an indication of the spread and feel of the fest as well as the ‘big stories’ so audiences can make a decision based on that to find out more. Full programmes are put out in the local area and at specially targeted national venues but by concentrating on a smaller piece of print for finding new audiences nationally you can save yourself a fortune in printing and postage.

    A good festival will build trust with their audience that if they come along and emmerse themselves for the weekend they will find something new that they’ll enjoy. Lisa’s right- a festival is much more than a long list of events. Your programme needs to make sense as a sum of its parts.

  9. It’s a relatively small part of a festival’s marketing I know, but I reckon the actual design of promotional materials has a pretty big impact on how people will take in information.

    In this case, I don’t mean so much the branding of the festival – aside from logo, colour scheme and so on, this is fundamentally about information design.

    For example, it can be a huge help to ‘layer’ content:

    Firstly, there’s the top level info, giving potential audiences an overview of what’s on offer so that, as Pip says, they can make an informed but quick decision about whether this event is ‘for them’ or not.

    Then, there are a number of secondary and tertiary layers of information, which make it quick ‘n’ easy for folks to ‘dig’ in order to find out more if they want to, but without getting bogged down in reams of blurb about things they’re not interested in.

    This digging needs to be seamless and intuitive though – they shouldn’t know they’re doing it! Lisa mentions programming ‘clusters of similar content’, which is a rather more succinct way of putting the point!

    Ideally, all information should be freely and easily available but given a kind of subliminal navigational hierarchy (ummmm, does that make sense?!), and getting the right levels of information out to people can be hugely helped by a well-designed festival programme, website or whatever medium is appropriate for the audience.

    In essence: Perhaps the answer’s not to take information away from potential audiences – rather to ensure that content is structured in a way that prevents it from becoming overwhelming in the first place?

  10. keri davies

    Couldn’t agree more. Deciding what to see at Fierce this year was a lot easier when I realised I was away/too busy to see anything on certain days.

    Katie’s guidelines on structuring the content of promotional material are golden. I wish they were applied everywhere.

    Of course, festival websites should lend themselves easily to this sort of approach. Shame so many seem more concerned with the visual design than with the information architecture.

    I take the point about selecting “highlights” but that needn’t be on a quality basis. How about selecting by emotional range, genre, surprise factor, audience size, duration, scariness…

  11. @ keri davies – always glad to be of service! I emphatically believe that time spent on ‘prior planning and preparation’ is time well-spent.

    Although visual design is important, it’s nowhere near as effective when there’s no solid structure to hang it from. ‘Walls before wallpaper’ is perhaps putting it a little too glibly but gets across the general gist …

    As for the idea of sorting highlights into less conventional clusters – that’s surely got legs?! Love it!

  12. At Shambala Festival we have a policy of keeping the line up pretty close to our chests. We occasionally let slip a few highlights or treats just to help define the event but generally the line up is a complete surprise for people when they arrive on site.

    Our audience come to our event because they love it and trust it. Of course the music is very important, but the over all atmosphere and nature of the event is more important. It also means that instead of hugely high expectations on arrival that, more often than not, are dashed, the festival goers are continually discovering new parts of the event and new bands that they had never heard of before. Shambala is much bigger than the sum of its programmed parts, and that cannot be turned into a listing!

  13. @ Dan
    Your point about knowing your audience is a massively important one and Shambala is a very good example of this: the ‘top-secretness’ about specifics is absolutely perfect for your audience because – somewhat conversely – not knowing what to expect is exactly what they’re expecting!

    And the Shambala website is actually a handy example of that layering I was talking about too …

    Whilst not containing any listings specifically, there’s still a lot of content on there which has been structured in such a way that the audience can find out as much or as little as they choose.

    So whatever the content – or the medium for that matter – the principle of intuitive hierarchical structuring still applies.

    (Although there must be a better phrase for it than that because it really is a bit of a mouthful …)

  14. Talking of giving people fewer choices, here is one only from Rhubarb-Rhubarb, which this year doesn’t have a venue to build, regenerate, paint or even hang a photo in… We’re ‘Talkin Business’ at the Aston Business School for the review and would like to invite creatives and their clients to our Portfolio Promenade on Saturday 2nd August at 6pm, where you can literally walk with photographs, have a cocktail or two and meet our 200 international fine artists, gallerists, curators and agents – and take a peep inside those folios to buy yourself some decent prints, from their makers. This is an unprecedented opportunity, never before attempted in the region, so come and witness this for yourself. But let us know who is coming and where they live on: rx@rhubarb-rhubarb.net, so we can send you an invitation in the post.
    We look forward to our walk with photographs.

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