CMU Trends Live Business Marketing & PR

Trends: How to stand out in such a crowded festival market?

By | Published on Friday 16 May 2014


One day earlier this year CMU HQ received 40 separate press releases from festivals adding to their line-ups all in the space of 24 hours, which certainly demonstrates just how saturated the large-scale music event market has become in recent years, but also tells us about how festival PR is done today.

There was a time when most festivals made just three announcements a year – the dates announcement, the headliners announcement and the full line-up announcement. But as online media and then social media grew, some clever promoters realised that there was a merit to drip feeding line-up announcements, adding a chunk of artists every few weeks, ensuring that their festivals reappeared on home pages, side bars, Google searches, Twitter and Facebook feeds on a regular basis, keeping their events in everyone’s minds.

Which worked for a time, until every festival started doing the same, so that a constant stream – and sometimes a flood – of festival announcements hit the music press and social networks every day. Making the drip feeding process in itself less and less effective for assuring coverage and social conversation.

How festivals can stand out in such a crowded market place was one of the big questions asked during the Festival Business strand at The Great Escape this year, and to inform the debate we spoke to a group of editors of mainly online music media to ask them what they thought about the way festivals are PRed. Here we summarise what they said to each of our four main questions…

Do you make use of festival line-up press releases for news or feature coverage?

• There was a divide here. Half of the sites interviewed run regular news stories on standalone festival announcements, and therefore need these releases to feed those stories. But the other half said that, with so many announcements these days, they’d moved away from reporting on them altogether. Some added that traffic for such news stories wasn’t what it was, now that those interested in any one festival can access line-up information via official channels – ie the festival’s own social media and website.

• Those sites which no longer run festival line-up news stories are still interested in receiving line-up press releases to inform possible feature coverage. Though, of course, less festivals are going to get features overall. Sites cited media partnerships, particularly relevant line-ups for their editorial remit, the overall profile of an event, and simply whether or not they liked it as reasons why they might commission a feature on a specific festival.

• Where features are written around line-up announcements, sites said they’d like upfront embargoed information about said announcements so they can plan and prepare, plus access to artists on the line-up – preferably ones that they are already championing – would also be useful.

“Line-up announcement press releases are very important – especially when we’re given them ahead of embargo”.

“Line-up announcements are like everything else – so many sites just churn out press releases trying to create loads of URLs for Google to latch onto, and we’d rather not do that”.

“I get something like ten festival press releases a day on almost every day of the year, most of which feature the same cluster of bands playing on different branded arenas in fields and car parks around the world”.

How can festivals make their announcement’s stand out?

• Most sites said that, ultimately, line-up would influence whether they covered a festival, though there were still some things a festival could do to make covering them more appealing.

• Although the “personalise my press release” demand is common when you ask journalists about PR, for key media it probably is worth tracking what artists they are particularly championing, and if they are on your line-up, hone in on that in an email accompanying any announcement. The fact your event features artists the publication you are contacting really rate might be lost if those artists are just listed in amongst 100 others half way down your release.

• Sites were split on whether the customary ‘headline artist quote’ would result in more coverage. Certainly for some news-based sites a couple of decent length quotes (at least three sentences) from a key artist and maybe a chief booker might score a festival a bigger piece than just a list of line-up additions.

• Where you know a site is a particular fan of one of your artists, maybe offer to get a couple of quotes just for them from that act – a lot of media like quotes that can genuinely be positioned as “so and so told us”.

• Access to good and various and new photos and video content was also cited by several of the sites as being important.

• As was giving back a bit of love – if a media covers your announcement, especially if they put a bit of effort into it (playlist, interview, bigger feature), promote the coverage to your own social networks, with links and the media’s Facebook or Twitter handles included. All media are on the look out for more traffic, and if you can help with that process they are more likely to cover your events.

“Better collaboration with artists, and encouraging artists to work on exclusive interviews / content / partnerships, will get you more coverage”.

“Giving us a list of the artists you think are particularly relevant to us ahead of a bigger list of names has some value to us, and flags up an artist on a line-up who maybe aren’t the big name headliner who’d be semi lost in a barrage of press gumpf”.

“I’m always surprised by the number of press releases that arrive in my inbox without certain key pieces of information or arrive otherwise unclear, untidy and poorly constructed. Highlight the key facts first, keep everything in the same case (ideally not upper case) and check the basics – band names and set types (live or DJ)”.

“Although we enjoy eating cupcakes, PR gimmicks don’t really work with us. Though free booze kind of helps. We instagrammed a Christmas card from Download Fest one year but they never retweet our coverage so fuck em”.

What would make you more likely to write about or feature a festival?

• Again, line-up came top here, though many sites said they are also looking for interesting stories – what makes an event stand out, different, interesting? Diverse bills, non-music activity, anniversaries and quirky facts about the location were all mentioned as being of interest.

• An increasing number of media are up for doing ‘content partnerships’ with festivals, which go beyond the traditional media partnership arrangement of ‘we give you some free ads, you put our logo on your poster’. A festival helps a specific media partner get access to artists and advance information, and maybe a space to interview or film onsite, and promotes any coverage through their own social media channels. Editorial control stays with the publication, but a festival can get themselves much more coverage this way. Though any one festival can only strike up a small number of any such partnerships, and should therefore think about which media they work with. It’s tempting to go with those with the highest traffic, though if your festival only needs to sell thousands of tickets to sell out, maybe go with a site that has a smaller reach, but reaches the right people, rather than chasing after stats with lots of zeroes.

• Online music media – and these days most print media too – operate on very tight resources, so festivals who have a budget to cover a journalist’s expenses will also likely secure more coverage. It’s tempting to say “but we already give them a free ticket”, but once you take travel and food/drink costs into account the media, or more often the journalist themselves, is considerably out of pocket. And the truth is, the ad revenue that can be generated from resulting articles will unlikely cover the costs. Obviously many festivals also operate on tight budgets too, but it might be worth seeing if sponsors, partners or even local tourism bodies couldn’t chip in. Certainly festivals that do the opposite – and ask media for a ‘charitable donation’ in return for their ticket – are not popular, the journalist may well have a good time at the event, but they are there to work.

“We’re interested in diverse bills where there’s more than just music going on, or small new festivals trying to do something different. Though this doesn’t mean saying ‘boutique’, going on about organic sausages and putting up pictures of gap year students in face paint”.

“For low or unpaid freelancers covering a festival can add up and isn’t much fun when festivals limit publications to one press and one photo pass, making for quite a lonely weekend of work”

“A friendly, well organised PR is worth their weight in gold. That said, if your line-up is awful or if your festival is horribly corporate and nasty, no amount of good PR will make me want to write about you”.

“Another reality is we’re always going to cover events that, as a media outlet, we’re partnered with. That’s not entirely about self interest. There’s so many festivals around you have to prioritise somewhere, so working closely with a festival in this way allows us to secure the access and resources on site we need to do the best job. When we’re turning up and doing a huge amount of coverage, that public acknowledgement you’re actually working together is great”.

What could festivals do to make it easier to cover or review their events?

• There was a split here. A couple of the editors we spoke to said that they felt journalists should experience a festival like a punter, and therefore they didn’t want extra privileges.
But most said they did appreciate some decent press area facilities. Certainly those providing news and feature coverage of an event – and not just a post-festival review – need on-site resources.

• Things a festival can provide might include: desk-space, a quiet(ish) place to do or record interviews, some light refreshments and a smiling face, though most importantly of all: power-sockets and working stable fast wifi.

• In addition to onsite resources, information ahead of the event is also a big help. Reviewers will often want to pack in as many sets as possible, meanwhile any media doing news and feature coverage will likely have a very packed schedule indeed. The more information that can be provided way ahead of event the better – even if it’s embargoed because final line-ups or stage times haven’t been made public.

• And one more from me personally: a clear explanation of what your press pass gets you access to. No one likes walking up to a tent and being told that “only a VIP wristband gets you entry”. Many music journalists aren’t as pushy as you’d expect, and this kind of info would be much appreciated.

“Providing schedules in advance is a must. There’s so much to cram in and decisions to make about what to see or compromise on. It’s especially hard to set up sessions and interviews when the day splits and timings aren’t announced in advance”.

“Make the accreditation process easier. In the past year we’ve been asked for: passports, passport photos, emergency addresses, emergency phone numbers and countless other pieces of information from a team of reviewers and photographers more than 300 in number. It makes accreditation an almost full time job to the detriment of our pre-festival coverage, particularly at peak times”.

“Free booze and food is always a winner with journalists. Some of the best PR companies spend a lot of time making sure the press feel important. A good press centre on site with wifi access and plugin points is essential”.

“Download is the point of reference because their press tent is incredible. Dedicated broadband hardlines, loads of desk space, loads of space to loiter in, free beers in the evening, interview areas and the press team is always available on-site”.

“We’re more interested in live, on the ground coverage, so two things: access to talent and wifi. In fact, mostly wifi. Give us a good connection and we can be Instagramming photos while bands are still on stage, posting quick interviews with acts as they prepare to go, live tweeting reviews – whatever. That makes the event resonate with those who didn’t buy tickets this year, but will definitely be doing so next”.

So there you have it, it’s always going to be tricky standing out in such a competitive market place, but good PR can really help.