It’s a cliché by this point to talk about the festival market being saturated, which I do unashamedly further down this piece, but that’s because it’s largely rooted in truth. Assuming logistical provisions have been taken care of and an event has at least one unique selling point, there’s still no guarantee it’ll break even without effective promotion.
The need for digital marketing is a given, of course, but festivals and suppliers alike often outsource these duties to PR agencies that – naming no names of course – might not be the best fit for the job. In this article Insights speaks to Sean Harwood of Full Fat – a full service PR agency – about how to properly vet PR companies before entrusting them with your public profile, the evolving approach Full Fat has taken towards festival PR, and details of their recent successes.
Festival Insights: Full Fat claims to have travelled over 5000 miles, interviewed at least 300 clients and accredited in excess of 1000 media professionals this summer. Assuming those duties weren’t delegated to a single malnourished intern, how did the Full Fat team find the summer?
Sean Harwood: Thankfully no malnourished intern was harmed in the making of our summer festival season! We have a team of 11, from the founders through to Account Managers, Account Executives and an Apprentice. It can be quite a task juggling the workload but we tackle this weekly throughout the year ensuring each campaign is getting the attention it needs and delivering excellent results. As for the festivals themselves there are indeed a handful of consecutive weekends in the field but we divide this between the team. Plus it’s also a lot of fun as well as hard work!
FI: Just how experienced is Full Fat in representing festivals clients, and what percentage of your clientele is festival-related?
SH: Full Fat was founded on a mostly festival client basis in 2012, before that both founders and staff have worked on events for many years. Dan Walsh for example worked on both Live 8 and Download in previous roles. I began working with Wychwood Festival back in 2006 and we continue to represent them today. In 2015 so far roughly 60% of clients are festival-related but we are always working towards a broad balance between of clients across the culture and lifestyle spectrum.
FI: Full Fat generated an average of £1.8 million in PR value for its clients over the course of the summer and helped to attract cumulative ticket sales in excess of 300,000 to events across the world. To what to you attribute this success?
SH: We worked on 16 events this year and we’ve worked on a similar amount for at least the last two years. This means we are in dialogue with the media on the subject of festivals almost all year round. We know what they want and need and we are evolving that knowledge year-on-year. It also means that we’re in touch with a huge number of artists’ representatives each festival season meaning that key agents, managers and PR people know who we are, know how we work and know that their artists are in good hands with us. This makes it so much easier to get their engagement in a campaign, which is an essential part of any festival campaign and something we put a lot of time and care into facilitating.
FI: Many argue that the festival market is saturated, and as such events are required to distinguish themselves via means other than the strength of their core programme. How much of an advantage do you think effective PR and digital marketing provides?
SH: They are both essential because a great deal of the conversation, the feature angles, the ‘buzz’, is created around aspects other than the headliners. There are too many events for ‘insert big name’ to sell tickets, naturally they are the starting point but for any undecided customers it’s important to woo them with the atmosphere and fringe offerings. A good PR agency will be seeking out the best outlets and writers through which to shout about the aspects of a festival that might not be obvious upon first glance.
FI: What are some important considerations festivals should be making when choosing and vetting a PR company?
SH: Aside from previous and current performance I think it has a lot to do with the relationship between the client and the agency and how they relate to each other. For want of a better word it’s the ‘vibe’ that you get which truly influences the decision. Full Fat are lucky because the good relationships we have with our clients tends to filter through the industry via word of mouth, which is where almost all of our new ‘festival’ business comes from.
FI: Has Full Fat’s approach to festival PR evolved in the past few years, perhaps due to changes within the market?
SH: We are in the process of a big review that we’ll be sharing with current clients soon. The proliferation of festivals and subsequently PR companies looking after festival campaigns has created a somewhat ‘standardised approach’ over the last few years and in some cases that worked very well, particularly where a festival may have had poor PR in the past and requires a year of getting the basics done properly.
However, in the future, demands on media in terms of column inches, staff work loads and digital influence will become much more significant and the approach needs to be evolved in order to succeed. It’s actually and exciting and refreshing prospect though, as opposed to a daunting task. It’s something we’re putting a lot of time into refining and it’s this unique understanding that is what has, and will continue to, set us apart form the rest.
FI: Any closing comments?
SH: A little bit of open mindedness will go a long way in 2016. We hope some new ways of doing things will be welcomed by the industry, change can be scary but it could also bring about some great opportunities. You can follow us on Twitter at @WeAreFullFat for festival-related news and updates.