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Festival management in a new era – opportunity or nuisance?

Festival and Event Masterclass in Turku on September 15-16, 2021
Written by Kaie Tanner, Tural Abdulla, Asta Nykoniuk, Onur Mert, Tatjana Korenika.
Edited by Liisa Nurmela

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    A group of EMTA Cultural Management MA students visited a Festival and Event Masterclass by Paul Gudgin in Turku, a popular professional development programme designed to inform and inspire anyone involved in creating, managing and supporting festivals and events. The course was built upon different parts of festival management with an emphasis on the post-covid world.

    Festival and Events in a Post-Covid World

    In the Post-Covid world, the importance of finding attractive festival locations, venues and innovative ideas to catch attention and involve people. It is important to study one’s hometowns and evaluate the most vital characteristics to help the city and the region thrive. After previous pandemics (like SARS in 2003) cultural events played a major role in the recovery of tourism industries – not just to attract visitors but as a signal “we are open for business”. But it can take approximately 18 months – 2 years for the tourism and event sector to reach its new potential. Another interesting note from Paul is that managers have to analyse people’s attitudes about event participation before and after pandemic according to their age, event type, preferred safety measures and expectations they have during and after pandemic to help find new concepts that are interesting for the visitors. 

    People and Partnerships

    Paul gave a good overview about building how to build a festival team: which positions are needed, which have to be paid professionals and some can be done by volunteers and/or interns. As we saw from his presentation, the percentage of full-time, part-time and volunteer positions can differ a lot by country. The definition of a partnership is wide, there are hundreds of possibilities how partners can help an event (and event help partners), it just needs creative thinking to come up with innovative ideas to attract partners to events.

    Again, it is a very intriguing subject we often need to search for volunteers and volunteering is not so natural part of Estonia. It is easier to find volunteers in the UK (and many other “old” European countries) as people are used to volunteering and thanks to higher living standards they also have more free time.

    Nevertheless, we need to take into consideration the ethical questions in using voluntary help and open up a discussion of fair remuneration and recognition for volunteer work. Inters would be a great opportunity to involve them in festival management, but it might not be a prevalent practice in many countries and the internship fees are ridiculously low. A lot of young people have to collect money long in advance to do an internship.

    Programming

    When planning a festival, one must be bold and not be afraid of new ideas. Cultural managers should ask – what is different in the festival you’re planning from other existing festivals? In other words, why would people come to your festival, and not one of the existing ones that already have a sizeable audience? Considering new and unique spaces can offer a different kind of experience to your audience and also open the festival up to new ones. If people prefer to listen to jazz, why not give them an opportunity to have that experience somewhere special, such as Jazz in the sky, or for theatre lovers, why not organize a Shakespeare story with breakfast?

     

    Sponsorship and Fundraising

    Sponsorship and fundraising is an important aspect of festival management to have sufficient funds to carry out ideas. To find valuable partners, managers have to choose the right companies who have the same values and align their mission with theirs. When presenting for a partner, tell a story –  with an emphasis on what the partner will get if they support your festival. The vision sells more than your needs, and sometimes listening to your partner can open up new opportunities to work together. However, there are other sources of income for the festivals like merchandise, festival markets, mobile donations, advertising, etc. When doing merchandise make sure to make it interesting that people would like to buy it. For example, it is better not to put the year on the merchandise, since if it is not sold, you can resell them next year.


    Festival marketing, festival tourism, and destination branding

    Successful marketing of the events starts by identifying the targeted audience and their habits in order to plan promotions. We also need to remind ourselves of the political, environmental and cultural spheres that the event is positioned as it may open new opportunities. The financial side of promotion has to be analysed, in some cases, internet ads are more useful whereas paper ads might be less useful. Festival tourism is another aspect that significantly can affect the economic situation as the events would likely attract a huge number of participants from abroad, which would increase the tourist flow and related income to the country. However, it is important to understand how it would affect the lives of local residents. For example, drawbacks of the festival can increase the level of pollution in the area, resulting in increased expenses aimed to clean up the area. These small details matter from ethical, social, environmental, economic, and cultural perspectives, therefore, they need to be estimated thoroughly before organizing a festival.

    Destination branding refers to finding the most appealing traits and specifics of a place and then advertising it in a way to highlight why it is better than its competitors. However, brands cannot be created artificially, it is co-created with the tourists. In this way, the promotion organizations use a concept that already satisfies visitors and helps to create fame and reputation for a place. One can also hire famous bloggers and celebrities, social media to promote the place and attract a wider local or international audience. 

    Venues, Festival Infrastructure and Media

    Festival venues can be everywhere – sometimes it is a historical place, sometimes a cave! Outdoor venues and event production present a gamble, especially due to climate. It is the festival organizer’s responsibility to ensure that the strength and integrity of the infrastructure of the operational staff at the venue can effectively support and plan their events. Choosing a venue that doesn’t have all the necessary amenities means using temporary structures that can be temperamental, especially in bad weather. This increases the safety risk for staff and festival attendees. In infrastructure preparation, we should always have a plan B.

    Due to the multidimensional contribution of the festivals to the country’s economy and the region where they are held, it is important to increase their awareness in the international arena and the number of participants. The fact that the websites of the festivals have effective content and the media have an important place in the marketing efforts to be implemented. Increasing awareness of festivals on the web, sharing festival experiences and facilitating reaching potential consumers, and promoting festivals at much lower costs play an important role in the media.

    Festival and Event Evaluation

    There are three main criteria to evaluate events – audience, knowing your sector and geographical aspect. It is important to take into account the impact that the event has on the city and country economics, social life and sustainability. Paul shared a chart with us, that is useful to make pre and post-analysis. In the end, the evaluation can help managers educate themselves and find new innovative approaches to make negative into a positive. 

    In conclusion, this was an interesting and eye-opening course for the group, especially getting more insight into the UK event sector. However, the Baltic and European sectors can differ and might not meet the needs of our region. Of course, the framework of a festival built-up and values can be the same but it could have more valuable to hear examples from our region.