In the festival spirit?

The summer festival experience is as British as Pimms and lemonade or fish and chips. But how do you transform a potentially muddy experience in the middle of a cow paddock into a high-end corporate event without losing its unique charm?

“Festivals remain one of the most dynamic sectors within the UK events industry and offer a massive opportunity for growth,” the Campaign Coordinator for Britain for Events, Alistair Turner, tells CN. “As a sector, successful festivals get it right because they have an intricate understanding of their audiences and what it takes to build a consumer experience around the likes and dislikes of a community with a joint passion; be it music, culture or sport.”

The Event Manager for UBM’s tradeshow Live Experience, Mark Gordon, agrees: “Large events exist because they unite an audience behind a special interest, local community, or shared passion.”

He urges organisers thinking of running these types of events to always build content and activity that nods towards this common interest and reminds people they are part of a community. “Work with brands that share the audience and can bring something to the experience,” Turner advises and notes there were over 2,800 days of festivals last year in the UK, attended by over 30 per cent of the population. The figures are likely to grow, according to Turner. “Last year, however, was tough on this sector of the industry with the Cultural Olympiad, the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and a wet summer, all impacting on the take up of tickets and the amount of cancelled events,” he adds.   

David Heartfield is the Festival Director for Rewind, The 80s Festival, which is held at Henley-on-Thames in England with a second festival at Scone Palace in Perth, Scotland.

Currently in its fifth year, the Henley-based festival attracts 40,000 festival-goers and the third Scottish edition attracts 30,000. The organiser also runs clone festivals in South Africa, Thailand, the UAE and Malaysia.

Heartfield tells CN that if an organiser wants to put on a music festival on a small scale, they do not necessarily need big name bands to entertain their audience and should concentrate more on providing overall good entertainment. “It is no longer just about who is on the main stage,” he adds.
“We run VIP areas for around 1,000 guests at each of our festivals and run the areas like mini-festivals of their own with weird and wacky entertainment, themed bars and food operators,” he says. “To recreate the festival theme or experience organisers should keep the entertainment fast paced. The whole event should be a performance with no breaks and include such elements as a silent disco, fun fair rides or a live karaoke band.”

Holding your own mini festival is a great way to bring a company together and get everyone involved, says Tim Stevens, who heads a venture providing and operating bars for the festival arena called Arribar!

“Music and entertainment is key,” he says. “Speak to colleagues before your event; perhaps someone you know is the next Fatboy Slim waiting in the wings to showcase their talents? Or you could create a bespoke playlist on an iPod or CD with everyone’s favourites to blast out over speakers.” He also suggests asking local bands to perform.

In terms of accommodation, Heartfield says using a supplier like Snoozebox, which can create an 80-bedroom hotel with air conditioning and plasma TVs in the middle of a field, can provide a real festival experience for delegates.

Senior Meeting Planner for CWT Meetings & Events, Sarah Jones, says she would recommend using local companies and suppliers, which are on your doorstep at an event. “I recently organised a mini festival and we used all local suppliers. They wanted to get involved in the event and for everything to run smoothly as it helped showcase their products and services.

“We used a local ale and cider supplier, a coffee company and an outdoor caterer which used locally-sourced meat; it really helped bring a great atmosphere,” she adds.

Insuring your outdoor experience

As with all outdoor events, the British summer can throw an organiser a few curve balls. “When organising your first festival-style event you cannot afford anything to go wrong, especially something you could have prevented,” says WorldWide Special Risks’ Adam Waters. “As the summer was a wash out in 2012, a concern for many organisers will be the threat of cancellation due to bad weather. This can include the ground being too sodden for the contractors to get on site.

“Fortunately, event insurance is there to cover the organiser’s costs, expenses or revenue should the worst happen,” he says. “Event Insurance isn’t limited to cancellation insurance, but includes public liability, which is sometimes a contractual obligation with venues; employer’s liability, which is mandatory by law, and all risks insurance for all kinds of event equipment.”

Venue perspective

Cheltenham Racecourse hosts a wide range of festivals from family music celebrations of Wychwood to faith, arts and justice event Greenbelt, as well as playing its part in the wider Cheltenham Literary Festival.

Cheltenham’s 300-acre site is well versed in managing large-scale crowds and has an existing infrastructure for lighting, power and other requisite facilities. “Such facilities and amenities can be make or break considerations for organisers, as a traditional greenfield site can hemorrhage the budget if all the facilities need to be brought in,” says Conference and Events Manager, Susie Bradshaw.

A critical consideration for all festivals is the people, not just in terms of the target audience, but the local community. “The buy in and support of the local community goes a long way towards the success of the event; therefore, organisers should garner it from the outset,” she adds. “Unlike other elements of organising a festival, goodwill cannot be bought, it can only be nurtured.”

Gordon says festivals are a creative part of the industry. “Use partners, connections and work with your trading partners and brands to create an experience that rewards the crowds you are attracting,” he says. “Show them new thinking, blow them away with visual delights and reward them for taking the time to visit your event.”

Turner says, with the major changes that digital media is bringing to music, sport and media businesses, more brands will look to outdoor events to balance the books, be it brand experiences, festivals or just more concerts.

This was first published in the May edition. Any comments? E-mail

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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