Claire Eason-Bassett: Crowded house?

Is the festival market too crowded? Claire Eason-Bassett, director of Event Cornwall, examines the question…

Large-scale music festivals hit the headlines this summer when a total of 31 events were cancelled or postponed due to poor ticket sales.

BBC Radio 1 reported that festivals are struggling because there is just too much on offer and I would agree that it’s a hugely crowded marketplace. It often seems like every festival is after the same pound in what is a pressured economic situation for everyone.

So many are targeting the 18-30 age group, and this audience is already being bombarded with marketing messages for products, brands and events, all persuading them to part with their cash.

However, the events that didn’t go ahead this summer represent just four per cent of the whole UK festival market. It is also important to differentiate between the large-scale music festival industry and the often more community-focused, networked festivals such as Edinburgh Fringe, film festivals, food and drink festivals and Bristol Harbour Festival.

Be they larger music events attracting several thousand attendees, or a smaller co-ordinated community festival, what’s most important for organisers is that they constantly review their target market, what they are offering and how to improve their event year on year.

Financing your event is, of course, a major issue, with sponsorship budgets slashed and public sector partners reluctant to invest in the current climate. As event organisers, we need to develop a varied and broad portfolio of income sources, not just ticket income, that give us a stable cash flow.

But it’s not just the sponsors that are looking for value for money, it’s the audience members as well – whether tickets cost £10 or £70.

Whatever their relationship with the event, people are paying for the experience so in order to generate the finances necessary to run the festival, we as event organisers need to understand our audience and partners’ needs, wants and desires and be creative in how we meet and exceed them. The experience that people have with you is what provides that value for money.

I personally know of a several students this year who have been re-selling their festival tickets on eBay, because sometimes £70 is more valuable to them as cash than a festival experience.

The key to successful festivals, whether large-scale music events or a co-ordinated community one, is encouraging repeat business. Event organisers must constantly review their offering and target audience, and every year offer something special to keep the punters coming. Why should someone buy a ticket for your event rather than another festival somewhere else?

I firmly believe in building sustainability into an event strategy. This isn’t just about making sure you offer recycling bins, but about considering the wider impact of a festival – socially and environmentally – and scaling this up as your event grows. It’s all about building a relationship with those people who are connected to you – sponsors, ticket purchasers, suppliers, funders, staff, volunteers – in order to grow the event(s) so they have a future and a legacy.

I don’t believe in one hit wonders but I do believe in taking manageable risk and saying “no” when it’s in the best interests of the people involved.

Even though we are all under pressure in terms of competition, finances, weather and a myriad of other things, we must not let this context prevent us from being ambitious and taking risks in order to make amazing events happen and create life-changing experiences.