Fancy a festivalisation refresh?

Fancy a festivalisation refresh?

Antony Reeve-Crook explores ‘festivalisation’ and the business of making the main event.

The ultimate incarnation of an event, either industry or consumer, is the festival, and not just by virtue of their size. Festivals take a community and deliver an identity through shared experience.

Whether industry specific such as the Cannes Film Festival, or more generic such as South-by-South-West (SXSW), festivals are a shared celebration of the industries they serve as much as a platform for enjoyment, education, discourse, buying and selling.

And while festivals are typically in the domain of consumer events, their appeal is increasingly making its way into the B2B world, too.

David Lindsay, senior consultant at business management consultancy AMR International, says investment into the festival experience is “key to gaining or maintaining a competitive advantage in business events”.

One of the key findings of the White Paper his team produced, North American Festivals: Routes to Success in an Evolving Market, which outlines key drivers of growth in the festival market, is the optimisation of the visitor experience.

“We realised everything from a revenue perspective falls into that. Adding concerts or musical performances, and even staging the event in innovative locations, is something we see more frequently across the corporate event sector,” he says.

“It will be interesting to see how the definition of a festival will change in the near future. You used to go to a football match and have a hotdog in the stands, now you have a performance beforehand. I think the ‘festivalisation’ of the wider events industry is an interesting next step. I wonder how festival organisers can play a part in that.”

Well we’re seeing this in practice already. The MeConvention in Frankfurt, covered in the previous edition (Issue 92) of CMW, saw Mercedes-Benz call upon the expertise of the organiser of US festival SXSW, giving the stage to exciting speakers who had little or nothing to do with the automotive industry, and included a concert, set piece art work and a great deal of creative endeavour not typically associated with a motor show.


Festivalisation lends itself to bringing in a broader range of visitors, and growing visitor numbers not only drive higher ticket revenues but also increase the event’s attractiveness to sponsors, providing an additional revenue stream to drive the profitability of an event.

By elevating an event to festival status, it can also achieve greater backing from the host city, as we see at Reed Midem’s events in Cannes. It invites organisers to embrace not only the venue but the town or city in which the event is taking place, increasing what we refer to as indirect and induced spending as hotels, restaurants and off-piste venues accommodate not just more people from the festival community, but those who are only now attending because the increased scope of the event has drawn them in.

However, the impact of creating a more open, festival-type event is that it introduces greater scope for variety in the customer journey. The choices attendees make can take them away from the predetermined path that appeals to organisers keen to control visitor flow, interaction and scheduling. The whole concept runs contrary to the direction more commonly being taken by event organisers, which is towards more closely analysed and predetermined customer journeys.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. In the recent Insights study by RAI Amsterdam, the venue organiser partnered with Unplugged, a part of Makerstreet, to map the journey of business event visitors with the purpose of finding the most decisive moments in a customer journey. This involved mapping contact moments and experiences, from what they refer to as ‘initial orientation’ to ‘onboarding and evaluation’.

Off the beaten track
The RAI Amsterdam research team interviewed a broad group of B2B visitors, and found that a slower pace, time to think, and an environment that stimulates and allows for contemplation is necessary for many attendees. And while festivalisation reduces the simplicity of measurement and prescription, there is an argument that sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking for.

RAI Amsterdam’s report also found that people typically shop around before deciding on which event to attend, based on contact with relations, colleagues and social media.

This is another key benefit of festivalisation. In an age where online exposure is more important than direct marketing, cultivating a community that shouts about itself is a great help.

Logically, the amount of noise generated around a festival-type event is notably greater than at a smaller, more modest one. Turn up the dial and enrich the experience and you increase the chance of photo sharing, comment and media interest.

The events that shout loudest and are most prolific in drawing attentions to themselves will typically present these people with more examples of this. While topics, reach and speakers are important, it is the noise generated around them that will ultimately bring them on board.

A strong marketing team can do much to raise the profile of an event. But turning the attendees into event cheerleaders achieves this goal far more effectively. Reposition your event as a festival, and turn you marketing team of five into a team of 5,000.

So, whether it requires partnering with a firm experienced in making festivals, or grouping similar events and finding a suitable event location, or simply supporting attending companies and visitors in their efforts to add value to the show, festival-type business events may be a refreshing antidote to the increasingly measured events being delivered today.