Access talks to three international festivals about marketing the airwaves vs social media

The festival marketing landscape is in a state of flux, globally, with festivals picking their channels carefully. The UK’s relationship with radio is not as foundational as the US, where the local airwaves are highly influential in taste making.

Laurie Kirby, co-founder FestForums points to Townsquare, a highly-influential media, entertainment and digital marketing company with 317 radio stations. It harnesses these to market to its 550 live events, that attract nearly 18 million attendees annually.

“The company uses its network of independent operators to promote their festivals. It has assets such as WYRK, KLAQ, K2 and NJ101.5 and music festivals such as Mountain Jam, WE Fest and the Taste of Country Music Festival,” she says.

Despite the pull these stations have, Kirby says the vast and ever increasing data that Live Nation and AEG have on the US market packs a powerful punch. “These are ticketing and marketing platforms with a huge reach that goes to the heart of US festivals. They hold vast data and use analytics via a deep use of technology to understand the fan.”

Bestival’s creative production manager Joe Elkins concurs that Big Data is vital for targeted marketing, but says Bestival is keen to support more traditional formats such as print and outdoor display, which he says play to the sensibilities of UK festival goers. The situation with radio, however, is nuanced.

“Apple Music and Spotify dominate over local radio for 18-30 year olds. As a brand manager, I wonder if local radio is the best brand fit, whereas [our sister festival] Camp Bestival is totally different. FM radio is a lot better for the family audience,” he says.

“Digital totally changed the market.  Outdoor and print feature more regularly in festivals than other industries, and there’s an emotiveness and old romantic spirit to those mediums. However, there’s no disputing that most of our money goes into Facebook and social.”

Niko Costas, lead producer & venue manager for the 2017 Sundance Film Festival’s music and virtual reality space and event manager of women only California-based surfing festival Supergirl Pro (pictured), says while radio is not a huge factor in Sundance, top 40 radio is very influential in the US. ”Supergirl Pro partners with iHeartRadio which streams local California niche stations whereas Spotify has a much broader reach.”

In Canada, meanwhile. the more mainstream festivals rely heavily on top 40 radio but the more niche events use university radio, which is influential as a tastemaker, influencing in what the audiences want to hear, says NXNE marketing & sponsorships Olivia Diamond.

She adds that attracting audiences requires working together. “We have a tonne of support from associations, we face challenges the US does not have. We are geographically huge but do not have a huge population, so brand budgets are not as big. Associations are set up nationally and provincially, like the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Music & the Arts) in association with Canadian Music Week (CMW). Each province has its own provincial association.”

It’s an ethos that Britain can learn from, adds Alan Miller, chairman of The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA). “Marketing Britain isn’t about ship building and coal mining. Austin, Nashville and Seattle brand themselves around destination activity – and Vegas is recognised for hotels, hospitality, and include the events sector as part of what they do.”