Festivals are usually born out of passion, a vision, a longing to create something that stands out from the rest. A transcendental experience that supports artists and excites audiences.
But all too often, this vision gets lost along the way. The need to break even soon becomes a longing to accelerate ticket sales and drive bigger profits. Suddenly prices are hiked up, the setting is littered with branding, bigger acts are getting signed, and there’s a whole new demographic buying tickets. It’s hard to tell the difference between this festival and all the others you’ve attended.
This commercialisation of festivals means creators not only lose the vision and ethos that made their event unique, but it’s likely that they’re losing their core audience too – the attendees who believed in this vision and stayed loyal from the very beginning.
What many festival creators forget is that these are the attendees who guarantee ticket sales year on year. These are the attendees who rave about your festival to their friends and spread the word organically. These are the people who make up your festival family, and they shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Many Irish festivals, from Another Love Story to KnockanStockan and Vantastival, have proven that you can still find success while honouring your vision and your most loyal attendees. Here are our top tips from these local success stories to keep you, and your festival, grounded.
Ask for feedback…and listen
A thorough understanding of what exactly your attendees want to get out of the festival experience is the first key to success. This can be achieved by asking for feedback – and actually taking it on board.
This not only shows your attendees that you care, but it helps to improve and build upon your festival year on year, while still giving your most loyal attendees what they want.
Louise Tangney, founder of Vantastival, shares that a deep understanding of their attendees, artists, and vendors has been a driving factor behind the loyal festival community that they have built over the past ten years.
‘I think our willingness to listen to what people want, to take on board ideas and suggestions as to how the festival should be run, and to allow people to have their own input into the event is what has built this community. We take good care of our crew and artists as well as our punters, and while we can’t always pay as much as some of the bigger events, the artists and crew don’t mind because they feel truly valued, just as the punters do.’ – Louise Tangney, Founder of Vantastival
Surround yourself by people who believe in your vision
Don’t just run with the first sponsor who approaches you. Make sure you take the time to think about potential partnerships and only align with those who fit your brand, believe in your vision, and support your ideas.
Graham Sharpe, Music Director of KnockanStockan explains how they have largely avoided sponsorship for the last ten years because they didn’t want to risk partnering with any brands that may take from the ethos of the festival.
‘We’ve taken on a sponsor or two but we’ve made sure that they have only added to the overall buzz and haven’t restricted people’s freedoms or taken away any of the magic! We have become quite skilled at picking sponsors now and making sure their brand has synergy with us and looks well in the field.’ – Graham Sharpe, Music Director of KnockanStockan
Choosing sponsors who fit the ethos and aesthetic of your festival is essential to preserve your values, maintain a consistent attendee experience, and build a long-lasting partnership.
Choose an intimate setting
Finding the right setting or venue to communicate your vision is integral to the success of your festival. It’s important to think carefully about how you want your setting to enhance and guide the entire attendee experience.
Emmet Condon, founder of Another Love Story explains how unique and intimate spaces can bring a more personal touch to the experience for artists and attendees alike. The right setting can have the power to transform behaviour patterns, break down barriers, and encourage meaningful communication between all involved.
‘There is a learned language of a space – a stage – a separation between performer and audience. In these venues, a much more direct link between the audience and the artist is created. It also encourages audiences and artists to chat with each other. It creates a more immediate connection – a connection that wouldn’t normally be there in a traditional venue.’ – Emmet Condon, Founder of Another Love Story
Show you care
Today’s attendees are looking for more from the festival experience. They are searching for authentic, feel-good experiences and want an opportunity to make a positive impact.
Be it showcasing homegrown talent, choosing local suppliers, partnering with a charity, or waging a war on plastic, attendees like to feel they’re part of something good.
Few event trends have taken on quite as much momentum as going green. Vantastival, KnockanStockan and Another Love Story are all champions of sustainability and demonstrate their commitment to protecting our environment through a variety of green initiatives.
They also take supporting local artists and vendors very seriously. Vantastival and KnockanStockan run a process of open submission as part of their commitment to supporting and providing a platform for up-and-coming Irish acts. They take the time to listen to every submission and choose artists based on genuine quality.
‘KnockanStockan doesn’t pick acts based on their ticket selling ability, but on the quality of their music, meaning we can give brand new artists that festival opportunity and bring fresh new music to our audience.’ – Graham Sharpe, Music Director of KnockanStockan
Focus on slow and sustainable growth
Emmet Condon explains how Another Love Story has found success by allowing the festival to grow naturally, instead of focusing on rapid expansion and big returns. This has allowed the ALS team to prioritise the attendee experience and preserve the essence and intimate feel of the festival.
‘To this point, our experience has been a very organic and natural one. Each year the festival has gently expanded, but not beyond the limits of what makes it what it is and the plan is to continue in that vein. We’re excited to keep developing it and to keep the focus on the details rather than doing the traditional thing which is to just go for a big increase in scale and lose that focus, and most importantly special feeling.’ – Emmet Condon, Founder of Another Love Story
To Louise Tangney, success means building a community of loyal attendees – a festival family – and honouring your attendees who matter most.
‘Vantastival is family run, but outside of the immediate family involved in producing the festival is a much more extensive festival family – a community that has kept us going through the good times and the bad. We wouldn’t continue to put on the event year after year if it wasn’t for this community, upon whom we rely heavily. We can depend on our regular attendees to buy tickets every year no matter what the weather or which new festivals pop up, and we can rely on our crew to keep the festival going whatever obstacles might be in the way. They are dedicated to us and we are dedicated to them.’ – Louise Tangney, Founder of Vantastival
For more insider advice on holding onto your most valuable festival attendees, download our guide Insider Tips for Keeping Community at the Heart of Your Festival.