Conferences are undergoing a change brought on by the audience’s desire to be immersed in days of excitement. This event trend of “festivalization,” how festivals are redefining conferences and other events, is one to watch and heed.
What is Festivalization?
Festivalization is a sweeping event trend, largely fueled by the audience’s desire to be plunged into a multi-day spectacular. The other component of festivalization is the “cross-pollination” or intermingling of business or tech and creative industries.
There are several events that have embraced this trend, most notably SXSW. The event began in 1987, with a grant from the CVB to bring more visitors to Austin and showcase its creatives and its music communities. That first year it welcomed 150 attendees. In the 1990s, they added an interactive tech conference and trade show and it grew from there. The event now brings in $325 million to the local economy.
As the younger generation becomes more enthralled with experiences over ownership, and they look for opportunities to add to their Instagram picture postings, event planners would be wise to approach ways in which to satisfy these mounting desires.
The Right Approach to Festivalizing your Event
Throwing in some entertainment or other in vogue offerings isn’t the way to embrace this trend successfully. To do so would lack authenticity, could end up costing a lot of money for little return, and may create a disconnect between the organization and the event mission.
Event planners wanting to festivalize their event must design with purpose, placing people first. This involves a science-based analysis of the audience. Event planners are best served by conducting a comprehensive and thorough design process with an expert team that can help lead the event design in a deliberate fashion aimed at the individuals, goals, and mission. The idea is to select the best elements to include as a result of a comprehensive and thorough design analysis.
7 Ways to “Festivalize” Events
After undergoing the design process, an event planner and design thinking expert may suggest these festivalization approaches:
1. Bridging the Gap for a Richer Event Offering
The drive behind festivalization of events is to cultivate an atmosphere that satisfies varied interests in one event. It adds an additional layer of creative entertainment and outlet that disrupts a traditional business conference or adds a business component to a creative endeavor.
Attendees want a one-stop shop for learning and fun, business and vacation. The interaction called for in festivalization aims to bridge that gap between creativity/entertainment and business for a richer experience in both areas.
2. Using Sneak-Peek “Sampling” to Build a Shared Experience
Many events that use festivalization give wider, free access to some parts of their event, an opening concert for instance. By inviting in the local community, this increases social media exposure, builds buzz (and possibly press and publicity) for the event, and engages a broader audience to what is otherwise a closed event. This shared experience can bring a new energy and vibe to the event, perhaps inviting interesting dialogue and new opportunities.
3. Using Performers as a Draw and Creating Something Unique (with Viral Appeal)
Some organizations, like SXSW, are bringing in famous entertainers alongside local performers and many events are using entertainment throughout a multi-day event, and not just on the night of the welcome reception or the gala. Giving a unique twist offers a once-in-a-lifetime moment, that your guests will never forget and also has the potential to go viral across the Internet.
4. Incorporating the Energy of Pitch Sessions for New Opportunities
Thanks to many boot camp-style events and television shows centered around the pitch, (think Shark Tank), more business events are embracing pitch sessions. They bring an exciting energy, an exchange of ideas, and promote new voices. They involve the marriage of creative approaches, innovative undertakings, and sometimes even crowdsourcing of winners. In a conference setting, this format can bring about investment opportunities and a meeting of minds.
5. Hybridizing Events and Maximizing Learning Potential
Hybridization is well-received because it allows attendees to indulge a variety of interests and helps cultivate the creativity required in today’s business community.
However, before throwing two different draws together and citing festivalization as the event goal, work with an event design expert to ensure the use of design thinking. That way the hybrid creation is one of interest to the intended audience. Otherwise, there could be a costly mismatch with little return on investment.
There’s also been a lot of information published about how positive emotion can affect learning. Positive experiences create memories, bring out emotions, and build connections. Building these positives around a brand or an employer can be very powerful.
6. Creating a Multi-day and Premium Ticketing Opportunity to Meet Attendee Demand
There are a number of tiered options for the creative event planner. From creating industry-specific interest passes, to VIP tickets, there are many ways an event can be divided up to increase revenue streams or offer sought-after opportunities. Some conferences are offering premium tickets which give better seating or an opportunity to get up close and personal with the speakers.
With multi-day events, some event planners are working in conjunction with the host city CVB to package other community activities with their passes. For instance, a user conference may find out about a local music festival and work with the planners of the other event as an affiliate to offer discounted passes for attendees. This can bring in additional revenue streams and satisfy the attendees’ interest in experiencing the host city in another way.
7. Using Multiple Venues to Mix Up the Environment and Vibe
With different offerings like concerts and pitch sessions, it would be unusual to find one venue that could effectively handle all of the event’s and audience’s needs in the most appealing way. That’s why with multi-day events with multiple tracks and breakout sessions, many event planners select the best venues in the city and offer a multi-location program.
Multiple venues can also allow some participants to enjoy intimate venues that would usually only work for smaller events. In these cases, event planners can host some exclusive event sessions at these smaller venues, expecting they will sell out quickly. They don’t intend for the entire group to be able to attend. This can drive early ticket sales and pre-registrations to ensure the attendees get the sessions and experiences they want.
Mixing-up the offering of venues keeps the environment fresh, and interest high. Stimulating environments can inspire and break down barriers, which can appeal to different learning styles and personalities.
Understand These 5 Essentials for Successfully Implementing Festivalization
Festivalization is not a panacea for every lagging event, nor is it a step that every event should embrace haphazardly. For event planners considering the leap into a hybridization of their event, there are a few considerations:
- The offerings must be focused on the ideal market for the event. Festivalization is not a one-size-fits-all trend. To successfully implement this concept, the event planner should undergo a thoughtful, deliberate design process following an assessment of the audience and its needs.
- Festivalization may involve working outside of the planning comfort zone by adding a completely different component to the event. Planning a large music undertaking is different than a product launch. While the audience may be warm to both ideas, before trying to implement them, it’s important to understand the necessities required of each and how they will tie in together to meet the event goals.
- Don’t be swayed by cool; select something meaningful to the audience which flows and strengthens the event objectives and vision
- Understand the strain it puts on hotels, handling multiple venues and stages, coordinating transportation, security, etc. When the event becomes a major draw, and attendance gets large, the city structure and transportation limitations will become more obvious.
- Bring in the experts. Even for event planners who have always handled all of the planning and implementation on their own, festivalization often requires a team of experts. The first place to start is before implementation, with design thinking and finding the solutions that are well-suited for the audience. Later, find a team that specializes in the components that are new to the event.
Looking to the Future
Festivalization will likely begin to affect all event planners, as conferences and conventions explode into mega-occurrences. With larger crowds placing a strain on local venues, even the smaller event planner will have to be aware of what event is going on around their own. These large-scale undertakings may end up blocking off or limiting opportunities for smaller events at certain times of the year in larger cities or spaces.
For event planners who long to embrace festivalization, it’s important to understand planning limitations. Some organizers will need to call in additional teams, designers, and planners to help them coordinate these innovative immersion experiences. Groups like Maritz Global Events have changed the way the industry approaches event design. They have mastered ways to help planners create a common vision among event stakeholders that support organizational goals.
By acknowledging these logistical challenges, festivalization can redefine the conference offering. When done right, the trend holds a lot of appeal for attendees, sponsors and other stakeholders.
Photo credit: Matt Benson / Unsplash