Media Analysis: Music mags ready for festival fever

It might be a streetwise and media-savvy market, but that doesn't stop brands attempting to gain leverage from the main music titles' links with the summer music festivals. Richard Cann finds out how it can be done

Hordes of music enthusiasts will descend on festivals in the coming months to watch giants such as David Bowie, Massive Attack and the Pixies battle it out on stage with young usurpers Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes.

The challenge for marketers will be to integrate their brands without looking ridiculous to people who are as cynical and savvy as they are passionate.

Brands hoping to jump on the summer music festival bandwagon still have opportunities to work with the two major music magazine titles, Q and NME, but they had better act quickly and make sure they offer something fun and unique to readers.

That is the message from NME editor Conor McNicholas, who promises the weekly magazine will do more this summer than anyone else. He warns: 'We get to pick and choose who we work with. We are always able to work with other brands but people have got to move quite quickly.'

McNicholas agrees that youth culture is high on marketers' agendas now.

'There is more interest and bigger brands than ever before,' he says.

Chance to meet the readers

But he insists the title's integrity is paramount and that brands need to add to readers' enjoyment of the events because 'it's our chance to stand next to our readers'. He says NME chooses brands that can act as utilities for the reader on site, such as telecoms, clothing and hardware brands, and is currently talking to a camera company.

McNicholas calls the magazine's coverage of this summer's festivals a 'mammoth undertaking' that has involved a large amount of forward planning, but insists there is still time for brands to get involved, both in particular festivals and across the summer.

Q, as a monthly, has less flexibility for its festival coverage, but editor Paul Rees says it is possible for brands to take advantage of its exclusive coverage of Glastonbury (25-27 June), for which it is a major sponsor. He says most editorial opportunities take the form of promotions and competitions.

The two magazines now dominate coverage for the major festivals following the demise of competitors Select and Melody Maker and bearing in mind the older target audiences of Uncut and Mojo.

Clare Craven, a director at Cake Media, whose client list includes V Festival, Carling and festival regular Orange, says that by focusing on the two key titles, brands can build up a rapport and develop marketing plans that fit their editorial needs more closely.

Orange developed several initiatives for Glastonbury last year, including a festival news messaging service, a solar-powered tent where punters could recharge their phones and a mosh-proof phone cover, for which it used pre-festival media and the Q Daily.

Deep heritage

Craven says editorial integration is vital because young people 'do not like to be openly sold to'. And it is important for brands to ensure their message is relevant to each festival, particularly Glastonbury, with its deep heritage.

Glastonbury Festival press officer John Shearlaw says the festival's remit to raise awareness of causes and charities is embedded in its reputation.

Brands that are not sensitive to this are more likely to damage their own value, says Slice PR chief executive Damian Mould. The agency has several music and events clients - including Universal and the Prince's Trust Urban Music Festival - and works for brands such as Nokia and Southern Comfort.

He says: 'Brands should play ball. You shouldn't do something with a magazine unless you are doing something at the festival - consumers like it when you've done something for them that fits with your brand.'

As an example, Mould suggests that Egg could gain much media interest if it did something useful such as handing out small, illuminated eggs that could lead people back to their tents at night.

Mould insists that magazines will always talk to you if your idea breaks new ground and adds to readers' experiences. So act fast, but beware - the kids know what you're up to and will only accept those brands that share their passions.

And if you miss the point of this summer's festivals, the magazines will be the first to block your path.

How the two heavyweights line up for the summer season

NME

Publisher: IPC

Frequency: Weekly

Circulation: 72,557

NME, known for many years as the New Musical Express, is the official media partner of the V Festivals, Carling Reading and Leeds, and T in the Park, but will be involved in the other major festivals as well, producing a summer festival guide in May and special pre- and post-Glastonbury editions.

Editor Conor McNicholas promises 'we will be doing more than anybody else', with space devoted to breaking news, rumoured line-ups, ticket availability, features and promotions.

Q

Publisher: Emap

Frequency: Monthly

Circulation: 161,634

Q is one of the sponsors of Glastonbury and produces its official programme, the Q Daily paper at the festival and the Q Review, which is handed out to attendees as they leave and is on sale after the event.

Q is also closely involved in the lead-up to the festival - announcing the line-up, running a festival T-shirt design competition and giving away its last 50 tickets. It will run a '100 Greatest Gigs of All Time' feature on 1 May and will attach a Glastonbury-themed cover-mount CD to its 1 June edition.

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