Analysis: Music festivals deliver lasting PR to sponsors

Last weekend's Glastonbury marked the start of the main music festival season. Chris Scott looks at the commercial opportunities being exploited by PROs

Among the big summer music festivals, Glastonbury is still widely perceived to be unique in having resisted the forces of commercialism.

However, while title sponsorship rights to the festival were not sold, even Glastonbury, which has just had one of its best years ever in terms of weather and performances, now boasts a number of 'official partners'.

These were able to install a marketing presence on-site, giving selected companies a PR foothold with a captive audience.

One of the beneficiaries was mobile phone network Orange, who, as official communications partner, provided solar-powered phone recharging services, along with a PR push through Cake. The agency's creative director Ben Jones says an element of commercial realism has seen brands able to make their presence felt, even at Glastonbury. 'Like any festival organiser, Glastonbury accepts that sponsorship fees are needed to cover the costs of running an event. Trialling solar energy to power the main recharge units on site provides a real role for the brand and integrates Orange with the spirit of Glastonbury,' he states.

The presence of commercial partners at Glastonbury pales in comparison to this summer's other main festivals. Both V2003 and the Tennant's-sponsored T in the Park were created as much as marketing vehicles as they are music events, while in 1999, the 30-year-old Reading Festival spawned a Leeds-based offshoot, and the two became collectively known as the Carling Weekend.

Carling works with The Outside Organisation and Cake (who also handle the event press office at the V Festival) to exploit its title sponsorship.

Outside Organisation head of brands Jacquie Chalmers says such title sponsorship - estimated to cost in the region of £250,000 - brings enormous PR benefits for a brand.

'Aside from the pouring deal (to be the exclusive beer provider) on site, the main benefit is that Carling's key target audience is the 18- to 24-year-old group, and festivals are pretty much where it's at for them.

There is immense credibility to be gained just from being associated with a major festival like this,' she says.

Chalmers rejects the notion that a PRO's role at a festival is merely to act as glorified bar staff for journalists, saying that the PR effort is more strategic.

She adds: 'With Carling, we identify about ten to 15 key targets. Those will be radio stations and the national media that fit in with our strategy.

The campaign starts ten weeks before the festival, driving gossip through the national press, radio and TV. We have to ensure that Carling and its branding is present in all materials, and then we have to create on-site facilities for journalists.'

Jones says it is vital to ensure a good fit with both brand and festival: 'Whatever activity we propose and implement for our clients, we always seek to be creative and to integrate activity in line with both the brand or product and the festival itself. The obvious advantage of a festival is that festival-goers live with your brand for three days. The experience of being at a festival will live in their memories for years to come, much more so than any advert, and you hope your brand will be associated with that memory.'

The other major festival, V2003, is perhaps the one most closely associated with its title sponsor. While there are many who remember the Reading festival as it once was, the V festivals have had to forge a reputation of their own.

Virgin Mobile brand manager Steve Rogan says proving the brand's commitment to the music scene and winning round a sceptical market are vital parts of the PR push: 'When you're dealing with the youth market you have to be realistic. They're very savvy and if they feel they're being overtly marketed to, you will get an awful lot of criticism. You can't just stick a logo on without adding value to the event.'

Virgin Mobile director of corporate affairs Stephen Day says the benefits arising from the PR effort are very broad-based: 'The spin-off benefits of the PR campaign are difficult to quantify, as we entertain an awful lot of journalists, and the hospitality and goodwill that arises from that is immense.

'We place around 200 competitions in selected media in the run up to the festival, and we also get a great deal of PR capital from the event itself - be it about celebrities turning up, bands getting reviewed and pictures of the event itself. Sometimes you get lucky with the photography and there's branding in the background, and people hopefully realise that it's something to do with Virgin,' he adds.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of those PRWeek spoke to were reluctant to reveal specific details of the costs involved in PR work around festival sponsorship. Cake director Jones did, however, suggest that the circumstances of the work warrant a premium: 'The very nature of creating activity at a festival is costly - you're out there in the elements, and when you're trying to run a press office or brand experience it's always going to cost more when you're in a field.'

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