Monday, September 25, 2006

For festival promoters, a word from our sponsor

The IBMA conference kicked off today with its first set of seminars for bluegrass industry insiders. Generally this blog covers topics aimed at festival goers, but some of the inside baseball as relates to festival production and business matters will also be interesting to Festival Preview readers. Today's event-track session covered "funding events before the first ticket is sold."

For the most part, that means sponsorships, although grants, concessions, program advertising and other revenue streams were also discussed. Richard Tucker, who runs an event in Texas called the Argyle Bluegrass Festival, moderated. Unfortunately, all of the panelists represented relatively small festivals. The largest of the five festivals covered was the Huck Finn Jubilee, which has been running for 18 years each June in Victorville CA. One that I had not heard of but that sounds like a great event is the Americana Folk Festival, which is coming up next month in Dickson TN outside of Nashville.

Most of the audience comprised promoters of smaller bluegrass festivals, all hungry for ways to boost their income. What they heard was that they need to become much more sophisticated in how to go about attracting sponsors. While that could include going after national sponsors of the type that MerleFest has been so successful with, most of the attention here was about getting local businesses--banks, title companies, and the like--to pony up to support programs that build community.

Several of the panelists claimed that they are able to cover up to 70 percent of their costs from sponsorship income. Tucker, who is also the mayor of Argyle, said that in his first year he gained sponsorship support from 20 of the 21 businesses that he targeted. Those are fairly surprising numbers, and a number of people in the audience said that they have not had similar success.

Most of the session covered tactics promoters might use to boost their success. Most of these had to do with techniques for giving sponsors maximum exposure, including on-site visibility with video screens and kiosks, web links and program mentions, special pre-festival events, exclusive sponsor opportunities, access to artists, and many more. The advice seemed not to vary whether the festival was for-profit or not-for-profit. Besides paid sponsorships, the panelists also encouraged promoters to seek in-kind trades for items like hotel room nights and RV rentals.

Nobody was very concerned about any possible downside to over-commericialization of events and the possibility of turning off ticket-buyers, other than one caution from Huck Finn promter Dan Tucker (no relation to moderator Richard Tucker) that "you have to be really careful about tobacco and alcohol."

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