How to Promote a Festival: Event Branding, Marketing, and Social Media
Before you dive in, if you are interested in festival sponsorship, check out these titles in our “sponsorship for festivals” series:
How to Plan a Festival the Complete Guide to Starting Growing and Perfecting Your Festival
Festival Activations to Make Your Next Event Amazing
What Activities to Have at Your Festival
Sponsorship for Festivals: What You Need to Know for Your Event to Be a Hit
What Companies That Sponsor Festivals Are Looking for in a Partnership
You could throw the best festival in the history of humankind, but if no one knows about it, does it even count? Festival promotions are integral in building brand awareness and generating enough ticket sales that your festival turns a profit. How do you promote a festival?
Here’s how to promote a festival:
- Begin advertising and marketing early
- Use the media
- Find influencers
- Partner with sponsors
- Host a contest or giveaway
There’s a lot more to successfully promoting a festival than that, of course, and in today’s post, I plan on delving into all of it. I’ll elaborate on the above methods, discuss how to create a festival brand, talk about what goes into a marketing strategy, and provide plenty of promotional tips and suggestions.
Let’s dive right in!
How to Promote a Festival
Okay, so per the intro, I want to discuss some general tactics for promoting a festival. This section omits specifics on branding, marketing, and social media because those three topics will be the meat of this guide.
Begin Advertising and Marketing Early
When your event is in its first or second year, no one necessarily knows if it’s coming back for another round next year.
You cannot rest your laurels on the assumption that because your event happens every January 30th that people will automatically know. You have to remind them, and the earlier, the better.
The recommendation is that you begin marketing and advertising at least eight weeks ahead of your event and certainly within the six-week mark.
Can you start earlier than two months away? Yes, but I would caution you against beginning too far in advance.
According to marketing resource PPC Protect, in 2021, the average person sees 6,000 to 10,000 ads a day.
A general audience who sees your ad six months before your event has a very low chance of recalling the ad.
Remember, marketing and advertising campaigns are not free. You do not want to needlessly waste dollars on an ad campaign that falls flat because you unveiled it too early!
Use the Media to Your Advantage
If your wallet is reeling after spending on advertising and marketing, there are some free means of promotion you can take advantage of.
You can trust that the local press is going to cover your festival.
If a news article helps you sell 100 more tickets, it’s worth it, especially–once again–since the promotion is free.
Right around festival time, you are going to be busier than ever. You’ll be slammed, let’s be real. Even so, now is no time to become a shut-in.
If you get media requests for interviews, whether that’s on the local television news station or in a newspaper, accept the request.
Each interview you accept is further free promotion for your festival!
You know who your target audience is. What kind of influencers does your target audience listen to?
Are any of those influencers people who would be interested in your festival, be it a music fest or an arts and culture festival?
If you answered yes to that latter question, then try to work with that person.
Whether they have a huge following on Instagram, YouTube, or even through their own blog, partnering with an influencer is a great way to get further free promotion for your event.
You’ll have to send some cold emails or direct messages, and you might face some rejection, especially if your festival is not yet well-established.
Keep in mind that rejection is often in the form of radio silence. If you don’t hear from an influencer you’re interested in working with after a week, you can send them another message.
However, if another week passes by and you still don’t hear anything, it’s time to move on. Find another influencer and hopefully, you’ll have better luck.
Partner with Sponsors
I’d also recommend seeking sponsorship. And yes, sponsors are not the same as influencers.
An influencer is someone who promotes your event to their audience ahead of the festival.
A sponsor is someone who supports your festival–either through promotions, donations, or cash funds–with the expectation that their involvement will solve a problem or problems they have.
Let me make it clear, sponsorship is a two-way street. You’ll have to come up with assets, or tangible or intangible valuables, that you can sell to a sponsor to meet their objectives.
You need activations too, and fortunately, I provided plenty of such ideas in another recent post.
You cannot pull a sponsor relationship together in a few weeks’ time, not if you’re doing it properly, that is.
You need to plan for a sponsor months in advance. Ideally, right after your current festival ends, you should reevaluate your current sponsors, negotiate to keep the ones you want, and begin seeking new ones.
Host a Contest or Giveaway
The last tactic I recommend for festival promotion is to host a giveaway or contest.
Again, this is something you want to plan well in advance but not so far in advance that people forget about your contest.
Four months out from your festival is a good time for a contest or giveaway.
That should give you ample time to gather the entries (assuming your contest has entries), determine who wins, notify the winner, and give them their prize.
If your contest goes live four months before the festival, then that means you have to have planned all the fine details at least several months before even that.
What will the crux of the contest be? How will people participate? How will you promote the contest? What will the prize be? (I recommend festival tickets or passes!).
Creating Your Event Branding Strategy
As promised, I want to take this section and delve deeply into how to brand your festival. Whether this is your first festival and you have no idea how to brand yourself or you’re eager to rebrand after past festivals, the information I’m about to share will surely come in handy.
Festival Brand Definition
So first of all, what is a festival brand?
A festival brand is a unique expression of your event. It’s the amalgamation of all the elements that make your festival what it is, from the location to your history.
To consumers, your festival brand is what makes your event instantly recognizable.
It’s about more than building brand recognition, though. A strong festival brand makes it easy to advertise and market your event. You can inspire greater trust among your audience, grow your customer base, and thus earn more sales.
A festival brand should be several things: original, relatable, and consistent.
Keeping your brand original is easier than you think. After all, there’s only one festival under your name, right? That alone makes you unique, as does the story of how your festival came to fruition.
Your brand must be relatable in that your audience connects with it. If your festival was a weekend-long music fest on the beach like Sea.Hear.Now., then you know you’re going to attract a more laid-back, chill kind of audience.
Having a frenetic brand is not going to gel.
Finally, your festival brand must be consistent. You might be the festival owner, but you’re far from the only one who puts on the big show.
You probably have an email team, a social media team, and maybe a blogger too. Every single party needs to understand your festival brand inside and out so they can ace it.
If your brand acts one way on social media and another way in emails, that creates a disconnect that can breed distrust.
The Elements of Event Branding
Here are all the elements that comprise your festival brand.
- Name: Yes, the name of your festival is a conscious branding choice. If you already have a festival name but haven’t focused so much on branding, then don’t worry about it. For those who are still in the early stages of festival planning, including dreaming up a great name, think of how your name will reflect your values and your audience.
- Logo: This is a big one. A logo is a chance to nonverbally express what your festival is all about. Think carefully about what your logo will be, as it will appear on signage, t-shirts, social media, your website, and plenty of other merch.
- Brand story: This goes back to what I was talking about before. What is your brand story? Where does your festival come from? Why did you create it? What do you hope to achieve? This is a very unique element that only your festival can bring to the table!
- Color palette: Colors absolutely play a role in our moods, and companies utilize that to the fullest. It’s known as color branding. Here is what each color represents:
- White: Balance, calmness
- Green: Health, growth, peacefulness
- Blue: Strength, trust, dependability
- Pink: Wisdom, imagination, creativity
- Red: Boldness, passion, excitement
- Orange: Confidence, cheerfulness, friendliness
- Yellow: Warmth, clarity, optimism
- Slogan: Not all festivals need a slogan, but yours might. You know, like Nike’s “just do it,” which at this point is as iconic as the brand itself!
- Typography: Like the color palette you select can establish a certain mood, so too can the type of typography you use. Whether you want to go with a more serious vibe or come across as relaxed, funny, sexy, or mysterious, there’s a font that matches.
- Voice: Remember, keeping your voice consistent is super important in festival branding. Through your name, logo, color palette, and typography, you’ve already nailed down what your voice or tone will be.
The Complete Festival Marketing Strategy
Now that you understand how to create a festival brand, it’s time to switch gears and discuss your festival marketing strategy.
Festival marketing or event marketing utilizes strategies to introduce, promote, engage, and ultimately encourage people to attend your festival.
Influencer marketing, which I talked about earlier in this guide, is one such pillar of your festival marketing strategy, and there are plenty of others.
Keep in mind that if this section overwhelms you, no one says that you have to take care of your festival marketing yourself. You can always hire a marketing agency provided you have room in the budget.
Marketing agency 99firms states that, in 2022, 4.26 billion people around the world use email.
For festival marketing especially, email marketing is like the crown jewel in your tiara.
Leads will sign up to your email list who are curious about your festival and want to learn more. Perhaps they want to be the first to hear about the lineup for next year.
Once you have an email list, you can send messages periodically to nurture and engage with your audience.
Perhaps you send a monthly or bimonthly newsletter where you slowly yet surely build hype for the next festival.
You could use the newsletter to create profiles on your staff, show people behind-the-scenes glimpses into what makes a festival happen, and showcase photos from last year.
These transparent previews into the machinations of your festival are an excellent way to build trust. Leads will feel sure about possibly buying your festival tickets while your current customers could become more loyal.
You can announce the on-sale date for the festival to your email audience and perhaps even offer exclusive early-bird discounts.
As the on-sale date draws ever near, you can send out reminder emails so no one misses the opportunity to buy their tickets.
Even once your event sells out, you can then begin getting people hyped for the festival through your emails. Maybe you sell exclusive merchandise early to your email audience.
As you can see, email is such a critical vehicle in your overall festival marketing campaign. It’s easier to build an email list as a festival promoter than as a small business of any other nature because people generally enjoy going to festivals.
That said, you should still create enticing opt-in forms and lead magnets on your website, place plenty of CTA buttons on the site (and above the fold at that), and make it beneficial for people to join your email list.
The next facet of your festival marketing campaign is content marketing.
Content is about more than blogging, although that’s important too. It’s all sorts of content, from videos to infographics, whitepapers, podcasts, eBooks, the works.
Now, I don’t think, as a festival promoter, that whitepapers are really your M.O., but you can and should use other forms of content marketing.
Why not start a podcast that you host in between the festival? You can talk about current trends in music or art, whatever your festival genre is.
You can film videos of the making of your festival and write blogs about the trends in your industry.
Content marketing is valuable in establishing trust, furthering your brand, and positioning your website as an authoritative source.
If you create the next viral video or make an infographic that gets shared 10,000 times, that’s your name that’s being shared 10,000 times too.
Whether you’re interested in making videos, writing blog content, or podcasting, the key is consistency. Make an editorial calendar where you can plan what you’ll post and when.
A good rule of thumb is to post at least once a week and then potentially increase your content production from there.
To determine what topics you’ll cover, I recommend doing keyword research. You can find free tools online that can help you determine both short-tail and long-tail keywords to target but using a tool like Google Keyword Planner is better.
Although Google Keyword Planner is free, you have to pay to bid for certain keywords, so that’s where the money comes in.
Social Media Marketing
I’m going to talk about social media marketing in full in the next section. Still, it’s a valuable part of your festival marketing strategy nevertheless, so I wanted to include it here in this section.
I discussed paid advertising a bit earlier in this guide, but now I want to focus on it in earnest.
Paid ads are a surefire way to attract a greater set of eyes to your upcoming festival…for a price, of course.
You can select from a variety of paid ads, so let’s go over your options now.
- Radio ads: If yours is a music festival, then a radio advertisement goes together with the event like peanut butter and jelly. Radio listenership might not be what it used to be, but the radio has more listeners than you think. Be sure to target radio stations that play the genre of music your festival will feature.
- TV ads: Don’t be scared to buy a TV ad just because you’ve heard how expensive they can be. Yours will be a local ad, which should cut down the cost considerably. Fit Small Business says a 30-second local TV ad costs up to $1,000.
- Billboards: Billboards are a type of outdoor advertising. They’re not fitting for every marketing campaign, but for festival marketing, I’d recommend a few billboards. Target the city/town your festival is coming to and maybe the adjacent city/town if your budget allows.
- Print advertising: Like the radio, newspaper viewership has dwindled, but Pew Research Center says that in 2020, up to 24.3 million weekly newspapers were circulated, including digital copies. Print ads can be costly, but if you can reach your target audience, they’re worthwhile.
- Display ads: A display ad is a form of Internet advertising that can appear on social media, in apps, and on websites. These are frequently banner ads that may feature a still image or an animation, looping video, and sometimes audio as well.
- Native ads: While display ads stick out like a sore thumb (in a good way, most of the time), native ads are meant to blend right in. Whether that’s a native ad in your Instagram feed or in your email inbox, these ads feel less like clicking an ad, which makes them effective.
- Social media ads: Speaking of social media, each major social media platform has its own means of advertising these days. You can segment your audience, design your ad from scratch, determine what you’ll pay, launch the ad, and review analytics all from the social media site.
- PPC ads: The last type of advertising is pay-per-click or PPC ads. As the name implies, when a user clicks on the ad, you pay for it. Affiliate marketing, price comparison ads, retargeting, and display ads are types of PPC advertising.
How to Promote a Festival on Social Media
To wrap up, I want to take some time to discuss how you can use social media as a vehicle for promoting your upcoming festival.
Build a Social Media Following
First, if you don’t already have a social media audience, you need to work on that, ideally long before your next festival is on the horizon.
Without an audience, you’ll be screaming into the Internet void, and that’s not a fun way to spend your time.
How do you amass an audience on social media? Well, you have to know which social media platform(s) your target audience uses and start with those.
Paid advertising, as I described it above, is a surefire method that will work.
You should also target relevant hashtags, but don’t spam them or use them to create off-brand content.
Speaking of your brand, always keep it first and foremost when posting on social media.
The type of content you post should be interesting and engaging to your target audience based on what you know about them.
Unless you buy your followers (which I really don’t recommend since it’s very shady behavior), then you will not grow a social media audience overnight.
Within a few months of working hard to establish yourself as a presence on social media, your numbers will steadily grow.
A bigger audience usually means more engagement with your posts such as comments and shares too!
Post Frequently (But Not Too Frequently)
Determining how often to post on social media is a matter of platform.
In the early 2020s, according to marketing resource Hootsuite, here’s how many posts you should be working towards based on the platform:
- LinkedIn – At least once a day and no more than five times a day
- Twitter – At least once a day and no more than five times a day
- Facebook – Up to twice per day
- Instagram – Between three and seven posts per week (not per day!)
That schedule is very doable. If it isn’t, then you can always hire a festival social media manager.
Diversify Your Content
Are you just constantly posting links to your Spotify podcast or links to your blog? All that self-promotion is not going to get you followers.
You need to give people a reason to follow you. That means feeding your audience valuable content.
No, all the content doesn’t have to come from you! Thank goodness, right?
When you find an article about the state of the music industry or art sales that interests you, share it with your audience.
Once your followers realize that they can trust your festival brand to give them a valuable experience every time they come to your page, they’ll want to be there all the time.
Pay for Social Media Ads
Yes, you had to know this was going to come up again. Social media ads will surely put all eyes on your upcoming festival.
Just make sure you have a budget and that that budget extends to all social media. You could easily bankrupt yourself by paying for Twitter ads, Facebook ads, and Instagram ads.
As I recommended before, start with the social media platform that your target audience uses the most and pay for ads there first.
Track Your Social Analytics
Remember how I mentioned that social media platforms include analytics when you pay for ads? You need to use those analytics to determine how your paid ads are performing.
Be sure to track your brand mentions as well to determine whether your festival is trending!
Promoting a festival successfully means focusing primarily on three areas: branding, marketing, and social media.
These three areas overlap a lot, so the efforts you put forth in one area tend to translate well to another, especially when it comes to marketing and social media campaigns.
You should begin planning for festival promotions as soon as your current festival wraps up. Even if you’re not yet running ads or hosting contests, you should be budgeting and dreaming about how to make your festival even bigger next year!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.