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Festivals Toolkit: Marketing: Tips for Successful Publicity

TIP 1: Come up with your ‘Creative Concept’ first

The ‘creative concept’ is what your whole marketing and publicity campaign will be based around. Once you have come up with it, it can be manipulated into all sorts of publicity material – e.g. a flyer, postcard, poster, sticker or magazine advert. Your creative concept needs to do two things - catch the eye and sell the show (AIDA).

TIP 2: Make sure your ‘Creative Concept’ is eye-catching
People are so used to having advertising directed at them - on TV, in magazines, on buses, on notice boards - they have developed the skill of ignoring much of this ‘noise’. Libraries, community centres even some shops can have so many things on display that most are never seen.

A good design needs to overcome this problem by being ‘eye-catching’. Most effective designs have some sort of image - a photo, illustration, cartoon, computer generated graphic, or sometimes just a word - around which everything else revolves. Think about what kind of image will attract attention for your festival – from the familiar to the more unusual or cryptic.

Promoting an event which features a recognizable band, DJ, comedian or actor means that a simple photo of that person can be very effective. Promoting a whole festival may mean that a single image may be undesirable/impossible and your ‘unique selling point’ (USP) is an image that encapsulates the overall theme or identity of the festival and/or a montage of pictures of artists whose work will be presented.

Some people use familiar images, or a parody of another advertising campaign, as a way of attracting attention. These can work; though don’t forget that if you use someone else’s imagery in this kind of publicity you need to get permission from whoever owns the images.

Other people sometimes produce a series of cryptic posters which are obviously linked, but which only make sense when you have seen them all. These can be effective and get people talking - though they may have less immediate impact.

A useful device when thinking about poster design is to glance at crowded notice boards and leaflet racks and see what you focus on first. What you are looking at is likely to be eye-catching. Is your design going to compete with it?

TIP 3: Identify the selling points of your event
As well as being eye-catching, your overall design concept needs to sell your event. An image alone might do this (for example if it includes a well known artist), but it is more likely that the ‘selling’ will be achieved through what you write.

What is it about your event that will actually make people want to come? What are the USPs of your event? What does it have that no competing event offers? What are the benefits that your audience will enjoy?

It is the USP and the benefits of your event/festival that should dominate the image and words of your leaflet, poster etc. Be ruthless with your copy, every word counts – ‘if in doubt, leave it out’. A common mistake is to put too much information in a leaflet or on a poster putting people off from ever reading it in the first place.

Remember too that not everyone is blessed with 20:20 vision so use of lively design, light yellow print on white, dark brown on black, point sizes of less 10pt will render your print unreadable by many – and for some festivals these will include precisely the audience on which they rely.

TIP 4: Spend time on wording
Don’t write in a hurry. Take time to find the best way of expressing your USP and benefits. Snappy, exciting - but not cliché - phrases can really sell an event. A little linguistic imagination can turn all aspects of your production into big selling points, even negative ones! A small venue can offer “an exclusively intimate performance’, while an event with a one night run can be “your one and only chance to catch this’.

Remember ‘less is more’ in advertising. Be very strict on word count. Get all the important information in, but in as few words as possible. People have very short attention spans and often will not read past the first line or so (KISS).

People like to have assurance that an event will be good before they spend their time or money on it. Quotes from respected media or people about your event can help with this, as can honest statements about past successes – e.g. ‘from the people who brought you’ or ‘now in its fifth sell out year’.

TIP 5: Avoid Common Design Errors
People will also take some assurance about your event if your leaflet, poster etc. looks ‘ professional’. That is not to say you need to become too corporate, but there are certain rules the majority of designers use, and if you break them your design may look less professional (some designers break them on purpose and get away with it of course).

The rules include:

  • Only using one or maybe two fonts throughout all your publicity print.
  • Only using unusual fonts for headlines (and using more conventional fonts e.g. Arial for basic information).
  • Not running text too close to the edge of the paper, or too close to the edges of boxes.
  • Being careful with use of logos – you are promoting your event first, acknowledging financial and other support second – logos should not dominate your design.

TIP 6: Think about what publicity tools you want to use – don't forget the basics, but be imaginative too
Once you have decided on your creative concept you then need to decide what actual ‘tools’ you are going to use to publicise your event. There are numerous ideas to choose from, you are only limited by time and budget. Though do think about distribution – e.g. how and where are you going to distribute your print? There is no point printing up 10,000 leaflets when you only have outlets and a mailing list that can accommodate 5,000.

Similarly for other publicity items such as: stickers, pens, beer mats, glasses, carrier bags, matches, lighters, t-shirts, do not disturb signs etc. Any one got any good ideas on what to do with 2000 mouse mats from 1998?

Most people will develop their ‘creative concept’ with a particular tool in mind (for most festivals the starting point is the flyer or poster) and then develop it accordingly for other tools. This is probably the best way to go, although do bear in mind the possibility that you might wish to use other tools when developing your overarching aims and concept.

TIP 7: Allow yourself enough time
Predictable thing to say, but try and make sure you have enough time to prepare your publicity print. Firstly, you’ll be surprised how long designing your publicity takes. Secondly, bear in mind anything that is likely to delay the production of your publicity, like getting ‘ sign-off’ from people who have to approve your publicity before it can go to print. And thirdly, make sure you have allowed plenty of time for printing and distribution. Which brings us to...

TIP 8: Choose your suppliers well
Make sure you pick your suppliers well when planning your publicity print. Your main supplier will be your printer. When you get a quote make sure your quote includes all possible costs (checking files, making plates, print, delivery and VAT – some print carries VAT some does not). And make sure you are clear on how artwork is to be delivered and what the turn round times are.

In selecting your printer explore what scope you have for using recycled materials, especially paper. Can you achieve the quality you want using such materials from this printer?

If you are planning on outsourcing your design, then select from a range of designers on the basis of price and the work they produce. The final results often depend on how well you brief him or her so think about what you want. If you are not sure what you want, find a designer who is willing to work with you in developing your design, and make sure you allow time and budget for having your designer tweak their artwork for you a few times.

TIP 9: And then check it again
When you are sending your publicity to print, make sure that several people proof read it first, even it if it is just a couple of lines of text. Make sure you triple check every date, price, phone number etc. You cannot underestimate how easy it is to make costly mistakes when you are sending something to print. And given that we are often running close to the deadline for effective distribution such mistakes may jeopardise the event itself through late notification of the event to your audience.

TIP 10: And where did it go?
Distribution should be discussed at the start of the process so that your needs in terms of the range and size of print formats and the print runs are known when you start work on design etc. Some outlets utilise leaflet racks others a table on which leaflets can be displayed. Your print needs to work effectively in all places. Similarly with posters some places can accommodate only A4, some can display A3 but very few places can take A2.

You need to think about the print runs by adding up the capacity of your distribution outlets and your mailing list. Are you able to get your print included with a local newspaper, newsletter – if yes are the additional costs of providing this print likely to be offset by additional ticket sales, attendances or other benefits.

There are agencies that operate in Derbyshire that you can use to get your print distributed around the whole or parts of the county. One such is Derby and Derbyshire arts, whose website is: If you are looking to distribute outside of the county then contact Cultivate. Outside of the East Midlands then you can contact audience development organisations such as Audiences Central.

TIP 11: And what were the outcomes?
Finally, make sure that you include some  form of evaluation into your event and/or your website which will provide data:

  • on how people found out about your event/festival,
  • from where they obtained the print
  • how they rate your print for its effectiveness
  • how it could be improved

Evaluation should never be an add-on but should be considered alongside other aspects of the festival right from the start.  The nature of your evaluation may influence thinking about this year's event so it is not just something you do to gather data for next year.

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