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Thoughts from Cuckoo HQ
May 17

Best in Fest ICON: Debating the Value of Events

Four members of the Cuckoo team attended the ICON, part two of the Best in Fest Masterclass Series created by Sinead McNamara and Shell Holden. Here are some of our thoughts from the day.

The Best in Fest Masterclass series was set up by Shell Holden and Sinead McNamara in 2016. It aims to offer attendees an educational and inspirational platform to hear from successful festival organisers, and an opportunity to network with other industry professionals.

Following their FUND Event in May 2016, part two of the series, ICON, was held last month in the Aviva Stadium. Ten speakers involved in festivals in Ireland and abroad were interviewed by Dave Fanning, with two panel discussions in the morning and afternoon.

Here’s what some of the speakers had to say.

The Economic Impact of Events

Justin Green (Founder & Managing Director, Wide Awake Communications) kicked off the day by discussing the findings of his landmark report 'Let’s Celebrate'. The report used Ticketmaster data to investigate the economic and cultural impact of live events in Ireland (read more here), and found that for every €1 spent on a ticket, an additional €6 of revenue was created in the rest of the economy.

He said the report 'provides the perfect benchmark' for funding applications, as it provides hard-evidence of the economic returns from live events, something which many of the speakers touched on in their interviews:

  • Mark Rowlette (Dublin Programme Manager, Failte Ireland) said that after agriculture, tourism is the biggest contributor to Ireland’s economy and attributed the success of tourism in Ireland to its culture and live events.

  • Shona McCarthy (CEO, Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society) said that every year in Edinburgh there is £230m generated by festivals.

  • Ian Renton (Director, The Cheltenham Festival) said every year there is £100m generated by the races alone (£20m of which is from Ireland).

Discussing the economic impact of events was a theme that was carried throughout the day.

Many speakers lamented a lack of recognition of the importance of the live event industry to the economy, and the resulting lack of investment. Six figure numbers were provided, where available, as auditable proof of the value of the industry that these speakers (and the event’s attendees) had dedicated their lives work to.

The Social Impact of Events

Quantifying the economic impact of your event is one way to determine its value, but as Shona McCarthy pointed out, event organisers are 'often compelled to justify themselves in economic terms', and should also consider their 'impact on people' and their 'effect on civic pride.'

Shona's sentiment is one echoed in a recent piece written by our own Sinead O'Mahony entitled 'The Importance of the Social Impacts of Events'.

Shona went on to speak about the unifying power of events in her native Northern Ireland, in the years before the Good Friday Agreement. She recalled, 'If you were at a gig, no one gave a shit who you were, you were both there because you liked the music.'

The social impact of events was also recognised by Willie White (Artistic Director, Dublin Theatre Festival) who said that people don’t normally set up festivals for bed nights. 'Culture is about trying to improve people’s lives,' he said, and, 'If it’s good, people will come.'


Rejecting and Embracing Commercialism

Harley K Dubois (Founder, Burning Man) was one speaker who decided to forfeit economic gain altogether, when she and her fellow Burning Man founders made the event non-profit. They made this decision in order to secure the outside funding that was required to sustain it.

'How many people give their life’s work away?' she asked, before telling the audience that the organisation tries to give away as much as it can, 'Not for the PR, but because it’s the right thing to do.'

Gary Graham (Founder, Bloom by Bord Bia) on the other hand, embraces the commercial aspect of festivals. For him, Bloom is 'a marketing event.' He said that gardening is a 'big, important industry, but it needs a platform to show that off.' He talked about how the festival had to get creative following the economic downturn in 2008, increasing focus on partnerships and product placement, as well as diversifying its content by venturing into areas like fashion and music.

He said that when it comes to event content, attention to detail is a key factor in customer satisfaction. It’s important to 'sweat the small stuff.'

The Bottom Line

As well as generating revenue for the economy, events play a vital role in enriching people’s lives. They create spaces for different conversations, and can bring people together over shared interests.There is scope for the industry to grow, with consumers increasingly favouring experiences over objects.

In Ireland, one of the biggest barriers to the industry’s expansion is insufficient infrastructure, with the lack of suitable venues and increasing traffic cited as examples. Going forward, it is important for government to recognise these shortcomings and take action to mitigate them, an investment which will be rewarded in multiple figures (and in multiple immeasurable ways).

The last word went to Willie White, who said the local authorities could do more to help young people hoping to get started in events, by providing clear, accessible information on requirements for funding (such as method statements and risk analyses), and most importantly, encouraging them.

Keep your eyes peeled for profiles of some of the speakers at Best in Fest: Icon over the coming weeks.

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