Cheltenham Festivals

October 22, 2010 - Lorna

Cheltenham Festival Logo

I attended a CIM event this week where Donna Renney CEO of the Cheltenham Festivals talked about the Festivals, their ambitions and their marketing.

Floated off four years ago from Cheltenham

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Borough Council when Renney was brought in, they now stand on their own two (four?) feet and impressively have achieved double digit growth in ticket sales since then. Turnover is now around £3.8M with ticket sales of 170,000 across the piece.

Renney made much of the virtue of being the only festival organisation in the UK which has 4 festivals under its control and the opportunities this presents for cross-selling (currently less than 10% overlap in attendance between festivals). However the collaboration among Edinburgh’s 12 festivals must surely be the pinnacle of marketing collaboration even though they are separate organisations.

The positioning is interesting – trying to make posh, middle-class Cheltenham (with an audience profile that reflects that) be known for its “buzz, bite, energy and edge”.

Also interesting was the desire to attract an audience of young adults in the face of a 45+ profile. The same sentiment was echoed by Durham Book Festival who we’ve been doing some work with – despite their best efforts the GenY audience has been evasive. It made me wonder about the desire to get more young people A result of society’s focus on the young? A belief that you have to attract young people to prove how cutting-edge you are? A fear that once the current audiences pass on (literally) your audience will evaporate? And yet I wonder if such attempts are doomed to failure – GenY are overwhelmingly interested in socialising and the only festivals they seem interested in are contemporary music.

It seems to me that this is similar to destination marketing – where there is often a huge desire to attract young adults even if the product doesn’t fit. And yet we know that baby boomers and third agers have money and leisure time to spend, are active, interested and curious. In terms of return on marketing investment a much better prospect.

I also wonder if it is a lifestage thing – what you are interested in when you are 25 will not be the same as when you are 45. And the appeal of festivals reflects this.

As an aside maybe we can put to rest the idea that older audiences don’t use social media. Cheltenham Festivals have(as of today) 1,753 followers on twitter – which interestingly beats the Edinburgh Festivals who only have 1,216. But a way to go to reach Hay Festivals’ 5,276.

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