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A festival of opportunities

By The Drum, Administrator

September 7, 2006 | 11 min read

Why is Edinburgh held in such high esteem among visiting tourists to Scotland? Our country’s fair capital may not be the biggest city in Scotland, although it may very well be the most expensive... and then some. It’s not just for its architecture, and it certainly isn’t down to its football.

Edinburgh is, simply put, one of the great locations for artists to express themselves and for audiences to appreciate an eclectic and very often unique selection of performances – not least during the world renowned Edinburgh International Festival.

The Edinburgh Festival, alongside the Fringe, is held over a three week period in late summer, while other festivals such as the Hogmanay, the Book Festival, the International Film Festival and the Military Tattoo in total attract over three million people.

The festivals draw a wide range of visitors to the city. According to a study based on research between August 2004 and July 2005, 40 percent of the audience came from local areas. Fifteen percent came from elsewhere in Scotland, 16 percent were from overseas, and 29 percent came from the rest of the UK.

This activity brings an output of £170m into the city every year and £184m in Scotland – that is £40m in new income in Edinburgh and £51m to the country as a whole.

According to the same survey, 42 percent of those attending the Fringe Festival had not decided on any performance before coming to Edinburgh, and with so many artists looking for attention, the need to stand out is imperative. Couple that with the profile-raising excitement that is brought to the city during the busy summer months... No wonder ad, design and PR agencies rub their hands with glee at the prospect.

“Vicariously, the festivals are a benefit to Edinburgh’s creative agencies,” says Colin Montgomery of IAS Smarts, which has sponsored festival events in the past while also helping clients in their sponsorship too. “In reality, the real winner is the city itself. And that victory is more about its aesthetic attributes and art buzz, as opposed to securing the capital’s reputation as a hotbed of creativity...Still, there’s an abundance of opportunities for agencies to cut a dash during the festival - from both a client and in-house perspective.”

Matt Buchanan, design director of Teviot, believes that the festivals can be used to create an arena for the creative industries within the city. “The creative expectancy of the city rises and often the visual impact from festival publicity, design and advertising on the city generates visual excitement. The benefit to the creative industries doesn’t always come in the form of hard revenue but it can create opportunities for work.”

Ian Kirby, design director of Lewis, agrees that this is a great opportunity for any agency to show off what they can do, but insists that it is not all about the money: “Unfortunately, in financial terms, the majority of companies involved with the festivals are independent organisations with restricted budgets, wanting off the wall, big budget solutions. So it is not always possible to fulfil their expectations whilst working in the usual commercial structure.

“Thankfully, money isn’t everything and it is always good for agencies to let their creative juices flow and support the creative atmosphere that surrounds the festivals.”

According to the 2004/2005 survey, the advertising equivalent value of press and broadcast coverage generated by the summer festivals alone was in the region of £12.6m in the UK, however, the obvious design and branding work that accompanies the festivals, in way of collateral, publicity, programmes, don’t fall in your lap just because you work in Edinburgh. A great deal of commercial communication at the festivals takes place through the sponsorship of events, such as award ceremonies which often attract wide-scale media interest.

Julie Allan, head of account management at Navigator - which works with the new comedy award sponsor, Intelligent Finance - explains the appeal for large brands to be seen to be hand-in-hand with the festival. “The sponsorship was perfectly aligned with Intelligent Finance’s new branding which is fresh and slightly tongue in cheek,” he says. “Our campaign was huge. We’ve been working with IF for several years as their direct marketing agency, so it was great for us to get involved working in a different medium for them, which is what the festival offers. Here is a local company, working with its local agency making the most of a local sponsorship opportunity that offered an international profile.”

Although Elmwood does not currently work directly with any of the festivals or sponsors, the agency is proud to be a Fringe venue, says Nick Ramshaw. “The exhibition of the Chip Shop Awards (held at the agency’s office) was extremely successful this year. Visitor numbers were substantially up on last year and we had a steady stream of visitors from around the UK and beyond, impressed by our premises and commitment to the Scottish creative scene.

“But agencies need to embrace it more. I’m still amazed at the number of people in Edinburgh, especially within the creative agencies, who still don’t participate fully in the festivals. The various industry bodies and marketing groups could try harder to embed the creative industries into the festival environment and turn up the creativity volume in that way.”

For others that is clearly not the case. Navyblue’s digital arm has, for the second year, created the Fringe’s transactional website for online bookings, and bookings through the site are up some 40 percent.

“When the client is as passionate as we are about a given project, we have a platform to showcase great creativity – which is ultimately what drives us,” says managing director Doug Alexander. “But you need to be clear that, with limited budgets available, you are in this for the love and not the money. The festivals and arts projects are often high-profile events and, from the start, you need to understand what you want to get out of them. Navyblue has historically sponsored the Film Festival, producing the identity, programmes and all communication collateral at cost for several years running. It's a chance to showcase our work and engage with something we are all passionate about.”

The Corn Exchange gallery, based on the ground floor of Navyblue design group's studio, was officially part of this year’s Arts Festival. “Navyblue does not charge the gallery for the permanent exhibition space. We benefit through this arrangement by having the chance to showcase emerging talent, produce highly creative communication materials for the individual exhibitions and create a real 'feel-good' factor for both staff, clients and visitors,” adds Alexander.

Newhaven is another agency that uses its own agency space to host galleries and exhibitions as part of the festivals. Ken Dixon, partner at Newhaven, says: “From day one we set out to create a culture and a space that was open to new ideas, and could host events and exhibitions. We set out to create an environment that would inspire our staff, our clients and the local community.

“The festivals provide a great opportunity for us to get a much broader cross-section of people into the building and to facilitate real cross-disciplinary projects.

“The Scottish agency scene probably doesn’t make enough of the festival,” continues Dixon. “It's a great chance to meet, host and work with some of the best creative minds in the world. It’s a time when you could push the boat out and explore new ways of communicating and engaging with people (and all with very little risk). I think there's a great chance to feed off the energy and world view that the festivals bring, but at the moment not enough people are tuned in to the opportunities.”

It’s perhaps not just the local agencies that are missing a trick, though. With so much success attributed to the city’s festivals, there is a feeling that the initiative should be seized to raise its status and attract more international tourists, bigger investors and higher profile stars.

Ian Coldwell, managing partner of Pagoda PR, says: “A bigger push into Europe and non-English speaking countries would help this. There is a risk that the festivals might become the arts festivals of the English speaking world.”

However, Sue Muller MD of Story, feels that the city must also look at how to keep the festivals innovative and not rest on its laurels: “The recent Thundering Hooves report highlighted that Edinburgh can’t afford to be complacent. Manchester, Liverpool and London are all direct domestic competition to the festival. It also seems a shame that the organisers are constantly on the look out for sponsorship to stay afloat. Maybe there’s an opportunity for the creative industries and the private sector to give some thinking time free to help with income generation ideas.

“Considering what the festivals contribute to the City of Edinburgh – in terms of investment, I do think that Edinburgh Council could financially support the festivals more. The Fringe got £100k from the Council and generated £69.9m. A pretty good ROI!”

Angela Casey, managing director of Porter Novelli, which recently won the PR account for the Winter Festivals also believes that there could be more done by agencies: “Agencies can work with sponsors, performers and organisers. Key for agencies is to know who is doing what and make sure they are aware of the Edinburgh skillset. There is so much we can be doing to raise the profile of the city and to attract more business. The VisitScotland Business Tourism Unit, which raises the profile of Scotland as a corporate destination for meeting and conferences, helps business tourism bring £1billion into the Scottish economy. If you add the leisure side to that, the opportunities are endless.”

Scott Wilson, deputy programme director for Radio Forth, also believes that the festival is a tool to present Scotland to the world – and for the local media to show what they can do on an international basis: “From a media operators perspective the influx of big name stars into the city can only be a good thing, providing scores of individuals keen to promote themselves to as wide an audience as possible.

“The festival does act as a platform for the media in Edinburgh, but it depends on the enthusiasm of the media industry to promote itself. Although the world comes to Edinburgh in August we need to get out there and blow our own trumpet and emphasis just how good we are. I know this isn’t part of the Scottish psyche but it’s time that changed.”

In order to promote itself then on an international stage, Edinburgh could also look at developing its own creative festival, to display the work and invite advertisers and creatives from around the globe to convene, interact and communicate, says Martin Naylor from the Touch Agency: “A lot of work we produce isn’t seen in Scotland and the opportunity for Scotland to be given a platform to showcase some of the creative talents we have here would be great...for both the chance of showcasing work to increase business, and also for Scotland to be proud of the creative work we are producing. It would benefit the industry and help build a stronger international reputation for Scottish creative industries.”

Nick Cole of Lightershade continues: “A creative media festival would be a great addition to the Edinburgh Festival ‘family’. There is certainly the work and enough agencies and individuals of a standard to support such an event. It would complete the set and benefit from the profile and reputation that already exists. The city is synonymous with festivals and, as such, has a huge international audience and following.”

Justin Penman of Hookson agrees, but feels that any creative festival should be a separate entity in its own right: “I would like to see a creative festival but outwith the summer and winter ones as it is so difficult to get cut through in the inevitable noise of the established festivals.”

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