Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Leveraging Your Arts and Music Festivals

By Alex Pearlstein, Director of Projects. 

Market Street client Coachella Valley, California is slowly getting back to normal after the craziness that was the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that wrapped up on Sunday night. Here’s the Time magazine summary of the festival. Top bands and uber-cool celebs made the scene in Indio, California for what is quickly becoming one of the nation’s top music festivals. 

For those economic development organizations who think that events like this are a good time to take that vacation and escape the crowds, do so at your peril. Creative strategies will enable you to program events at these festivals that can potentially identify employment and talent prospects. “Young and restless” talent by the thousands descend upon festival communities for days at a time to enjoy shows and other local attractions. They’re certain to have some down time and might take you up on your offer to learn more about the local economy or whether there are any opportunities for them here. 

While Coachella is growing, the festival still pales in comparison to the behemoth that is Austin’s South-by-Southwest (SXSW). Though it was once the size of Coachella, SXSW has morphed into a multi-media, multi-tracked mega-conference for everything trendy and cool. In many ways it has become the newBIO show; a must-make trip for local economic developers eager to market their community to the nation’s best and brightest techie minds. 

The Austin Chamber – another Market Street client – has been ramping up their programming at SXSW for years to the extent that it is now one of their highest-value marketing opportunities. Here’s asnapshot of the programs and events the Chamber sponsored at SXSW 2013. This is just smart economic development; when a captive audience of potential relocation prospects, entrepreneurs, and talent shows up at your door, open it as wide as you possibly can for them. 

Events like ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Jazz Fest in New Orleans, the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, and others offer opportunities for local EDOs to set out the welcome mat and roll out the red carpet for prospect companies, site consultants, investors, and other “influencers” who would gladly hear a pitch or two or take a fam tour in exchange for a free or discounted excursion to the festival. 

Economic development marketing these days is all about differentiating your community from the competition. Leveraging a high-profile festival or cultural event is low-hanging fruit when it comes to standing out from the crowd.