Un-branding of festival brands

There are close to 4 dozen Literature festivals and counting, organised across India. All festivals write in for top writers and Publishers very smartly balance their lists out plugging in writers in all.

Having had the opportunity to observe almost all of them from close quarters right from their start, there are tremendous insights one can gain to understand what works and what is lacking in these. While a few have created a brand presence stronger than others that allows them to have better access to funds, sponsors, visibility and international writers but it’s only a handful that make some serious money and some sense.

This year almost all festivals celebrated writing by being back in their physical formats, with a bang and while for a regional reader and bibliophile it all worked well, for a marketer a critical analysis is what I present below.

The key problem areas that need to be addressed urgently:
1. Lacking lustre: Some of the biggest festivals were boring. They lacked anything fresh. Festivals as a product will be profitable if they create news. A grand event should also be about generating new ideas, new conversations and most of all creating new heroes.

2. Lacking Liveliness: Festivals are lively with the audience but more with an engaged audience. Many festivals didn’t have enough audience. In some places the audience couldn’t meet and interact with writers. While I love the idea of writers turning into celebrities (and duly so) but inaccessibility is the first step towards losing your readers in future.

3. The problem of excess: Some literature festivals saw more people on the stage than in the audience. And others saw the same faces talking on the same topic in the city they had just been to, a few weeks ago for another festival.

4. Lacking innovation in curation: In a digital world where conversations are accessible through YouTube and other platforms, curators need to work doubly hard on topics. While the top writers are a must as that’s building brand recall but it has to be also about creating new stars. Experimenting with a mix of established names and fresh new voices will help in content innovation.

5. Disorganised: Some of them were quite disorganised and lacked empathy towards those invited. Relationships go a long way and one cannot jeopardise it by not being organised and not taking care of their guests. A big writer or a debut, they are a guest at the end of the day and need to be taken care of well! Event planners, flows and briefs should be created much early on, for smooth execution.

So as a property created with an intention to make profits, what happens when such issues are glaring or repeated?
The above results in
1. Increase in costs of organising festivals
2. Drying out of funds for future festivals
3. Festivals limit their reach and brand value
4. Year after year is a struggle
5. Some even earn a bad reputation

Event management is an entire subject in a management course. The reason is that events needs planning and impeccable execution.

We need lot more exposure to events organised in the fields of entertainment, sports and business to learn how we can improve literature festivals and scale them up. Until we do that, literature festivals will continue to struggle to break even and remain for the vanity of those organising it.
Lipika Bhushan is a senior publishing professional, author and the founder of MarketMyBook

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