Access All Areas April 2019 - Page 21

APRIL | TRENDING these kinds of risks when putting events together.” What can festivals learn from conferences? More and more festivals are also beginning to learn from the conference and exhibition industries, which have typically had a heavy focus on businesses rather than “SXSW 2019 featured 25 different conference tracks, eight exhibitions and five separate festivals.” consumers. A number of festivals, such as Gothenburg’s Way Out West, have incorporated keynotes and panels into their event programmes. But none have embraced it to the extent of SXSW in Austin, Texas, which has grown from a music festival with 700 attendees to a huge conglomeration of separate festivals, conferences and exhibitions. SXSW 2019, which ran from 8-17 March, featured 25 different conference tracks on topics as diverse as blockchain, food, sports, journalism, retail, cannabusiness and virtual reality. It featured eight exhibitions including an art programme, gaming expo, virtual cinema and trade show. To top it all off were five separate festivals: an interactive festival, a film festival, a comedy festival, a gaming festival and, lastly, the music festival. Quite a dizzying array of culture and business, all rolled into one uber- festival umbrella brand. For some, including Laurie Kirby of festival/conference organiser FestForums, the conference tracks are the most important part of SXSW. Kirby comments: “There are many useful panels that introduce best practices for organizers of events. I derive a lot of my agenda for from what I see is happening at SXSW, in areas such as cryptocurrency, sustainability and the legalization of cannabis.” Perhaps, then, conference elements at festivals can set themselves apart with the diverse array of topics they cover, and the often much wider audience they are able to reach. Festivals are the sector of the events industry with the most mass appeal, and if that popularity can be channelled into constructive learning, everyone benefits. Kirby says she expects the trend to continue, too: “Virtually every festival that wants to grow is now providing edutainment, education and an opportunity for learning as an added benefit, to stay competitive in the festival marketplace.” All the industry’s a stage Mega-events like SXSW continue to blur the lines between festivals and conferences, and indeed between B2B and B2C events as a whole. While each sector still targets a very distinct corner of the events market, the lessons they can learn from each other are valuable, and organisers would do well to keep them in mind. Right: The Daily’s Rukmini Callimachi and Michael Barbaro in conversation at SXSW 2018 21