Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Blogging Anniversaries and PR Failures

It was a pleasant surprise to be notified by the professional networking website LinkedIn that my other writing project - The Blogging Goth - has been running three years as of August. Very much a labour of love, I haven't always been able to devote the time to it I'd like - more official demands on my time always have to take a priority!

However I was inspired by the anniversary, and immediately had a good topic to cover - the , due to be held in Kettering this coming weekend. Fans were torn between awe at the stupendous line-up, and resentment as Alt-Fest's juggernaut progress eclipsed older and more established festivals - outbidding for artists and drawing off fan-bases.
implosion of massively ambitious alternative music festival Alt-Fest

A greater exploration of the rise and fall of Alt-Fest is available on The Blogging Goth, but the ultimate conclusion seems to be that ambition soared a little too high - with around a million in the red even after their successful Kickstarter campaign.

The real issue of note to media, PR and journalist types in my readership is the communications blackout from Alt-Fest itself. Even now, we aren't sure of the details - and rumours continue to burn up forums and social media. But when bands started being quietly let go, they saw their obvious responsibility to alert their fans to the oncoming disaster.

If Alt-Fest management had the foresight necessary, they'd have preempted an unwanted release from the bands with a statement. As we understand it, eleventh-hour negotiations were ongoing with various investor types and other revenue sources - and the organizers chose to maintain radio silence, even going so far as to delete inquiries from their social media presence.
Instead, the rumours and contradictory tweets and status updates from the artists engaged to play took on a momentum all of their own. The vacuum of comment from official sources was rapidly filled with suposition, rumour, and the unsubstantiated but increasingly convincing statements of withdrawal from the engaged artists - and then, the site for the festival and the PR company professionally engaged to promote them both withdrew themselves!

I see this as a valuable lesson to all media professionals. As a journalist, I was one of the minority who held on stubbornly for an official statement - in an era where social media takes priority in all communications strategy, my role as a gatekeeper of accuracy and verifiability does not fade away. If anything, it becomes more important, and in my opinion, transcends that of "first with the scoop."

I have that luxury as a blogger, without a profit margin or exclusivity to concern me - what does concern me is the prioritizing of, well, priority over accuracy.

In the end, it was a twenty-four hour cycle from the first signs of collapse to the Alt-Fest official statement of cancellation. Throughout it my twitter feed was a regular flux of links and statements I judged independently to be informative, prompt, based in fact and occasionally even amusing. Crucially, none of it was orginating from within Alt-Fest until the very end.

What we were left with is a raft of concerns. The UK alternative scene must now deal with the toxic fallout of an expensive, collapsed festival that will sour relations between artists, promoters, locations and fans. The PR industry will now have a textbook example of Kickstarter backed, grassroots organizers utterly failing to be up to the task, and potentially reneging on their employment of such communications experts. And through it all, a wealth of simple marketing mistakes that at least might be a valuable - sorry, expensive - lesson for anyone following in their footsteps.

Had the Alt-Fest team been able, somehow, to arrest their financial freefall they would have found that by neglecting their previously vast and robust communications structure they had alienated their entire customer base. You cannot re-prioritize your PR situation for anything

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