We’re having a festival. What could go wrong?

Jul 11, 2018

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Back when I was a touring musician, we were on our way from a gig in Key West to our next stop in New England. We were on a dark stretch of highway just about to the Florida-Georgia line. I popped Ry Cooder’s Bop Til You Drop album into the cassette player and just as the song Trouble You Can’t Fool Me was playing, I saw a car up ahead blocking the road. I slammed on the brakes and before we knew it we were being tossed around like clothes in a dryer while Ry was singing, “Trouble you can’t fool me, I see you behind that tree.” 

Now it’s years later, and whenever my Denver public relations firm provides crisis communications services for large festivals, that song keeps running through my head. These events have a lot of moving parts, they are often run by volunteers and a lot of things could jump out from behind that tree and go wrong. 

Doing crisis PR at festivals requires a lot of planning, a lot of training and a reliable team on site. It requires an easy way for the team to communicate securely in the midst of an often loud, chaotic situation. But most of all, it requires a commitment to stay calm, stay focused and stick to the plan.  

At Pushkin PR, our approach to festival crisis communications follows these basic steps:

Manage the message from the top

Use a command structure to build your crisis team. Then follow the chain of command to control the flow of communication as much as possible. You want to make sure your team speaks with one voice. You need to make sure that staff, volunteers, board members, vendors or anyone else who is not authorized to comment knows they should direct questions from the media or the public to the right spokesperson. The command structure is designed so that volunteers alert their committee chairs, the committee chairs alert their supervisors, and on up the chain of command until the media inquiry reaches the right person.  

Set the right tone

Be in control and be proactive rather than reactive. Avoid sounding defensive. Be transparent and truthful. Most of all, make sure that your first message in any official statements or other messaging begins with compassion. No blame and no excuses. 

Stick to the facts

Fact gathering and verification is a priority before any communication is issued. Never speculate.

Keep stakeholders in the loop 

Maintain communication with key stakeholders. Communicate directly and address their concerns. What are their needs? What are their priorities? How will their reputation be affected by these events?  

Monitor but don’t engage

These days, anyone with a smart phone can be a reporter. Make sure your staff, volunteers and other ambassadors are trained to avoid confrontations. If the attacks are coming online, make sure someone is dedicated to monitoring social media (your own channels, as well as anything that goes viral) so you can address any rumors or falsehoods. Avoid an online back and forth unless the attack demands a response. If the goal of the critic is to draw you into a fight, don’t let yourself fall into that pit hole. 

Helpful tips

Festivals can get loud and you may not hear your phone. Make sure your team has a way to communicate that works. Maybe it’s just putting your phone on vibrate so you feel the call even if you can’t hear it. Maybe before the event you start a group text so it’s handy when you need it. Or maybe you set up a Google Hangouts group so you can communicate securely when you need to. Work with your team to design a system that will always work when you need it.

Use holding statements whenever possible. Holding statements are official statements you can release to media if you need to. They can help you avoid doing media interviews until you are ready. Have templates handy in advance using some likely scenarios. This will save you significant time in an emergency.  

Set up a secure portal where your crisis team can access your crisis communications plan, contact numbers, stakeholder contact information and holding statements. The idea is you want easy access to all the tools you need when you need them.    

Be prepared, be successful 

Doing crisis PR at festivals can be a grind or a blast. It can be an adrenaline rush or it can be a nightmare. The more prepared you are the better you will be able to handle whatever surprises come your way. 

Do you need help with creating a crisis communications plan for an upcoming event or festival or someone to review your existing crisis plan?  Let us know how we can help.  

 



Jon Pushkin

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Jon Pushkin is the president and founder of Pushkin Public Relations, a full service Denver PR firm. He likes dogs, baseball and swing, in that order.


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