Since its inception, The Confluence has provided full-service publicity, brand strategy and content creation to dozens of worlds leading brands, artists and festivals all around the globe, with an expansive client base including Do LaB, Lightning in a Bottle and Woogie Weekend (California), Mysteryland (New York), Further Future (Las Vegas), Wonderfruit (Thailand), Extreme Tech Challenge (Necker Island), MaiTai Global, (Silicon Valley, CA) Shambhala (Canada), Envision (Costa Rica), Decibel (Seattle), Coachella, (California) Symbiosis (Northern California), Mile High Music Festival (Colorado), The Great Convergence (Egypt), Bali Spirit Festival (Indonesia), Ondalinda (Mexico). Initially established as the premier festival and lifestyle media company, The Confluence has in recent years expanded into additional verticals including technology, medical sectors, in addition to maintaining an in-house production company that creates world-class photography and video content. Outside of the live event space, The Confluence has lead campaigns for Intel, Pepsi, GoPro, Budweiser, Target, GE, Heineken, Bebe, Diesel, OWC.
We sat down with serial entrepreneur, Russell Ward, who started The Confluence, to learn more about how it all began and his unique vision that helped transform the landscape for festivals befoe digital and publicity were even a unified concept.
How did you first break into festival publicity? What attracted you to that niche?
Artist management was one of our core focuses when we started The Confluence, which was originally set to be purely a lifestyle marketing + management company. Honestly, publicity wasn't in my mind when starting the company -- but my artists and clients all wanted abuzz, so I had a think on how to create this, coming up with a process that was somewhere in between hacking and deep research. This process allowed me to blow up MartyParty who I was managing at the time. Shortly after, event producers Do LaB were throwing a show that he and Ooah from Glitch Mob were performing at together as PaNTyRAiD. I met Jesse Shannon, Do LaB Head of Marketing, backstage and we decided to have a meeting the next week -- and within that week, secured tons of press for them to show what my ahack could achieve. This fateful encounter was about 6 years ago and since then, they have grown some 600%. Our work then attracted the eye of tons of other festivals globally and the rest is history.
Aside from festivals - what other kind of clients do you work with?
Our methodology can be applied into any industry as it is a set of principles, not purely a rolodex. Mind you, our rolodex is now massive and we have had successes with all the biggest outlets - NY Times, Wall St Journals etc. - but it is fresh data that we extract from the web daily that is our advantage and that lets us drive results in industries as far afield as medical devices -- where I am also the publicist for a publicly traded spinal implant company out of Europe. We have clients in Tech, Consumer Goods, Fashion, Film, Travel, Luxury and countless other verticals. Everyone needs the best practices in communication and we try not to discriminate .
What is unique about festival publicity vs brand publicity? What challenges do each sector present?
Ultimately everything (and almost everyone) is a brand. Whether you like it or not, festivals ARE brands and the same tropes and pitfalls exist, -- and the finest in brand and communication strategy transcend beyond live events and permeate all of business and the arts.
How does digital PR differ from traditional PR?
When I began, the publicity space was quite crowded with a ton of old stale firms that had entrenched relationships, so I decided to focus on online, where I knew I could come at this space with fresh eyes and do my best to stake a claim. Historically traditional PR was focused on Print, Radio and TV whereas Digital PR, and our approach in particular, has been focused on the web. While we begin online, we have had tons of impact crossing over as all Print, Radio and TV mediums have an online presence. We have accidentally become quite effective at secure placements on those sources through the aside-door or by proving our clients so compelling that the web editor passes us to the other depts.
In your personal experience, can you elaborate on how brands and festivals have come together to be mutually beneficial?
Ultimately the arts need cash to survive and businesses need the credibility afforded them by the arts. This dance (and potential for mutual benefit) is obvious -- but the dynamics of how they work together effectively is quite another thing. We have all seen (and sought to forget) the over-branded aactivations that do nothing to add to the guest experience -- but instead cloud an otherwise lovely experience with kitschy logos. This isn™t good. Ultimately you want sponsor activations to be driven around a simple objective that can be expressed in two different ways -- add value to the guest experience, or solve problems and fill in gaps. Brands and producers should seek to identify pain-points and then solve them. The hot, sunny festival guest will benefit from an artistic shade structure/misting stations, the overly-remote festival will benefit from sponsored Wi-Fi etc. you get the gist.
Aside from lineup announcements, what festival stories are most compelling in crafting a publicity campaign?
These are always best designed around the USP or aUnique Selling Proposition or what makes each event special. *Hint, this is not your epic line up or the elements of the arts on display, nor the community that holds it together -- nearly all festivals now have this. Dig deeper, and what you come out with is a great place to begin. Design press strategy that enforces what is unique and special about your particular offering. And leverage content at every opportunity.
As one of the leading firms for publicity and content strategy, what do you think is best way to engage a journalist about your festival?
Treat them like humans. Understand their needs, and cater to them. Stop spamming them cookie cutter press releases.
What do you see in the horizon for the future of festival PR?
I think the stories will need to begin to diversify as the same old articles are not going to cut it. Also, and we have seen a movement toward this already, -- and increasing role for content to tell the story. Quick turn video content and even the role of VR moving forward will come to define the next decade of live event publicity.
Why are you passionate about festivals?
To deconstruct the word festival sheds light on why they enamor me. Festivals, by their very definition, are celebrations that require more than one person. When community and celebration are the basis for anything, you have two solid legs to stand on. Also within live events, and festival greater, there is some of the most progressive design on display anywhere on the planet. From large scale art, to community design, food, drink and even tech. Festival are the petri dish of tomorrow™s innovation -- and not just for music.
Tell us why you are excited about the upcoming panels you are hosting at XLIVE.
I think I am most excited about the media panel as this is something that so few understand and one that is beyond important to get your message out there. With Forbes, Billboard, LA Weekly, Beatport and Huffington Post all on display, I think attendees will get a glance at how the proverbial sausage is made.
Be sure to catch Russell Ward and an esteemed panel of the music industry™s most renowned journalists at Press Pass - The Impact of Media Relationships on Festivals and Live Events at 3:30PM this Monday December 5, at XLIVE 2016. The panel includes Matt Medved (Senior Editor Dance/Electronic for Billboard), Katie Bain (Journalist for LA Weekly, Insomniac, BeatPort, etc), Morena Duwe (Music & Culture Journalist, Huffington Post) and Brad Auerbach (Journalist for Forbes & Business Affairs Executive) who will discuss how building relationships with media members can make all the difference in the growth and visibility of a festival or live event.
Russell Ward will also be a moderator throughout the course of XLIVE 2016 - See full list of panels he will be moderating below!
PRESS PASS: The Impact of Media Relationships on Festivals and Live Events - Monday December 5th @ 3:30 - 4:10pm
SCHOOL SPIRIT: The Emergence of Educational Experiences at Festivals - Tuesday December 6th @ 10:00 - 10:45am
THE FUTURE OF FB FESTIVALS: Evaluating the Market and Predicting What's Next for the Industry - Tuesday December 6th @ 11:25am - 12:10pm