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How the hell do you put on a digital festival during a pandemic? Alice Mason

First, cancel the live festival that was due to take place. This takes some time – chasing artists, hunting down publishers. This is made even harder when offices are shut down (including yours) and the normally reliable office numbers go straight to voicemail. It’s sad, emailing agents, having just promoted the first three live events to go live and then…Nothing.

During this time, you also start working from home, with only a notebook and your own laptop, you start to get used to Microsoft Teams and a little app called Zoom (this will come in useful later).

The team then decide to deliver an online literature festival. You have no experience of this. So you use your networks and talk to some people who have started doing online conferences from Zoom that’s live streamed to Facebook. After getting their immensely helpful feedback, you decide that streaming live events on Facebook for free will work best. Always check your analytics to back your points up, for example, although there’s more audience on Twitter, Facebook seems a lot chattier. Perfect for a live event!

What do you programme? You get in contact with some artists who are easy to translate well online (who were originally programmed for the live festival). Next, your favourite bit, sending out invites! You dream big – hosting international artists is now possible and the barrier of travel costs is now removed. You even send an invite to Jeremy Corbyn MP, as if you’ll even get a reply!

Some events start to pop up as well as a strand of children’s story time events aimed at 0-7 years old, something that’s not been done in previous years.

For this festival, there’ll be no box office, WoW usually charge for their events but because of the whole covid-19 situation, donating is an option. Donations will be split to Fans Supporting Foodbanks, South Liverpool Domestic Abuse Services and WoW.

This whole process takes 2 weeks – themes pop up, rejections from artists and then emailing new writers invites.

At last there is a whole programme.

Next thing is marketing. It’s now less than 2 weeks to go before the festival starts. Not really ideal, so you hire a PR company to help out. Press releases are made and sent out. Before you know it, the festival’s made national and local press, including the Guardian. Lots of people start donating which is great.

You know that email you sent off to Jeremy Corbyn? Well his team have come back, accepting what you’ve sent. Another marketing push! No brochure or print costs, so you focus all marketing budget on digital – Facebook ads and other website ads. The analytics show this really helped with the audience reach.

Tech! So you’re in charge of tech for the majority of the events during the festival. Check your internet speed, anything above 80 mbps is fine. Make sure you have direct phone numbers for all artists, so if the stream goes down, you’ll be able to let them know.

Create a fake Facebook page and test out how events would look during live streaming. For example, how do you want the event to look when there are 6 people on a panel? Is it easy to transfer audience Q&A’s from Facebook to the host on Zoom?

If the events are longer than one hour, you notice the audience numbers dwindling. There is only one exception to this – Noam Chomsky in which his event almost lasted two hours.

Things to think about next time:

· Artists may be late. Causing your event to be late. Always have a draft statement ready to post with the new starting time.

· Was Facebook the most accessible platform you could have used? You can’t watch events without an account.

· You would have loved to use Instagram more.

· You feel so anxious when something goes wrong and there’s literally nothing you can do i.e. when someone’s video cuts out due to their internet. Stay calm more often.

· You would have loved to hosted more events!

Alice Mason is Social Media Editor and Creative Enterprise Support Worker for Writing on the Wall, she is also a writer with a particular passion for short stories, follow her on @a11cemason

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Jun 10, 2020

Great blog post Alice, so interesting to hear about your experiences!

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