Lauren Swan: Student Success Story
It all started over a late Sunday breakfast in September at a nearby diner, the autumn of my graduation from the full-time Public Relations Marketing Management Program. My friend, Stefan Braun, had just returned from tree-planting and we were catching up on our summers. He was telling me how he had been daydreaming about starting a music festival while away, featuring primarily local bands, and had even gone so far as to make a dream list of artists he would have play. I had just finished my internship with the program and was eager for a new project. "What's the worst that could happen?," I asked. This was the moment the Big Fun Festival was born.
What's the worst that could happen? Any number of things when throwing a multi-day multi venue event. We just wrapped our third year and now my contingency plans have contingency plans. That being said, Stefan assembled a crack team that afternoon after breakfast, 5 people, each with a talent that when brought together actually made throwing a large-scale event in four and a half months possible. What I learned in the PRMM program was a real asset to this process. I had to create a recognizable brand with a strong enough pull to get people to leave their homes in the dead of winter. Everything was strategic; we started with guerilla outdoor marketing where we postered all of central Winnipeg and the universities with just our logo in October. These posters were everywhere and it got people talking about and wondering what "Big Fun" was. Without a Facebook page or a website available at this point, it started the rumour mill going. This was invaluable when we leventually aunched our website and Facebook page, letting the city in on our secret. People recognized the brand, but were still voraciously consuming information from us and were curious to hear more. From guerilla marketing we progressed to our online videos. We used local artists who would be playing the festival, filmed them playing a stripped down version of one of their songs in various places around the city and posted it online. These videos still create the most excitement for us, and are personally my favourite type of web content we have. From here we went with outdoor media, print media and social media to create buzz and relay all information during the last 2 months before the festival took place.
Year one was a huge learning curve. It was a guessing game, and I didn't have a boss or mentor to run anything by. We were on our own, blindly figuring things out. Would strategy A or B be the best to reach this goal? Our meetings were long and frequent, but we managed to put together a plan that worked.
In year one we broke-even, which is virtually unheard of for a first year festival, and we have grown steadily ever since. Through Big Fun I've had the opportunity to work with other Canadian festivals like Sled Island out of Calgary, as well as local bands like Royal Canoe. I've been interviewed on TV, radio and print, and what I learned in the Interview Seminar of the program proved invaluable during these experiences.
The biggest challenges I have faced in owning and running my own company is trusting the people around me. Being our own boss means that there is very little consequence if you decide not to show up to bat that day, so we all have to hold ourselves accountable to make this work. We also trust our venue managers and volunteers quite a lot, because without them Big Fun wouldn't be possible.
My advice to other students after graduation would be to have faith in yourself and take the leap. You know more than you think you know, and yet still have so much to learn. I wanted a position in branding and every place I looked at required years of experience before they would even consider my resume. So I created my own experience, and am now being approached by companies and artists (Sled Island, We Speak Music, Junofest, Royal Canoe) to consult on and develop their marketing strategies. So take the leap; what's the worst that could happen?