Running Events at Edinburgh’s Summer Festivals – First-hand Experiences

From a discussion at the September 2013 Beltane Twilight

Tips and insights from Beltane Network members who have organised a show at one of Edinburgh’s summer festivals (and who lived to tell the tale).


There are big leafleting companies that have display boxes all over the city of Edinburgh. However, broad coverage does not necessarily convert into an audience, so think before spending your money on this type of promotion. Intelligent, targeted communications sent to pertinent and specific interest organisations are more likely to be effective, and (your time aside) this approach is free.

Working with large, corporate festivals

If your event is part of something like the Edinburgh International Book Festival, you are pretty much guaranteed a good turnout on the day. An organisation like the Book Festival also worries about the organisation for you, making your own experience pretty stress-free. However, there are disadvantages to working with the more corporate festivals:

  • Your audience may be big, but it’s probably not diverse – expect to get mainly the ‘chattering classes’
  • When you get rid of the responsibility, you also get rid of the control – your final event may not be quite what you envisaged
  • You will have to pay for the organisation to do the work on your behalf – usually hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds

Don’t automatically be put off by the money aspect of larger festivals, though. If you take into account the cost of your own time, paying someone else to do the work for you could turn out to be fairly good value-for-money.

Don’t dismiss the smaller festivals

Working with smaller festivals usually means you have to do a lot more work yourself, but you won’t have to pay the festival nearly as much to be part of it. Some small festivals, like the Just Festival, are relatively niche but have a loyal following, meaning you can still get good audience numbers. You may get a somewhat more diverse audience at a smaller festival (but don’t expect miracles).

Get your copy right

If your title and show description are dull, no amount of marketing can compensate. Spend time making your title appealing (i.e. meaningful, provocative and SHORT), and make sure your description is punchy and exciting. Read your advert back – would you go? If not, start again, it’s worth it – get this bit right and your show will sell itself.

Time it right

Even if your event is not officially part of a festival, try and time showpiece occasions so that they coincide with a festival on a related theme. For example, if you’re organising a major university event which has a historical slant, hold it in late November when Scotland’s History Festival is on. With clever use of social media and the like, you’ll be able to cross-promote to a ready-made audience.

Partner up

Working on an event in partnership with another organisation gives you access to all their contacts and resources. We know of someone who organised an event in partnership with a theatre company and, as a result, their event was promoted to that company’s theatrical contacts and the company’s flyering team promoted the show on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The event organiser could not have got this exposure working on her own.

As well as exposure, partnering up is a chance to access expertise. If you’ve never put on a show at a particular festival before, try and work with someone who has been through the process already; this is especially important for the less genteel festivals (e.g. the Edinburgh Fringe).

Remember that festival audiences are different from usual

The audience you’ll get in Edinburgh over the summer is not the usual audience you’d get in Edinburgh. This can work to your advantage: you’ll get people from a broader geographic area, and people who wouldn’t usually be that interested in your show may come just to fill a gap in their day of festival-ing (and end up being glad they did).

Do remember, though, that while there are more people in Edinburgh in the summer, your competition for an audience will be at an all-time high, so don’t be despondent if your audience is smaller than you’re used to.

Why are you doing it?

“Why?” is a question howled by many in Edinburgh in August. Seriously, though, think why you’re doing what you’re doing. Putting on a whole Fringe run sounds like great fun, but will it really help you meet your engagement aims better than doing a one-off show? Be sure you are using your time and energy wisely.