Business lessons from the Edinburgh Fringe: 1) Marketing

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Horse playing the accordion - and why not?I went on holiday to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with the expectation that  my take-aways would be mainly fish suppers (the jokes don’t get any better believe me) but there were a few business-related things that struck me about it that I thought I would share. The whole thing was a fun break – and this trilogy of blogs is intended in much the same spirit.

I’ll cover comedy, circus skills and, inevitably, interpretive dance soon but to get started…

Marketing – it’s all about relationships…

If you have an aversion to being accosted by strangers pressing a flyer into your hand to persuade you to come to a fabulous evening of comedy, circus skills or interpretive dance then Edinburgh in August is not the place for you. Having been before, my wife and I knew that part of the fun is making spur-of-the-moment decisions to see something so only booked a few 20-plus shows we saw over the space of a week before we arrived (we’re lightweights really – can’t do more than four a day) and left the rest to chance. This meant that we developed an informal approach to deciding whether we would go to see a show or not:

1) if the person with the flyer was just handing it out without any kind of explanation we were unlikely to go unless there was something particularly compelling on the flyer.

2) if the flyer-person took the time to explain clearly what was good about the show and came across as not-too-pushy then the flyer went in the bag for consideration.

3) if the flyer-person was actually in the show as well as promoting it (and met the other criteria) then we were very likely to go.

4) if we actually knew the person with the flyer – this happened on two occasions – then we would definitely go.

This approach was borne out by one of the people in the last category – whose show we had intended to see anyway – who managed to get capacity audiences by actively flyering every day and taking the time to chat to and chivvy people into going. Given the sheer number of shows available at any time of day this is no mean feat.

…it’s also about apps and social media…

I thought about taking a holiday from my iPhone while I was away but soon realised this wouldn’t work. The main reason was that I discovered that – in addition to having a great website for booking tickets – the Fringe app provided the extra benefit of telling you what was on and how close it was to where you were at any one time (although since Edinburgh is a city that is organised both vertically as well as horizontally the app doesn’t mention how much climbing is involved).

And my holiday from social media was short-lived as I decided to tweet about shows if I liked them. This meant I acquired a few interesting interpretive dance followers as a result thus extending my relationship beyond the Fringe – I would definitely see many of the acts with new shows either in Edinburgh or elsewhere.

…and word-of-mouth

Perhaps I should have spent more time on the weird and wonderful end of things but most of the insights I got from the Fringe proved accepted wisdom, including that word-of mouth is the best route to business success. One of the best shows we saw was Blam! (and I’ll spend more time on why, after this show, office life will never be the same again in a future post) but didn’t see anything other than posters advertising it. There were no people flyering this one and no cosy chats over a cup of coffee but it seemed to be selling out the 750-seat Pleasance Grand on each show purely on word of mouth: people flyering other shows and random strangers in queues would mention it. Creating a buzz-hit like this isn’t something that you can necessarily plan for but I guess having a show that delivers plenty of laughs and action-packed thrills – and putting your audience in a concentrated, gregarious environment like Edinburgh probably helps enormously.