The Woodford Folk Festival is held annually over six days and six nights from Dec 27th through to January 1st. More than 2,000 local, national and international, artists, musicians and presenters put on over 438 acts to an audience of an estimated 132,000 people. The festival begins each year with the iconic Opening Ceremony and closes with the spectacular showcase, the Fire Event on New Year’s Day. It is the largest gathering of artists and musicians in Australia.
My work with Woodford, included designing a suite of customer-focused websites that increased ticket sales by over 40%. During 2017, I project managed “front of house” driving ticket sales, festival gates and leading a team of seven staffers and over 200 volunteers. After experiencing firsthand the value perception problems and customer experience issues the festival suffered, I worked with an offshore team to design new websites for the Woodford Folk Festival as well as their brands Artisan Camp, The Planting and Woodfordia. I also managed and created content for their accompanying social media accounts as well as a new and improved eDM and a spring PR campaign for their national touring arm the Festival of Small Halls. The increase in ticket sales was a result of designing customer-centric websites that communicated value and made it easy for customers to purchase tickets.
As an avid enthusiast and supporter of the Woodford Folk Festival, I volunteered as a People of Woodford interviewer during the 2016/2017 festival. As an interviewer, I spoked to over 20 people involved with the organisation such as patrons, staff, volunteers, stallholders and performers. These 15 – 20 minute interviews gave me so much insight into how the festival affected people – in many of the same ways – but also surprisingly, how it had changed their lives.
I volunteered again in 2017 during the smaller, Planting Festival held in May and met festival founder and director Bill Hauritz. As soon as we met he told me that I would “work for him some day.” Although I didn’t believe it at the time, that is exactly what happened. We stayed friends and in September I received a call from Bill. He said they had a problem and needed a new front of house manager as soon as possible. As this position is integral to ticket sales and starts to get busy in October, it was urgent. I had just finished a project so agreed to take on the challenge.
I started the position in October with no training and not much festival experience, but I knew Woodford well and knew I could do it. I had seven staff and over 200 volunteers to coordinate in my department as well as set up the seven main festival gates and oversee ticket sales. As soon as I started, I knew the websites were going to be a problem. They were old, had been designed in 2011 and not updated much since. We were receiving dozens of phone calls daily from patrons who could not figure out how to purchase tickets.
It was a long, had four months. I ended up living at the festival for the entire month of December and some of January to properly manage the position. While it was an amazing experience, it was also one of the most demanding jobs I’ve ever had. And I knew if I were struggling my staff would be as well. And since we were on the front lines of customer service, I knew I had to keep my staff happy. I made sure they were well fed, well rested and referred to my office as the “zen zone.” I filled it with plants, chocolates, fruit, crystals and calming essential oils for anyone stressed out to retreat into. During the festival, it was pointed out to me several times that this was the happiest front of house staff they had ever seen.
The Value Perception Problem
After the festival, a brain full of customer research and lower than usual ticket sales, I was hired to re-design the organisation’s websites. They finally admitted there was a value perception and ticket purchasing problem. As a not-for-profit, Woodforida has always relied on the generosity of it’s patrons. But during the 2017/2018 festival – and record breaking sales from festival the previous year – they decided to raise the ticket price and require everyone driving in to purchase a car pass for their vehicle. While these price changes were necessary to the organisation (Woodford has a permanent site so most of its budget goes towards site maintenance), the patrons did not see it this way. They saw the price rise as gauging and the car pass as unnecessary. Combined with difficulties purchasing tickets online, we had major issues to rectify to keep the organisation in the black.
The Value Perception Solutions
With the help of an overseas web development and design team, we began by re-designing two websites: the Artisan Camp and Planting. Knowing from my customer research that people loved the festival and from my time working behind-the-scenes that Woodfordia put on more than just a music festival, we re-wrote the script and made sure the new websites focused on several key factors including: the scope of the organisation, the diversity of experiences, the programme scale, ticket purchase ease and showcasing all the ways Woodfordia tries to make the world a better place (education, environmentalism, Indigenous culture, ritual, art, performance, community, goodwill, empathy and compassion).
Not only did the new websites for Artisan Camp, The Planting, Woodford Folk Festival and Woodfordia better communicate value and just how multi-faceted the organisation is – the websites increased ticket sales by over 40% and proved that upgrades to digital platforms was necessary and should be an ongoing requirement.
Biggest takeaways: take care of your team (leader’s eat last), make it so easy for your customer to purchase they have no reason not to, clearly communicate value and never underestimate the power of a great story told across great technology.