Festival Director, the behind-the-scenes professional who’s in charge of the whole event from logistics to marketing, theme ideas and setting up, clearing up and feedback to sponsors, seeker of permission and minimiser of risks: a festival director has the responsibility-buck-stops-here role of event management.
So, if this tremendously challenging but amazingly rewarding role sounds like your ideal event management position, how can you get started in carving your career as a festival director?
Start with a schedule
The best way to get started with festivals is likely to be on an informal basis – by seeing what’s on, then getting involved. Start by checking out festival calendars for upcoming events – locally, nationally and internationally, depending on your circumstances and availability to travel.
Ticket websites such as Skiddle can be a good starting point. You don’t have to be buying tickets to browse their detailed calendar across any month, so if your availability is limited or you want to know what’s on soon (even out-of-season), then it’s possible to review specific months for festival information.
It’s also possible to filter searches by festival type, so if you have a preference or expertise to demonstrate (or build up) then it’s possible to focus a search that way too. But do also consider that although you might prefer certain types of festivals, it’s essential to also extend yourself (and your comfort zone) in order to get a view of the diverse nature of festival directing.
Similarly, although those very famous large UK festivals are great for gaining experience to add to your CV, don’t overlook opportunities for volunteering and work experience at smaller festivals. Smaller events with fewer hands on the ground are very likely to be in need of volunteers and you could find yourself responsible for a set of tasks which look impressive in your portfolio.
Once you know what’s coming up, organising your schedule is essential to make the most of all available options for ….
As a way into your ideal event management role, and particularly the role of festival director, take up as many volunteering opportunities as possible:
- Target a range of events, getting yourself a broad overview of what’s needed to provide quality event experiences with successful outcomes – for instance, there are many overlapping tasks, skills and activities involved in planning a wedding and a festival, so there’s a certain relevance in all experience.
- Do also target festivals, as whilst that general overview’s useful, gaining specific festival experience is essential.
- Make the most of every opportunity – every role contributes to each festival’s overall success. Even starting off as a parking steward or programme seller offers that ‘insider’ view of the logistics of organising and delivering an event, whilst also offering valuable insight into how volunteers are managed and trained – something every festival director needs to get right!
Networking is key to success in event management and particularly for a role such as festival director where having a ready network of reputable contacts is almost a prerequisite for the role.
So volunteering is more than a chance to gain experience, it’s also a way to build your own network and get yourself included in others’ networks as a positive professional to work with. Focus on:
- Opportunities to identify and chat to those around you, but not just those people who are relevant to any specific interests you have, such as music, technology or box office management – speak also to those behind the event, such as the festival’s curators, sponsors, management team or PR reps.
- Being helpful, watchful and indispensable. If the area you’re working in has gone very quiet, for example if the box office has emptied once most people have arrived, offer assistance to those areas struggling with queues and enquiries.
- Maintain contact following events and do use the names of people you’ve worked with. This is more than name-dropping, it actually helps people remember who you are or how you are connected with them, as the chances are their own networks are very wide and they’ll appreciate the reminder.
- Asking about openings, further volunteering and work experience opportunities.
- Being as personable and professional as possible. All event roles are about people-skills, but a festival director role explicitly relies on your ability to establish connections and professional relationships which deliver.
Salaried event assistant work
Once volunteering and work experience have broadened and honed your skills, it’s time to consider a paid role in event management as a potential footpath into festival directing.
Opportunities may arise naturally within the festival niche, and volunteering puts you in the right place at the right time, but if opportunities seem few, don’t restrict yourself to openings only within festivals. Consider all types of event management positions, such as event assistant or event co-ordinator, in any relevant field, as it’s often the case that it’s easier to get a role when you already have one!
Being in a salaried event management role is a great way to gain both the experience and professional reputation needed to help you get noticed in this highly competitive niche, so do consider event assistant, event coordinator, event manager and event director roles. If you can, try to ensure that the roles will involve some cross-over responsibilities such as outdoor event management, risk management, marketing and ticketing.
Finally, if paid roles are hard to find or you land one which isn’t festival-specific, do also continue with festival volunteering to further develop your festival network and presence and consider taking up specific event training, as this combination should really help you to move into the wide field of the festival director as openings arise!