One of my biggest passions is live music and festivals, and I think Liverpool, as my nearest big city, is a fantastic place for them to be held. Music is in its veins, the people are friendly and its venues, whether large or small, are fantastic, so I always welcome any additions to the city’s festival and music calendar.
What a pity, then, that my attention over the last few days has been piqued by a Liverpool festival that had to be cancelled at the weekend, but worse still, displayed one of the poorest pieces of social media PR I’ve ever seen.
Last Saturday and Sunday, the inaugural Hope & Glory Festival was scheduled to take place in the bustling St. George’s Quarter of the city, showcasing much-loved acts like James, Ocean Colour Scene, Razorlight and Scouse favourites The Lightning Seeds. Saturday’s proceedings went ahead, albeit with some scathing reviews of overcrowding, lack of security and acts being cancelled from the billing (and personally, if I had to axe somebody from the set I think Charlotte Church would be the last one I’d mess with!). It was on Sunday though that the real fun and games began.
Things started ominously as early as 5:48 am, when the organisers chose to publish a production manager’s name and email address on their Facebook page, blaming him for the previous day’s logistical issues.
Whether or not Mr. Agar was to blame for these problems is not known, but from a customer’s point of view, it’s largely irrelevant. The organisers’ responsibility is to deliver the promised festival to those who have bought tickets. Any issues with suppliers or contractors are for them to deal with in private rather than air in public.
Less than five hours later, the Facebook page broke the following news:
That’s it – no apology, no explanation, just three words telling ticketholders it wasn’t going to happen. To gauge how well that was received, consider that it’s not often that the main reaction to a Facebook post is anything but ‘like’. On this occasion, ‘like’ isn’t even in the top three, with ‘angry’ dominating by some stretch, followed by ‘wow’ and ‘haha’.
This was followed that evening by a post that still wasn’t quite an apology, but promised an announcement by noon on Monday. That was it for the day on Facebook, but on Twitter, the storm was only just starting.
Continuing to push the blame elsewhere, whoever was managing the Twitter account proceeded get into a spat with anyone and everyone, including a bizarre dig at James lead singer Tim Booth.
The irate tweeter even changed the page’s bio to have a pop at Twitter itself, complaining of ‘bullying’ and the destroying of ‘decent people’, which seems ironic given how readily they were willing to make Mr. Agar’s email address available to a baying crowd. The bio has since been deleted, but I took a screenshot.
Back on Facebook, with festival no-goers eagerly awaiting the announcement ‘by noon’, the organisers couldn’t resist slipping in a little whine about somebody claiming to be ‘Jannet Loures’ spreading misinformation about them. Still, they were not grasping that this situation was not all about them. They had thousands of disappointed music fans to address having cancelled an event they had paid good money to see, and yet they were persevering with playing the victims. Until they grew up and took some responsibility, why should anyone care what ‘Jannet Loures’ was saying about the company?
A long, long statement finally came at 12:10pm on Monday. The gist of it was “we accept responsibility, but it’s everybody else’s fault”. It contains some moans about electronic devices and alcohol going missing, as well as an odd comment about a pint of milk going off. None of this is relevant – it’s all dirty laundry and even if they were let down by certain individuals, it’s their responsibility as festival organisers to be professional, and to communicate courteously and clearly to customers.
To his credit, Lee O’Hanlon, the chief organiser of the whole farce, did his best to quell the furore on Monday night with a Twitter Q&A session, during which he blamed the Sunday Twitter madness on a ‘junior’ member of the team. He seemed particularly upset at the ‘yoga’ tweet aimed at Tim Booth, and after an apology, it seems at least that the two have made peace.
But a Monday night interview with talkRadio’s Iain Lee took a turn for the fractious, with The Liverpool Echo describing it as a ‘car crash’. It also seems that once again, information was given out that shouldn’t have been, with Lee complaining of O’Hanlon broadcasting a private email address.
All in all, it’s a truly terrible display of social media crisis management that looks to have ended this festival’s future in Liverpool at the first hurdle. Everyone can accept that a festival takes a lot of organisation and it’s easy for something to go badly wrong, but the Hope & Glory team escalated this into farce with a complete childish piece of social media sympathy seeking. Even in the worst of situations, a little honesty and humility can get you a long way, and perhaps a more mature response, like an immediate apology and full explanation for a start, could have saved face. Instead they choose to keep digging the hole deeper and deeper.
Some good came of it all, with various Liverpool venues rallying round to hastily arrange gigs for let-down artists and fans, but I’m afraid this festival has shown itself to be rather inaccurately named, coming across as far from glorious, and altogether hopeless.
UPDATE 11/8/17: The latest development in this sorry story is that both the Facebook and Twitter pages for the Hope & Glory Festival have mysteriously vanished, so just as well I took a few screenshots. It does mean that the “long, long statement” mentioned is no longer available to read but, trust me, you didn’t miss much!