Having celebrated its 29th year this past week, South by Southwest proved again why it’s perhaps the world’s foremost multi-disciplinary festival, where the 2,200 musical acts accounted for only part of the action over the 10 days of its frantic annual existence.
And, as expected for such a renowned and respected event, media coverage was massive. Over the course of the festival itself, 40,000 pieces were published by outlets from around the world. Below is the breakdown by day.
The resounding majority of the coverage was either simply factual or outright positive (“SXSW 2015 gets a sex-charged start”, Crave Online; “At SXSW, stepping back to allow hopeful artists to step up”, New York Times; “SXSW Festival has international impact”, Voice of America), but, as with any event of such magnitude – with thousands of acts, even more personnel, and even more logistical details – certain things are bound to happen which garner bad press. Some of the negative headlines that came out of SXSW 2015:
- “Why South by Southwest is a huge, exploitative scam”, MSN News
- “Run the Jewels attacked onstage at SXSW”, Pitchfork
- “Drunk driver passes SXSW barricade during No Refusal”, KXAN Austin
- “Rapper Yung Gleesh charged with sexual assault during SXSW”, BET.com
- “SXSW more bust than boom for some local businesses”, KXAN Austin
Seeing as music festival season is just around the corner, what’s a PR manager to do when confronted with negative media attention?
Sarah Shoucri, senior publicist for international music festival POP Montréal, walks us through it.
- Preempt the negativity by cultivating good and honest and trusting relationships with journalists.
“The most important thing is to have journalists trust you, and the only way for them to trust you is to actually be honest.”
- Crucial to evaluate negative coverage, but the old PR adage of addressing and responding to all of it, is unnecessary and unproductive.
“Some people hate just to hate, so just let them yak away.”
- When you do address the bad news, focus on the positives.
After the catastrophe at SXSW last year, when a drunk driver rammed into a group of people, killing four and injuring dozens, the festival responded.“The mayor of Austin, the head of South by Southwest, they were talking about all the proactive things they were doing to help the people that were injured and ensure other people’s safety.”
The takeaway from all this is that no one is immune to bad press — it’s how you react that counts.