When the show was over today, Argyll and the Isle Tourism CEO, Mike Story, grabbed a shot Continue reading
Inveraray Castle’s starring role in the Christmas Day special Continue reading
Argyll and The Isles Tourism Partnership held its AGM on 18th April. Continue reading
VisitScotland’s latest campaign – this time a £1.25 million job Continue reading
Performers from Cowal’s The Walking Theatre Company (TWTC) made the sort of impact at the Press Launch on 6th March that they will make when they hit the event itself.
They presented a drama around whisky smuggling to a special audience including the Duchess of Argyll. And there was a whisky tasting masterclass with whisky writer Charles Maclean and songs by Robin Laing. Each of these acts will feature at the festival which is set to be the flagship Homecoming Scotland 2009 event for the west coast and a signature event for the programme’s Whisky Month which was launched in February.
The spirit of the west was manifest in more ways than one – as were the magnificent hills of Glen Fyne, seen in the background and the venue for the launch.
In line with the festival’s celebration of west coast culture, the Whisky Coast Memoirs campaign invites people to send through their stories, experiences and passions for the nation’s west coast.
The campaign aims to bring together a global appreciation of the region’s beauty, atmosphere and culture with a focus on Ayrshire & Arran, Argyll, Lochaber, the Hebrides and the North West Highlands.
There is so much to say about this part of the world. The Whisky Coast Memoirs is an inspired idea that promises to be a mesmeric collection we look forard to reading.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, helped kick start the campaign by contributing a memoir of his own of the west.
He says: ‘Although I was born and bred in the East of Scotland, I have spent a lot of time in the Highlands of the West of Scotland. As a student, and even after I was elected to Parliament, I have walked in Skye, Kintail, the Hebrides, Argyllshire and Sutherland, often with parliamentary colleagues such as the late John Smith MP. I have many fond memories of days on the hill and in the glens; and of good hospitality and entertainment in the evenings, as often as not accompanied by a dram. I send best wishes to the organisers of Spirit of the West’.
This memoir was described gratefully by Nicky Murphy, Event Manager for Spirit of the West and Project Manager for the Whisky Coast, as really helping ‘to kick start our campaign’.
The entire programme for the two-day event is steeped in interest, variety – and whisky – and offers something for everyone. The full programme - and information on how to contribute your own west coast memoir – is on the Spirit of the West website.
There has been widespread disappointment in Argyll at the shock cancellation of the 2009 Hydro Connect Music Festival held at Inveraray Castle. There has been anger at the lateness of the decision, giving local businesses little time to refocus. And there has been bewilderment at some of the grounds given for the decision.
The three partners in the event – Argyll Estates, Highlands and Islands Enterprise Argyll (HIE Argyll) and promoters, DF Concerts have expressed their own regrets.
Argyll Estates says: ‘It is sad that this has happened and we will be looking at other options for future events within the Estate albeit on a smaller scale’.
HIE Argyll says: ‘We are obviously disappointed that the organisers of the HydroConnect Festival felt that they could not continue this year. The Festival has been a major boost to the economy in and around Inveraray and we hope that it will be back in future years. In the meantime, we will continue to look at ways to support the economy in the area, including in the creative industries’.
DF Concerts says: ‘As we remain dedicated to Connect’s future and its award winning quality, we have decided that the best way forward is to stage some smaller associated events in 2009′.
What Connect gave Argyll – in two years – was a wide spectrum of positive impacts:
- a contribution to the local economy said by DF Concerts to have been £1.5million in 2008
- the stimulus for a group of food producers in Argyll to come together under the banner of ‘Food from Argyll’ and start to explore joint marketing and other initiatives
- an event in their home territory that really connected with Argyll’s young people – who have very little to do that is relevant to their generation. Connect gave them an extended social network and a cool event they could go to and be proud to be associated with – at home in Argyll
- something colouful, joyful, exotic, celebratory – and big – all good news in lifting the ambitions and the experiences of Argyll
- a sense of ownership of the event that became evident in Inveraray during the 2008 event
These are hugely significant benefits and together they reward the initiative – and the courage – of the Argyll Estates in taking a deep breath and deciding to host a music festival, literally on the doorstep of Inveraray Castle and in a cautious little Argyll town.
The reasons given by DF Concerts for the decision to cancel this year’s festival are:
- Argyll’s small population and lack of an existing festival crowd
- the high infrastructural and servicing costs associated with staging the festival in Argyll
- the lack of audience growth from the 2007 to the 2008 festival
- the economic downturn
- the credit crunch
The key factor has been the cost, the losses involved to date and the predicted financial picture for the 2009 event. Many of the other reasons advanced bear little scrutiny and have arguably been an unhelpful distraction in deflecting energies to dispute the eminently disputable.
Argyll’s population did not shrink overnight. It’s location did not change – and, at an hour and a half from Glasgow Airport, it is considerably more accessible than is Glastonbury, down the A303. It never had an existing festival crowd. All of these factors were in place when the original commitment was made to running the festival for a three year trial period.
Any new event anywhere has its audience to build. This takes time, effort and imagination. Connect has not been given the time – cancelling two years into the planned three – and the current economic circumstances have had a part to play in the decision to take a year out.
The audience for the event remained stable at 15,000 in each of its two years of operation. DF Concerts spent £1million in promoting Connect 2008, twice as much as their marketing spend for the 2007 event. That this did not produce the anticipated audience growth has been a major factor in the decision not to walk into what the organisers saw as an inevitable loss in recession-hit 2009.
The economic downturn is cited today by any company already troubled for other reasons. DF Concerts in 2008 had, as For Argyll reported at the time and before there was any public awareness of the banking collapse to come, reported financial difficulties. It claimed that these were related to the costs of the Connect Festival.
The company’s argument that the credit crunch is likely to affect the Connect audience more than that of other festivals does not bear much examination.
While all three partners in the event are unwilling to discuss the nature of any contractual commitments, the Argyll Estates have informed us that just because they do not wish to discuss the matter, any assumption that there were not contractual arrangements in place, framed with due diligence, would be completely wrong. We have also been informed that no contractual commitments have been broken.
HIE is in a rather different position to the other two partners in the event. In making available public money to the running of the event, one would expect more transparency. Public money has got to be given seriously, received seriously and taken seriously. This is not to say that it has not been so in this instance, but lack of transparency in public service agencies creates unease – not necessarily over probity but over attitudes to accountability.
This is not to hammer HIE Argyll. Supporting this event was a courageous and judicious decision to contribute to the economic development Argyll badly needs – and the event, even in its aborted two year genesis, has certainly done just that.
DF Concerts, in its Press Release, announces that it will run some small and ‘intimate’ events in place of the 2009 Connect Festival. The company has told For Argyll that what it has in mind is events with an audience of around 500 that could be indoors and involve accommodation. This may involve a concert run under the Connect banner. Such events will be a very welcome addition to energies in Argyll and to enhancing the lifestyles of young people here who very much need such support.
The irony was that although the audience for Connect 2008 did not grow from its 2007 volume despite the increased marketing budget, the sense of ownership of the event among the Argyll public and the town of Inveraray grew very significantly with the second festival. Alongside this, the partners in the event will have had financial realities to face and the evidence suggests that since then the purpose has been disengagement from the 2009 event.
It would have been helpful to local businesses, to fans of the event and to potential visitors in this year of Homecoming Scotland had this intention been communicated earlier. We have no information on why this was not done.
For Argyll does not doubt that all concerned went into this partnership with real commitment and good intent. The emergence of hard times has brought hard decisions. We do not, however, fully accept that the audience for the 2008 event could not have been grown or that it could not have been grown again for 2009 with a more divergent approach to marketing and a vigorous engagement with the possibilities inherent in Homecoming Scotland 2009.
We have first hand evidence of the strength of the event’s appeal.
When dates for the 2009 event were not forthcoming and local businesses were becoming agitated, the Argyll Estates consulted DF Concerts and gave us the provisional September dates we published. Within 30 minutes the site had a huge traffic spike from members of the widespread fanbase of the event – and this interest remained constant. They were coming to our site because the official website for the event carried no updated information. The reaction speed and interest Connect’s fanbase exhibited is powerful testimony to what the event has achieved in its two year existence.
When, in the ForArgyll Awards 2008, Connect was nominated in the Best Event category, we – as is our practice – informed DF Concerts of this and invited them to promote the vote to Connect’s fanbase. DF Concerts neither replied to us nor, from the evidence of the online public voting, did anything to promote support for the event. While it received a perfectly respectable vote, Connect did not come close to the top three events in this high-voting category where, with the sheer size of its fanbase, it could have been expected to walk away with the award.
To demonstrate the cost of this in marketing terms: the Awards had hundreds of nominations and many thousands of votes from Scotland and both numerously and widely from across the world. Every nominee and every finalist had their website linked to their entry at each stage of the contest and, from our own site monitoring system, we could see the visitor traffic going to check out the contestants’ sites.
The winners of each award have been given what is virtually a one year free advertisement – with an attractive series of images down the left hand column of the For Argyll site’s many pages. Each image is linked to an award winner’s own site. We can see the traffic visiting these sites and some winners have confirmed with us that they have experienced a 60% improvement in traffic to their sites with this promotion.
Connect could have benefited from this. Moreover, as with all winners, it would also have had a special feature article prepared and published at a time helpful to its own plans. As an indication of the value of this, ForArgyll.com’s latest set of site statistics for January 2009 shows hits for the month at a figure of 1,043,011. This is a more than modest performance – especially in a site representing a very undersold area of Scotland and it is growing steadily month on month. We would have done all we could to help promote the event – without charge – as we do for all our award winners and this contribution would not have been negligible. This was a missed opportunity for Connect.
But there is a positive legacy of experience and of experiences for all concerned, including audiences and including Inveraray town. This has been a fantastically exciting event for Argyll – not only in its nature but in its scale. It has flown the flag in Argyll for ambition and for facing forwards. Beyond the event itself, this is the sort of inspiration capable of galvanising enterprise across Argyll and its Islands as well as economic development. This is why it matters.
It is to the credit of Argyll Estates and HIE Argyll that they had the will and the imagination to engage. There is every reason to build on the experience rather than to retire wounded and there is no suggestion that this will happen.
The challenge now is to excite again – for better and for longer – if, possibly, differently. We may or may not see the Connect Festival again in its previous form – but we will certainly see a range of attractive events adding to the variety of experience available in Argyll and enthusiastically welcomed.
For nostalgia – and to keep the dream alive during the event’s year off, re-visit For Argyll’s photographer, John Fyfe Patrick’s Flickr gallery of stills taken at Connect 2008.
The photographs accompanying this article – of Connect 2008 – are reproduced here by permission of the copyright holder and For Argyll’s Connect photographer, John Fyfe Patrick. Apart from the audience shots, the top photograph shows The Whip onstage and the third photograph shows Amy MacDonald in concert – the only artist to have played both Connect 2007 and Connect 2008.