Not for profit PR: Making a noise for RivFest

We were tasked with promoting a charitable festival, RivFest, aimed at raising funds for new music causes. The festival was dedicated to Viola Beach, a fast-rising North West band fronted by River Reeves, who were tragically killed in a road accident in 2016. This is how it played out.



Smoking Gun were given two simple, but challenging targets for RivFest, considering the ferociously competitive festival market and associated difficulties gaining media attention for an event in its infancy:

*Treble ticket sales to break-even point

*Secure five local or regional pieces of coverage, and two broadcast opportunities


Strategy & Plan

Although the background of RivFest is highly sensitive and deeply personal, we knew that the tragic loss of a highly acclaimed, fast-rising band from the region was the most important aspect of the event’s story.

With this in mind, our team drew out the story, personality, and talent of Viola Beach’s lead singer River Reeves; and his father Ben Dunne, a teacher and the mastermind behind RivFest, in order to gather compelling quotes that would convey the significance of the undertaking.

Liaising with management and agents representing performers at the festival, we secured interview opportunities which were offered out to high-circulation/readership local and regional media, such as Manchester Evening News, Liverpool Echo, ITV, and BBC North West.

Each was targeted for multiple hits, i.e. stand-alone preview, What’s On listing, interview/feature, flat news, and on-the-day content for last minute ticket sales.

As Viola Beach were from Warrington, and RivFest was taking place in this area, the Warrington Guardian received seeded content over the three weeks prior to the event.

Beyond the region, we contacted strong influencers who knew River or were fans of Viola Beach, and encouraged them to post about RivFest on social media. Key advocates were invited to post messages of support for the event, written and video, which were then used across the event’s own digital channels and in ongoing press materials.

Bloggers were invited to attend, in exchange for preview coverage.



Measurement & Evaluation

Our success was primarily gauged on ticket sales, as this was the most important aspect for the financial safeguarding of the event itself.

Although still highly significant, specifics and number of media outlets were secondary, albeit the higher quality the coverage the more impact this had on ticket sales, meaning the two criteria were directly interlinked.


We achieved the following results for RivFest:

*Ticket sales saw a 525% uplift after campaign activation, and a 1150% uplift year-on-year.

*20 pieces of media coverage secured

*14 local and regional hits in print and online, including Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo

*2 national print and online hits, including interview with Mo Adeniran, winner of The Voice who went to school with River, in What’s On TV

*4 broadcast spots including BBC North West Tonight, BBC Radio Manchester (interview with Eliza and the Bear) and Merseyside (interview with Billy Bragg and Ben Dunne), ITV Granada Reports (including on-site camera crew at the event), and headliners Maximo Park on BBC Radio 6 Music

*100% of coverage included link to RivFest ticket sales

*Messages of support on social media, including This Is England star-turned-DJ Thomas Turgoose, Billy Bragg, Chris Martin (Coldplay), Johnny Marr (The Smiths), and snooker world champion-turned-DJ Steve Davis




525% uplift in ticket sales after campaign activation
14 local and regional hits in print and online
2 national print and online hits
4 broadcast spots including BBC 6 Music
100% of coverage included link to ticket sales