Rushdie or no Rushdie, 5 PR Pitfalls that the Jaipur Lit Fest 2012 Needs to Watch Out For

While the Jaipur Lit Fest’s organizers have been preoccupied with focusing on how Salman Rushdie’s presence might disrupt their festival, they’ve certainly missed out on a few key-factors that might cause their festival to suffer on the publicity-front. With conflicting reports emerging about Rushdie’s arrival, the following are 5 steps the Festival should take to avoid some common PR pitfalls:

1) Manage people well – Speak to anyone who has attended a Jaipur Lit Fest in the past and, while they are grateful for the wonderful writers the event draws, most will complain about the crowds and the disorganized nature of the festival. This works well to exude a certain anything-goes bohemian charm, but once news reports flow in about long toilet lines, overcrowded venues, and fair-goers with no interest in literature whatsoever, the Festival will have a problem. The Fest has taken good first steps in this regard – asking people to register online before the event and requiring photo IDs at the gates. While this may act as a useful filter, it is essential that they manage crowds and people effectively, making sure venues are well planned, to avoid overcrowding at this free festival. The idea is that bronze will never look quite as good as diamond. PR can help but to an extent, but poor organization can cause publicity havoc – I refer to the recent India Auto Expo 2012, where more media-inches were devoted to complaints about poor organizing than the cars or celebrities present. I’m sure they had a great PR firm, but…

2) Manage Big Stars – What began as a cozy, intimate festival meant to celebrate the best upcoming literary talent in the world has quickly mushroomed into a massive global event – the biggest literary festival in Asia. There were a mere 7000 people who attended the event, over five days in 2008, this ballooned to 60,000 last year and the figure is expected to be higher in 2012. But the growing scale of the event, while delighting the organizers, has also brought its own challenges. For one, the increased scale has meant that the Festival now draws premium talent – not only the world’s most high-profile writers, but also Bollywood stars like Rahul Bose, Om Puri and Javed Akhtar who have been known to frequent the Festival. In fact, this year Oprah Winfrey is also rumored to be attending! Such big stars bring their own requirements and demands; it is important for organizers to accommodate their requests and individually highlight them enough so that they would be encouraged to come back next year.

3) Beef Up Security – As a free festival in a city that may not be accustomed to such prominent events, the Jaipur Lit Fest draws a wide section of society, many of whom may not be interested in literature at all. Complaints about drunken misbehavior and women being made to feel unsafe by lecherous men, is common at the festival – and definitely something that the organizers will want to improve on. But that’s not all. Last year, TOI journalist CP Surendran was punched square in the jaw for simply asking to borrow a lighter. Of course, he subsequently wrote about it and generated a large amount of negative press for the event. Event organizers have promised to have anywhere between 200 and 1000 security personnel present (according to Sanjay K. Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Productions). However, they need to ensure that the security officers are well trained, briefed, and organized to avoid assaults like last year – or much worse, criminal or militant attacks at such a high profile event. We already know that a person flinging a shoe or throwing black ink on someone’s face will get more publicity than a great reading of Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru.

4) Take care of the Press – While the ardent literary fans who travel across the country for the festival are undoubtedly valuable to the Festival, organizers should be especially careful of ensuring that the journalists who are going to report on the event are well taken care of. From handing out thoughtfully crafted press kits to ensuring easy access and amenities for journalists, the organizers could ensure that they receive “positive press” in the media. With the evolving landscape of journalism in mind, organizers should also be careful not to alienate bloggers and social media journalists – many of whom might be writing to a more relevant (and sometimes larger!) audience, than some traditional print publications. The organizers should ensure that there are separate press sections for each venue, perhaps in the form of media rooms. As the international press are also slated to be present at the event, they should ensure that the whole range of logistical details has been taken care of. Are there elevated platforms for that perfect photo opportunity? Is there a standard press briefing format after each reading? Will the media get adequate face time with celebrities or will they have to have to catch them on their loo break?

5) Implement a Social Media Strategy – There is no reason why the Jaipur Literary Festival should not take full advantage of social media to engage fans and build for a certain hype around the event. While they might feel secure in the number of visitors who will attend the event (16,000 by some estimates), an effective social media strategy would not only ensure that the right visitors will come to Jaipur, but will also allow for increased fan interactivity, satisfaction, and connect. The key is to be innovative with the approach – for example, they could look at the possibility of having writers live Tweet at the event. Of course, this is predicated on having social media structures in place. While the Jaipur Literary Festival does run a Facebook page with 1800 fans and moderately frequent updates, they shockingly do not have a Twitter page or any presence on other social media platforms. This is an oversight on the part of organizers, one which hopefully will not compromise the event’s success. Regardless, they should make sure that they use social media to not only publicize talks and signings, but also to post about delays, schedule changes, and cancellations – i.e. reaching out with this information, instead of having a grumbling audience find out about them on their own. They should definitely create, and try to publicize, a hash tag related to the event – so that online interest levels can be better tracked. Additionally, celebrities and writers can be encouraged to tweet using that hash tag to better connect with the web audience and generate excitement online.

Written by Kunal Singh Pal for Image Management

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