Earlier this year, when we all thought the rain would never stop, I went to the Isle of Wight Festival. Overall it was a great experience. The musicians made it clear how much they appreciated us braving the mud, and the food stall holders (one of whom made the best breakfast burrito I will ever eat no matter how long I live) made the swamp-like conditions more hospitable.
The event was however marred by atrocious communications from the organisers, which I’m sure created more negative publicity than all the positive pre-event stories I saw. This of course kicked my communications instinct into overdrive. It was a perfect case study of what happens ‘when good comms go bad’. An outstanding pre-event campaign turned into a communications nightmare because an adequate crisis communications plan wasn’t in place.
A few solid weeks of rain had turned the fields on the island to mud, so when festival-goers arrived they had to be towed one-by-one onto the quagmire that was the car park. This created a queue of traffic across the island. Arriving ferries has to wait for hours in the harbour for the roads to clear enough for them to offload their passengers. By 1am when my car arrived on the island there was an eight hour queue to enter the car park.
At this point the last tweet I’d seen from the organisers was just less than two hours previously, claiming that they were ‘doing everything we can to get you all in’, but offering no suggestion of what people do, where to find alternative parking etc.
BBC Radio Solent was making a sterling effort to provide information, all of which was being provided by people in the queue calling in. The one caller conspicuous by their absence was the organiser. They were not available for comment.
What puzzles me about all of this was that there did actually seem to be a crisis plan in place. The organisers eventually arranged alternative parking venues around the island and shuttled festival-goers back to the festival ground. Yet none of this was actually being communicated to the thousands stranded in their cars overnight. (We only found out by asking a friendly local bus driver.)
I imagine what angered so many other people attending the festival was this lack of communication, not the mud or the queues. This is Britain. It rains. There is mud. We queue. Fine. But when you’ve become accustomed to non-stop communication from an event organiser by email, text and twitter in the run-up to the event, it is appalling that when you actually need that communication it stops.
In the end, Bruce Springsteen made the sun come out and I’m sure everyone forgot about the mud, but I do hope a communications lesson was learned. Positive and proactive communications are important, but you need to follow through and keep communicating with your customers after they’ve bought your product. And you need to be ready to react if they have a problem with your product.