Hellfest and communication

Yoann Le Nevé is the co-founder of Furyfest which later became Hellfest[/urlb] in 2006. Yoann accepted to answer to Doc’s questions concerning the festival’s evolution in terms of communication and promotion in complete honesty. Our interviewee, who is in charge of handling financial partners as well as being head of communications, explains the difficulties that a festival such as Hellfest can encounter with the various important people in the metal scene. Notably, Yoann mentions their recent complicated relationship with the English. An informative interview on the national and international metal world, mentioning the media, politics and the economy. Jeff Mallet, communication manager, also answered to Radio Metal questions at the end of the article.

Yoann Le Nevé : « We had established quite a few good and even some bad relationships with the media for Furyfest. So for Hellfest, we used the same basic techniques. In fact we were in very good terms with many magazines, yet we also had a few problem with some other ones which have been fixed since. »

Radio Metal : Hello Yoann. Could you introduce and explain to us your personal pathway so far through Hellfest?

Yoann Le Nevé : I was part of the Furyfest adventure in 2004 with Ben (ndlr : Benjamin Barbaud, creator of Furyfest and Hellfest) and we have been together ever since. Following the events that we experienced with Furyfest, we decided to co-found Hellfest in 2006 while we were unemployed. Our aim was to be able to afford to live from our passion and mainly to start a metal music festival in France. It was clear that there was a lack of events surrounding metal music or extreme music in general. I was the first ever employee for Hellfest in 2006 and the team has greatly expanded since. This is Hellfest’s 5th year so far…

At the start of the festival, how did you manage the event’s communication/promotional aspects?

We had established quite a few good and even some bad relationships with the media for Furyfest. So for Hellfest, we used the same basic techniques. In fact we were in very good terms with many magazines, yet we also had a few problem with some other ones which have been fixed since. At first we couldn’t quite identify the problem but we weren’t getting along with Rock Hard France even though we didn’t even know them. Then Hard & Heavy disappeared so we had to take on another important magazine partner, as well as Metallian, that would allow us to access another kind of audience and that was necessary for us to have… We managed to enhance our contacts and we were also able to make it by working with other press agents, such as Olivier Garnier and Roger Wessier, in order to promote the festival in 2008. Despite the fact that we did not share the same musical culture, we got along straight away and they had a hell of a lot of contacts. At the same time, it helped a great deal that we were expanding the festival’s various styles so that it ended up suiting us mutually. Olivier and Roger were friends with Rock Hard France, so we agreed to meet and that’s when we realised that we didn’t really know what was really going on. Basically, there were some issues with some of the adverts made for Furyfest which had not been paid for due to our many issues at the time. So we decided to straighten everything out by putting all of our cards on the table, and the Rock Hard France team were able to see that we were of good faith and honest. Ever since, they have become our friends. We have really gotten to know them, we have partied together and now everything is great.

In fact, we went through Replica for the invoice which allowed the festival to make it with help from the outside by hiring Olivier and Roger. We felt that this was necessary since we were doing it all ourselves. In 2006 we made some financial mistakes with the festival and despite the fact that in 2007 we were able to catch up again financially, our image had been disastroustly tainted. Then from 2008, we started some advertising compaigns, gave a lot of interviews and called upon lots of media sources. We work with people from the outside on the festival’s image for the magazines and our contacts we didn’t have to begin with. Olivier and Roger have contacts within wider audience magazines and before they arrived we were only dealing with the more niche magazines. It seems that the better it gets, the more open we become. As we are widening our communication with a larger audience, like our support from Ouest France (french newspaper) for example, the list of bands set to play is also getting bigger.

Today you seem to putting adverts all around, even in the Parisian metro. Is the festival’s aim today to access a larger audience in order to increase your popularity?

The aim is to access a larger audience and it is mainly to increase the popularity of the festival and metal music in order to shed more light on the genre. We want to show what metal is and prove that it is a culture in itself and that we are not ashamed of being metallers. We feel that this is necessary because we realised that Hellfest is still not known to all metallers in France. This is a serious problem. Perhaps some metallers only think that their access to metal is in their house with the CDs they bought… Some of them do not read, listen to the radio or watch television since none of these show anything about metal so it is obvious that we needed to increase our communication and make the festival known.

We also wanted to increase our popularity with institutions, which inevitably worked according to the threats we received from the Christian Democratic Party or Philippe de Villiers (french politician) ! Our communication’s development is also very important for our partners. We must show them that they are not collaborating with an underground festival and that there is an audience for in the exact same way as for the most renowned festivals such as the Vieilles Charrues or the Eurockéénnes of Belfort (french rock events).

In fact, we don’t use any advice for our communication, we just go with our gut feeling so it’s hard to tell if we are doing it right because we are not professionals but we have learnt the job through our experience and the feedback we got. Most decisions are taken by Ben and I but we still discuss them with the others. We test things are when they don’t work we don’t do them again. Also, as you mentioned, we did a compaign right outside the Montparnasse station in Paris. We are doing large compaigns in regional areas today because there is still a way to access regional clients. People need to realise that Hellfest is the biggest thing going on in music today and this is the truth. People really need to understand that.

It could be said that Hellfest has a particular relationship with the United Kingdom. Is is difficult to access a local audience as well as a foreign audience?

Exactly. We communicate a lot with foreign countries and this is going to increase as a result, especially through magazines and a little bit on the web. In 2009 we received 3000 British people, so this year we increase our communication budget over there considerably. At first it was only Terrorizer, yet now we have also invested in Metal Hammer and Classic Rock. In England, it is difficult to make interesting arrangements in the way that we do with French magazines such as Rock Hard France and Metallian because the deals are made between us. For example, we have some very good deals with Terrorizer, however it’s hell of a lot harder with Future Media (Metal Hammer, Classic Rock, Classic Prog etc). They are sharks and it makes it very hard to negociate with them. We definitely don’t get on as well despite the fact that we have met them and tried to talk about it. They are sweet talkers but at the same time… The budget with Metal Hammer was massive and it’s not even like we took hundreds of ads as a result… Either way, it hurt us very quickly.

Do you feel that metal is more professional in England compared to France?

With Terrorizer, which is a magazine for those who are passionate about metal, we have the same kind of relationship as with French magazines but their business remains quite amateurish. However, their editorial side is great and they are complete opposites with Metal Hammer. Terrorizer does not truly represent Great Britain, on the other hand, Metal Hammer does. It’s business and these people are not your friends. The English, be it for magazine adverts or agents, they are all sharks and crooks. You simply cannot trust them and they never give their word. I might be taken a few shortcuts here but that’s what it is. Working with the English is very complicated. Terrorizer is the only exception.

In fact, we try to establish other things rather than just advertising. We try to make some editorial deals with them so that we can give them visibility at Hellfest, with their own stand right in the centre of the festival with their own lounge bar. They also hope that the festival does well because it affects their image. They are honestly attached to Hellfest, unlike Metal Hammer. So we tried to make a special price for people coming over from England, which goes beyond simple advertising. We also have a street team in England. We try to promote ourselves over there because the English audience is the one that we can access the easiest since they are very open-minded – unlike the French – because they listen to Doom as well as Kiss, two of the most extreme bands playing this year. They are necessarily happy with what they have got over there… Woodstock is started to develop itself but they are part multinational entertainment. That will be a big one. Yet in England, all they have is Download or Sonisphere, which despite being quite important, are not passionate and sincere. We offer something that the English are interested in.

The Swiss edition of the Sonisphere festival will take place on the first day of the Hellfest. Do you think this will have an influence on the number of tickets you’re going to sell? Do you believe that such a bill, composed of huge names only, could make those who wish to go to the Hellfest hesitate?

Obviously we’re going to lose a few of our usual festivalgoers, but we’ll be sold out given that the number of people we can welcome is limited. But if this number were larger, I do think that we could have had more festivalgoers without the Sonisphere. But the true metalheads made their choice!

Yoann Le Nevé : « Terrorizer does not truly represent Great Britain, on the other hand, Metal Hammer does. It’s business and these people are not your friends. The English, be it for magazine adverts or agents, they are all sharks and crooks. You simply cannot trust them and they never give their word. »
On a personal level, today you deal with the festival’s financial partners exclusively, whereas last year you were also dealing with the festival’s media partners. You recruted Jeff to deal with the direct communication with the media. Is this evidence that you are structuring yourselves?

We are delegating more and more, but I don’t only focus on the financial partners otherwise I wouldn’t have much to do! I am the decision maker when it comes to communication. Actually Jeff only works on the web communication. I am still the one dealing with Metallian, Rock Hard France and about 2/3rds of the foreign magazines. Jeff takes me place from to to time.

Other than the financial partners, the patronage etc, I also work with those who do voluntary work and it’s a very large area. Since I have been here since the start, it seems that I am the person best suited to discuss easily and humanly with the voluntary workers. We recrute over 1000 people to work at the bars, meeting point and other. Therefore, my work goes from human resources to public relations and partners etc.

Does a project like Hellfest manage to acheive a feasible rythme when it comes to communication or does it keep developping and fumble about each day?

At first, there were two of us and now we are seven employees. That’s one hell of a development. As the festival gets bigger, we are still very busy because there are more things to handle. We are evolving constantly. It is rare that go at a feasible rate, however, it’s better now than when there were only two of us and we arn’t bored yet. We are not yet fully stabilised and 2012 is going to be an important goal because Hellfest will be changing its website, so it’s another project for the future.

Are Twitter, Facebook and other social networks important for the festival’s development? You just went over 10 000 fans on your Facebook page…

We will need to. It represents the future and it’s an area where Jeff intervienes essentially. He is a web specialist and he also works for Metalstorm. Facebook is definitely the form of media that will become the most important in the future. We also hope to attract more and more fans from abroad and in the long run this will be beneficial. With Facebook, the second we offer something, it pops up straight away and becomes part of your every day life. It’s with this kind of communication that we can measure how effective our initiatives are, unlike with the press for example. Even if there are people in charge of checking sale numbers etc, it helps to know whether the user saw the ad page or not. It’s not the same and it’s more passive. Social networks are a lot more interesting because the users are able to interact. Personally, I am not a fan of social networking, but I am convinced that in the years to come it will be the most important communications tool that there is. I am convinced of this.

A few things to clarify before the end: Coca Cola withdrew itself as a partner of Hellfest last year…

Coca Cola withdrew officially, but not unofficially for the exact same reasons. In a way, it’s more interesting for me because it means that we have more space on the main poster and I don’t need to give hand outs for the competitions that they organise in supermarkets! So basically, it’s cool. We had a logistic partnership with them, where they would give us fridges for the bars and products etc, that were free for the staff, voluntary workers.

We are talking about Coca Cola here but today Christine Boutin (french politician) wrote to the head of Kronenbourg so that he would not his partnership with you. How do you feel about this?

Pfff… there really isn’t much to say about it. In my opinion, I this that it is completely ridiculous and laughable to attack a festival through its partners. Furthermore, she acted illegally since she was not allowed to publish the letter that she sent to the head of Kronenbourg on her website. Even though she was entitled to write to him. This action was clumsy and out of place. The repercussions were minor since all it did was strengthen the support from the festival goers and metallers in general who go to Hellfest.There was a slight gap in our media coverage where people weren’t talking about us very much anymore and after her intervention it sparked up more publicity around Hellfest since television and radio contacted us (France 3, Les Inrocks, France Bleue…). Also, Marc Villalonga (ed: Editor in chief of Rock Hard) tells me that he is going to pass on my phone number to Patrick Roy (french politician) who should be contacting us very soon so that we can ask the National Assembly why our music is not taken into account in French culture. He is going to contact some deputies. (ndlr : interview done the 26th of march, four days before Patrick Roy’s intervention to the french national assemblee.)

This whole thing created a phenomenon. We announced the bands scheduled to play a month ago and no one was talking about us until now because we are right in the spotlight. It has sparked everything up again. So what Christine Boutin tried to do simply backfired on her and now she’s the one who looks like an idiot, having reinforced the cohesion of all catholic integrist fanatics on the planet.

Have you thought of pressing charges on Christine Boutin ?

Last year we filed a defamation case with our lawyer and bailiff, which we keep just in case. It costs a lot, but at least we have them just in case. Our lawyer is writing a letter to Mrs Boutin to say that she had no right to do what she did, but then we will stop there. Our goal is not to counter-attack systematically; all we do is answer to the media. We don’t take any political stand, in fact we are rubbish in politics. So to imagine that a UMP-FN-Christian Democratic party might try to stop our finances, we really couldn’t care less because we make so little anyway! It would not affect the festival and we would be able to say what we like so… However, if this sort of thing were to happen again, it could be problematic for the festival’s future if we needed to find another place to have it because we count on the region’s support to build the land for example. We can’t say what the future holds but it would be a great shame if we had to change country because of oddballs like that…

Last question: do you understand that the bloody imagery used to promote Hellfest 2010 could possibly shock some people? If yes, what message would you like to send them?

Our goal is not to shock by using this imagery and if this is the case, we are sorry and we apologize. We are part of the metal world and so we present an image that is adequate with the culture. Personally, I find that this image is much less shocking than some film posters or magazines. Recently, I was in a newsagents and I was flipping through some of the magazines and thinking « what the hell do they say to all these magazines and film makers if they find our image so gory! ». This could also be sais about the pictures that we see in the news of wars and people in agony. It’s not very objective to say that we created something shocking, because in that case, people must live in a bubble where they do not have access to media or hearsay… I find it completely out of place and absurd but I also find it hard to understand and I am left flabbergasted. So, I’m sorry if it shocks some people but our intention was not to shock…

Talking about the Hellfest’s web communication means talking about Jeff Mallet. The man is an efficient link between the festival and the various web media, like Radio Metal. Jeff kindly accepted to talk about his job within the organisation, and about the great importance the latter gives to social networks.
Can you introduce yourself and explain what it is that you do at the centre of the Hellfest organisation?

Jeff Mallet : Hello Amaury and thank you for hearing me out! So I am Jeff, freshly arrived from Toulouse to work for Hellfest since March! My position is that I am in charge of communication. Since the festival has gotten bigger, I joined Yoann to help him with the communication and festival promotion, basically with everything that is on the internet and new communication techniques.

How and when did you meet the Hellfest team?

I met the team officially in 2007 and at first I was put in contact with Fikce (IT person at the time). We got on very well that year and in 2008 I was directly in contact with Yoann. I offered him my services as a partner for the festival with my webzine which was in English and international, in order for the festival to get better known abroad and Yoann agreed straight away. It worked very well and made great advertising for the festival outside of France. Gradually, we became good friends and here I am now, in the team (it could be said that to soften and get close to the team all you need to do is organise a few drinks events at your place ;)). From what you read here and there, they make it seem like the festival is a major stream roller of an event, but these guys give a chance to EVERYONE and especially people as passionate as them. I am the living proof of this. I am incredibly proud and lucky to be working with them today.

What is your role within the webzine Metalstorm ?

You could say that I am the « editor in chief » of the webzine. The webmaster (on a technical level) was working alone in 2001 until I joined him with one of my mates and since he only ever paid attention to the programming, I started to focus on the « content ». As a result, I started to take charge of the press and editorial aspects of the website and the partners (hence my being introduced to Hellfest).

After 9 years now, I am less involved because I don’t have as much time, yet the people in the staff are close friends and they are like a second family to me. I try to help them as much as I can with a few tips, and they are doing really well. In fact it’s kind of strange (and funny aswell) to ask them for accounts for Hellfest now hehe!

Right now you are in charge of the web parnters. What is your promotional policy with web media sources? It can’t be easy to discuss with so many different agents…

I think that it’s going ok since I come from an internet background and I think I understand the requests and exchanges that can be made there. According to me, even if written press journalists don’t like it, Internet represents the future of the press and it is truly amazing in terms of feedback and reactions so it is very important. At the same time, there is a lot of bad aspects on the net because anyone can start a blog and pretend to be a journalist… It’s a little like being a photographer, since digital cameras are cheaper now, everyone is a photographer… However, it is a job in itself where you need to be passionate and you must « give » a lot of your time so that the result is decent… Written press is is still at a superior level in general because they are professionals, but the internet seems to be making progress and so it’s up to us to choose. Hellfest’s policy remains to give everyone a chance, unlike the Graspop where they don’t want webzine photographers in the photo pit for example. It’s up to the internet agents to prove that they are good and support the festival and we can trust that there will be a fair exchange. You can rest assured that we know about the internet’s contribution. In fact we would not have changed our website and made it so interactive if we didn’t.

Accord to the web, is England important for you today?

Absolutely, in fact it is essential and we will do anything to develop the festival’s image abroad, and not just in England, even if it is THE foreign country that is most interested in Hellfest. Now we are trying to get known in America and it seems that people are talking about us in Australia (already, hundreds of Autralians have booked their tickets! It’s nuts!).

Hellfest is also on social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. What is your strategy on that side?

We are still in the developing stages, but we are trying to use it as best we can so far, even though it’s not something you get the hang of right away… Either way, we are working on it and we will develop these networks further since they provoke a great promotional impact. We are going to try to give out the most news that we can, make it more interactive and to advertise as well as post competitions etc. Basically, we are not remaining static on that one.

Do you think that that impact created by social networks is now as important for the Hellfest today as magazine press?

The answer is a big YES! We understood their power straight away and it’s simply incredible. When we post a message on the festival’s Facebook page, there are hundreds of reactions withing the following few hours, so this type of network is really incredibly effective and fast. Aside from the classical search via Google, Facebook is the first visited source from www.hellfest.fr and it is way ahead of any other sites on which we are referenced. You can’t even compare it because it’s a question of x 100… It would be stupid not to use it considering its cost and the fact that we publish our information ourselves… From a stricly promotional point of view, when you come from a webzine or magazine it’s honestly depressing! What’s the point in spending so many long hours creating a website, doing interviews, reports and all the rest when you can post a short message on Facebook which will be read by thousands of people in only a few hours… Obviously, the content can’t be compared but if you want to spread a short and important message, you can forget mailing lists, news on the website or in the press, that’s what Facebook is there for! Ok, I am exaggerating a little and of course things need to be communicated everywhere, but to answer your question, yes nowadays social networks are just as important as all other media…

Interview of Yoann conducted by phoner (26th of March)
Interview of Jeff conducted by email

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