This article is about some things we achieved during PICNIC that I’m particularly fond of. We made several things right and probably as many other wrong, but I the end it’s those fun, creative and innovative achievements done with the team that I cherish the most. Big disclaimer: I’ve been the Marketing Manager of PICNIC ’10 so what follows can be VERY biased.
Much of it had to do with concentrating in storytelling as opposed to selling, going back to the “festival” experience instead of just a conference and developing a look and feel that was at the same time playful and that offered serious insights in how we can redesign our World (the theme of this year was “Redesign the World”)
Follows a short documentary that we made together with Big Shots to show one side of PICNIC ’10.
From the marketing team we tried to do much more direct and transparent storytelling than traditional marketing (what is that anyway?), intended as I didn’t want to sell anything but show you what an interesting experience PICNIC could be. I often repeated in meetings (and was mocked as often by some colleagues ) that “I don’t want to sell PICNIC, I want people to buy it!”.
Two examples of this are embodied in the mini-documentary (above) that we produced after the event to show the transformation of our tagline “What are you bringing?” into action. That video was preceded by a short teaser (below) that we used in TV and online one month before the event.
As with any good PICNIC, everyone has to bring something to it. We -the organzers- laid down the checkered blanket (the festival terrain) and brought some of the ingredients (speakers, themes, partners) but in order for it to work people had to bring as much: curiosity, skills, willingness to share and co-create together with each other, etc.
Playful Look & Feel – Serious Themes
Since it’s beginning, PICNIC has always had a special look & feel. Call it creative, artsy, trendy or just non-conventional (for example check out our first promo from 2006 or this one from 2008)… but it’s something we really care a lot about. The main theme of PICNIC, Redesign the World, was divided in four main tracks: redesign Life, Cities, Media and Design. Our great creative team (Marcel, Martine, Menno, Roy and Maurice) created five iconic images to represent each one (the main theme and the four tracks). We kept the PICNIC heart and used a balloon because of its connection to our childhood festivals but also because it’s something that can easily be shared with each other.
Digital World, Meet the Physical World
Russell Davis calls it Post Digital, a world in which both digital and analogue are embraced as part of the same unicum. For us it was about joining the experience of both worlds.
For example, the “Twitter Towers” were a way of sharing interesting tweets marked with the hashtag #picnic10 with the attendees, many of which were not on Twitter and would have missed that part of the conversation. We printed the tweets every 20 minutes or so and stuck them on three pillars that were located in the most trafficked areas of the venue.
Inside the PICNIC Club (the big gas tank) we had a fully functional Fablab, a place where digital designs (often downloaded and improved by the users) are transformed into physical objects with the help of laser cutters, 3d-printers, CNC machines and other tools.
Following the Fab Lab concept, we also had an Instructables Restaurant, actually it was an Instructables Pizza Restaurant! The Instructables Restaurant is the first open source restaurant in the world. Everything you see, use and eat is downloaded from instructables.com. It is an experiment in “digesting free internet culture” (read more). It was preceded by a contest out of which 3 winner pizza recipes were selected and were then cooked during PICNIC ’10 (for the delight of the visitors).
Breath and Broadness of Speakers
We had more than 100 speakers from very different walks of life. From academia to business, young and old, artists and serial entrepreneurs, offliners and onliners. Some of the lectures are available here.
From Conference to Festival
This was a big challenge, from the communication and logistics point of view. PICNIC was born in 2006 as a festival, composed by several different activities: lectures, labs, workshops, discussions, etc. The festival is as much as sharing ideas as it is about making stuff, meeting other people and building something together. To go back to the festival feel we took two steps:
Step 1: remove the different kinds of tickets. Over the last few years it seemed that the conference aspect of PICNIC had gained more visibility than the rest, also supported by a ticket policy that included a more expensive ticket (several hundred euro) that granted access to the conference (as well as all the other activities) and a cheaper ticket (around 75 euro) only for the festival activities. This influenced the perception that the festival-ticket offered something less valuable while the conference-ticket was the real deal. The original goal in that scheme was to allow for a broader (and interesting) audience that couldn’t afford the full price to still be able to take part in PICNIC, but evidently we were wrong. In 2010 we adopted a different strategy: we kept the expensive ticket and removed the cheaper one. Those that couldn’t pay the full price but were still an interesting crowd to add to the mix (think of artists, students, young entrepreneurs) would have been sponsored by companies and partners, responsible of recruiting them and covering their costs (because in the end someone has to pay for the cost of organizing the whole event).
Step 2: create several locations with activities taking place simultaneously, all with the same importance in the program. This year we had a lecture room that could hold several hundred attendees and about 9 or 10 other locations that were dedicated to labs, workshops, discussions, and smaller sessions. The key in this was that while the lectures are rather passive (one speaker broadcasting to the audience), the other activities -the “make” part of PICNIC- require active interaction between speakers, moderators and participants. These other locations could hold from 10 to 150 people depending on the type of activity. It worked out very well and you could tell because at moments the lecture room was half empty but at the same time the other locations were completely full.
Other Things I liked
Other things I liked from PICNIC ’10 were how all the sponsors were embedded into the “PICNIC Experience” instead of just having an exhibition booth; the creation of a “marketplace” where young entrepreneurs could present their products and services; the use of electric cars to move speakers around the city (attendees could also try a Tesla Roadster and a reconverted Lotus Elise); the festival program made from a combination of an iPhone App (which gave us some headaches as the final release was approved just 24hs before the event!) and a printed leaflet (one for each day); small surprises like the Golden Heart (a prize hidden inside the lunchboxes, including a laptop computer and a bike) and other details that give PICNIC it’s personality.