Monday, 7 September 2009

Orange Warsaw Festival 2009

The latest installment in the cultural game of chicken which is the search for Poland's 2016 European Capital of Culture took place this weekend

The Orange Warsaw Festival is the second annual installment of a partnership between the telco giant and Warsaw city hall in an effort to convince Poles and more importantly, the Euro mandarins who'll decide, that Warsaw is indeed the most culturally rich, diverse and deserving city in Poland.
Warsaw and 6 other Polish cities (for the record: Gdansk, Torun, Lodz, Poznan, Lublin and Szczecin) are battling it our for the right to join a Spanish city (9 candidates there) as 2016 European Capital of Culture.

Its clearly an accolade which can pay back handsomely. A 2004 study by the European Culture Commission (Palmer Study) demonstrated that the choice of European Capital of Culture served as a catalyst for the cultural development and the transformation of the city. Plus the tourist dollar that is sure to follow, makes this a big deal in any country, let alone the 'newer' European territories.

So the Polish rivals are going at it hammer and tong to prove their worth. This is great news for inhabitants and tourists alike - in a country that loves a festival anyway, you can't move for them now (in Warsaw this weekend you could add a Jewish festival and Brazilian festival to the Orange affair).

It also presents opportunities for brands to get involved, to help candidate cities shoulder the financial burden of putting on big shows and get what they can in return in terms of engagement which an audience.

So far this summer, Poznan got out the traps early with a season of concerts which included a rare Polish outing for Radiohead .

Gdansk has been playing the Solidarity of Arts card - not surprisingly in the year Poland celebrated 20 years of democracy.

The Orange affair in Warsaw was perhaps as the capital city should offer. It was big - estimates of 35,000 people over the 2 days. It was set in a remarkable and hugely iconic (indeed symbolic) location, right underneath Stalin's Birthday Cake - the Palace of Science and Culture. And it was very accessible - free in fact.

I noticed that beyond the usual levels of event branding (clear ownership but not over the top) and Orange 'experience' areas. Orange also used the event to bring together many European employees for a conference in Warsaw. A good move this when this type of budget is under more scrunity than ever. And also a - for this was the weekend when Orange was without doubt the dominant brand in a city centre littered with special build posters and ambient media.

But the really interesting aspect for me is this public:private partnership approach. Its nothing new but it seemed that these 2 partners seemed to find a common ground - never easy as commercial requirements often run contrary to less flexible state-owned institutions. In harder economic times, this flexible and open appraoch to commercial content partnership is vital.

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