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The tech behind Winnipeg Folk Festival

Executive Director talks about the office tools that help bring Folk Fest to life.

For many Manitobans, making the pilgrimage to the Winnipeg Folk Festival at Birds Hill Park each July has become a summer ritual. The jam-packed four-day festival, now in its 44th year, brings together a variety of musicians from many diverse genres including folk, rock, indie and blues.

While many Manitobans have attended the festival either as single-day attendees or committed campers, many don’t realize that this massive festival, which draws crowds of over 80,000 each year, is a charitable nonprofit event managed by a small group of year-round staff.

These individuals spend their year booking artists, coordinating vendors and managing the training and scheduling for the 2,800 volunteers who make the festival a reality.

We sat down with Lynne Skromeda, the Executive Director of the Winnipeg Folk Festival, to chat about how she and her team use modern tech tools and processes to stay organized and on-task while planning and managing such a massive event.

Planning is a year-round event

Lynne, who has a background in TV and film, has been with the festival for the past six years and is tasked with all of the high-level operational duties. This includes overseeing the festival marketing, volunteer management, project management and providing financial oversight.

“I have a hand in almost everything except choosing and booking the artists,” Lynne laughs, “which is the really fun part, when you think about it.” She explains that planning the festival doesn’t happen on an annual basis. In fact, they often plan several years in advance and sometimes find themselves “rolling” ideas from one year into the next.

“We’re already planning next year’s festival,” she states, adding that while the major goal-setting and planning takes place each September after that year’s festival has ended, she and her team typically have a laundry list of items to incorporate into the coming year’s event.

“We try to be as ambitious as possible,” Lynne explains. “Sometimes we’ll want to book a certain artist, for example, but they aren’t available this year, so we’ll add them to the lineup for next year… even if we haven’t started planning next year yet.”

Staying on task with Microsoft SharePoint

Like any organization, the Winnipeg Folk Festival staff rely on a handful of “must have” tools in order to stay on-task and on track, especially as the intensity begins to build in the weeks and months leading up to the festival each summer.

“Each department has some tools that they use internally for their own tasks,” explains Lynne, “but there are definitely tools that we all use to communicate with each other.”

One example she cited is Microsoft SharePoint, a web-based collaborative platform that integrates with Microsoft Office. “We really delved into SharePoint this past year,” she says. The biggest challenge the staff faced in terms of communication was finding a way to clearly communicate their to-do lists and set deadlines across departments.

SharePointFor example, Folk Fest produces special program booklets that festival goers can use to keep track of all the performances. Producing the booklets requires input from every department, but sending reminders and notifications via email was getting messy, and lines were getting crossed.

“We realized that we needed to integrate our calendars and have a place where the group can share, edit, and communicate with each other so we were all accountable,” Lynne explained, and SharePoint was a helpful tool.

Staying on schedule with department-specific tools

In addition to using SharePoint to communicate, each team uses its own internal tools to manage their tasks and keep on schedule.

Marcato Festival is live event management software used by other large-scale festivals like Coachella, Osheaga and Bonnaroo. Some of the key components of this software include talent management, show scheduling, application intake and workforce management.

Marcato Festival“One of the best things about Marcato is that we can easily see what our artists need at-a-glance,” says Lynne. “We can also add in their social media accounts, website info and discography.”

Best of all, Marcato integrates with the Winnipeg Folk Festival app (available on Android and iPhone), allowing guests to easily look up information about their favourite artists. “It’s really powerful software,” says Lynne. “We rely on it pretty heavily.”

Volunteer management with Better Impact

The Winnipeg Folk Festival also relies heavily on its volunteers to keep things in motion each year. Connecting with volunteers, making sure they register correctly and can properly manage their training and shift scheduling can be an overwhelming task.

Luckily, Lynne says, they have Better Impact.

Better Impact volunteer scheduling

Better Impact is a tool designed to assist with volunteer management, among other things, and though Lynne admits that the version they use is “a bit off the shelf,” it’s been invaluable in terms of keeping everything running smoothly.

“Better Impact helps us manage our volunteers from start to finish each year,” she states. “We can email them about their volunteer status, assign them to crews and manage training, [and it] allows users to modify their own account information. It’s such a huge help.”

Marketing: Hootsuite and MailChimp

The Winnipeg Folk Festival marketing team is tasked with promoting not only the annual summer festival, but the additional concerts and events the organization has throughout the year.

HootsuiteTo manage social media engagement and posting, Lynne says they use Hootsuite, an all-in-one tool that allows them to monitor responses and messages, post content to social channels including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and track audience sentiment over time.

“The other big tool our marketing team uses is MailChimp,” Lynne explains, adding that the Folk Fest marketing team is tasked with managing three different email streams: one for audience attendees, one for donors and another for volunteers.

MailChimp“Our newsletters are segmented by audience and uniquely designed by audience type,” she adds.

While Folk Fest staff use SharePoint to communicate about collaborative projects like the program booklet, Lynne states that most departments use specific tools that don’t cross departmental lines. “There’s just no need for us all to have access to them,” she says.

Computers with ports

As for the devices they use, the office staff favour PCs, in particular, ones that still have USB ports.

“File sharing is super important to our team,” she explains, “and our team can’t always use the same laptop because we often have multiple events at the same time. We’ve had issues with cloud syncing in Dropbox and Google Drive, and so a USB key is critical for us to make sure that the information we’re accessing is up-to-date and can be accessed any time.”

With the exception of the marketing department, Lynne explained that most incoming staff members are far more familiar with PCs than iMacs or MacBooks, so using the most well-known devices makes it easier to train and integrate new team members.

What you can learn

Not everyone reading this interview will be involved with running a world-famous festival, but there are some business takeaways that are worth remembering:

  • Don’t overwhelm your team with tech tools. Not every staff member needs an account for every tool, especially if it isn’t related to their role. This minimizes the amount of “cooks in the kitchen” and helps keep roles clear.
  • Find the collaboration tools that work for you. Just as the Winnipeg Folk Festival staff loves Microsoft SharePoint for its integration with other Office tools, your team can also find the right software to keep on task and collaborating across departments. 
  • Admit when you can improve and make plans to address it. Lynne admits that integrating new processes can be hard. “We don’t use any project management software right now because we’ve all done things a certain way for so long. We’re working on finding the right tools and processes that work for our team,” she says.
  • Find new ways to engage your audience. Since the Winnipeg Folk Festival App integrates with Better Impact and Spotify, it can provide an easy and convenient way for attendees and volunteers to check on everything from the next set to their next volunteer shift.
  • Keep your eye on the prize. Lynne and the rest of the Winnipeg Folk Festival team spend multiple years planning for a single event, but by keeping their goals in mind and staying focused, they create annual events that make memories for artists, guests and volunteers alike.

Managing a large event can be a stressful experience, but it doesn’t have to be. By identifying the best tools to support your efforts, and by being open and adaptable to change, even a small staff can coordinate and manage a significantly large event.

Lynne sums it up with a viewpoint that shows why she’s in this challenging and rewarding role. “It’s tough, but seeing the results of our efforts every year makes all the months of running around and stress completely worth it.”


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Alyson Shane

Alyson Shane is a writer and business owner from Winnipeg, Manitoba who has been publishing content online for 16+ years. She runs Starling Social, an agency which develops digital marketing strategies that combine social media, paid advertising and content strategy to keep businesses growing and engaged with their customers. Outside the office, Alyson is a passionate urbanist who loves gardening, riding her bike and thinking about the public spaces that bring us together. She can be reached on social media at @alysonshane.

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