How La Trobe City Council's rose festival planted the seeds for virtual engagement

La Trobe City Council details how it pivoted the Annual International Rose Festival from a physical to hybrid event and the marketing and engagement lessons learnt

Engaging results  

Despite the challenges, Tones said the council was hugely successful in driving awareness of the event, chalking up 800 pre-registrations.  

Other key International Rose Garden Festival results included 11,000 main stage views and 27,000 total page views with 4400 stallholder views. Of these, 43 per cent of people tuned in via their phone and 41 per cent by their desktop computer. In addition, 1500 people walked through the garden, “witnessing the roses in a kaleidoscope of colour and movement”, Tones said.  

By moving online, La Trobe City Council not only engaged the existing target audience, it broadened and reshaped the audience for festival overall, she said.  

“We were able to showcase the garden to our local community with the AGL Night Lights installation. Social distancing and COVID safe practices were in place and everyone was in awe of the lights and appreciative we went ahead with the festival, albeit in a different format,” Tones said.  

“The virtual program meant the festival reach was now global. We had viewers from all over Australia, the US, UK, NZ, Dubai and Italy tune in. We secured overseas presenters – Jonathan Webster, curator of RHS Rosemoor Garden in UK and Rebecca Koraytem from David Austin Roses US, who were excited to be part of the virtual festival.  

“The virtual event made the festival accessible to a wider audience where they could watch and interact from the comfort and safety of their home.”  

The virtual festival also presented an opportunity for the event to feature Auslan interpreters on all talks and presentations shown on the main stage. “This was a first for Latrobe City Council and an opportunity for the event to achieve even greater reach within our community,” Tones said.  

The results also go beyond the actual festival itself. For example, council secured 750 new newsletter opt-ins and has a legacy of content including a virtual garden tour that can be used as a marketing tool for the region locally as well as internationally, Tones said. She also highlighted collaboration, both within council as well as with rose garden volunteers, local businesses, stallholders, rosarians, musicians and artists from the Gippsland region as another win with long-lasting impact.  

Tones said the plan for the 2021 International Rose Garden Festival is to return to the Morwell Centenary Rose Garden. “Touching, smelling the roses and strolling through the garden is still the number one attraction for festival goers and one freedom many of our patrons are looking forward to experiencing in this COVID-19 normal,” she added.  

Nevertheless, the council is investigating opportunities to include virtual elements in next year’s festival, such as overseas presenters streamed live across YouTube and Facebook.   

As to the big lessons the city council team gleaned from the experience of running the festival online, Tones said the first was that it is very similar to running traditional onsite events.  

“You face similar issues such as presenters cancelling last minute, potential technical difficulties and the need to be flexible and adaptive in an event environment. Most importantly, it is paramount that you have a capable and motivated team on-board to work with,” she said.  

“It’s about learning as you go, listening to the experts and acknowledging that not all event elements work effectively when transitioned from onsite to online. While the delivery of the event was different this year, the content was similar and it was important to deliver the 2020 International Rose Garden Festival of Morwell to our community – which we did successfully.”  

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