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Dušan Kovačević, EXIT Festival

EXIT Festival – July’s Red Hot Music

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From 7th to 10th July the EXIT festival ignites the European music scene, in the presence of over 200,000 visitors and the more than 700,000 music lovers who follow the festival via social networks. The most popular music festival in the region, and one of the most respected in the world, it has recorded steady growth in the number of visitors from all continents, as confirmed by the words of the editor of The Economist, who concluded that “if Serbia spent its entire budget on PR it would not manage to do what’s been done for its promotion by Novak Djoković and EXIT”.

EXIT Festival was launched in the year 2000 in the University Park in Novi Sad, with the aim of fighting for freedom and democracy in Serbia. Just a year later it had grown to the level at which is now recognised around the world – as an international music festival at the Petrovaradin Fortress, which this year records its 16th edition.

It is said that all great things start with a first step. What have been the most important steps in the previous years of the festival?

– Apart from the actual establishing of the festival, one of the most important steps was moving to Petrovaradin Fortress in 2001. The duration of the festival was reduced in 2003 from nine days to four days, which proved to be the optimal measure, while in 2004 we introduced the concept of headliners, i.e., musical carriers of the evenings for each day of the festival.

EXIT 2007 was voted the Best European Festival at the British Festival Awards, while in 2013 it received the title of Best European Festival at the European Festival Awards, an event which is practically the Oscars for festivals. A major step was taken in 2014 when the concept of EXIT Adventure with the Sea Dance Festival and the continuation of fun on the seashore was introduced.

EXIT Adventure represents a unique project on a global scale, a big summer of festivals, with two festivals in two countries, at two top locations – Petrovaradin Fortress and Jaz Beach – and visitors fond this more than interesting.

Looking from the outside, EXIT has gone through different stages of the relationship with the state, from lack of recognition, lack of support and a lack of understanding for the importance of the festival – to full support and understanding of the importance of the festival for Vojvodina and the whole of Serbia. How have you experienced this amplitude?

– All those changes have been very dramatic for me, because at one point, for political reasons, I even ended up in jail. The situations were stressful in both a personal and a business sense because the survival of the festival from year to year certainly depended on the support of the state. No festival can survive without support, be that in our country or in any other European country, where each country helps the festivals it deems to be of national importance.

As for Serbia and the EXIT festival, the situation is even more dramatic, because entrance tickets for our festival cost €50, while for other European festivals they cost €300, and we all know that for every dinar invested Serbia receives several dozen times more back.

According to independent research, Exit has to date invested over €150 million in the Serbian tourism industry, through the visits of foreign tourists, and it is estimated that it will invest the same again over the next 10 years.

The publicist of famous London daily The Economist said: “if Serbia spent its entire budget on PR it would not manage to do what’s been done for its promotion by Novak Đoković and EXIT”

After receiving the most significant official foreign awards, EXIT is now one of the best music festivals, if not the most respected music festival in the world. Is it now easier for you to organise, or are you only now under pressure to do something special every year, in order to maintain your position among great global competition?

– I would say that it is more accurate to say that it is one of the most prestigious music festivals in the world. There are several legendary music festivals, including EXIT, which together hold the world throne. It is certain that this distinctive brand of the festival contributes to the daily functioning of Exit in several ways – from making it easier to entice the most attractive musical artists in the world, to animating sponsors, attracting audiences from around the world, and the like.

However, the competition among festivals is extremely strong, and every year there are more and more players on the scene, so it is necessary each year to be innovative and appealing to the public and to tastes that are changing constantly.

Since 2015 you have added to the EXIT Festival at Petrovaradin Fortress the location of Montenegro’s famous Jaz Beach, so last year’s EXIT was officially attended by over 300,000 people. How would you evaluate this step of expanding the festival and do you intend to continue in this direction in other countries as well?

– The organisation of our sister festival on the coast as a continuation of Exit is certainly one of the most significant steps forward, and the concept of the EXIT Adventure – as one summer of festivals in two countries – is a unique concept worldwide.

Two locations where the festival takes place, at the magical Petrovaradin Fortress and the beautiful Jaz Beach, which has been named one of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, form part of a very attractive and fantastic package.

The EXIT Adventure concept has proven to be very good, and we have received calls from the region, and even from other continents, to implement something like that in their countries too.

According to current figures, how many visitors do you expect this year?

– We expect this to be the most visited Exit festival so far and, there is a possibility that all the tickets for the festival will be sold out, or that we will fill the capacity of the fortress with 50,000 visitors daily, or 200,000 over all four days, which is how long the festival lasts.

Everyone agrees that most visitors from abroad change their opinion about Serbia for the better, as they do when watching Đoković. How present is this promotional aspect in your strategy when you are preparing the festival?

– The publicist of famous London daily The Economist said: “if Serbia spent its entire budget on PR it would not manage to do what’s been done for its promotion by Novak Đoković and EXIT”.

He ranked this type of promotion in the category of priceless. EXIT definitely represents one of this country’s most important brands and if the economic contribution to date amounts to over €150 million, then it is certain that the promotion Serbia received thanks to Exit is even bigger, and that is also one of the main reasons why the state supports this festival. The assessment of CNN is that the value of the promotion Exit brings to Serbia is just over $80 million annually.

The total number of views of our content is more than 30 million, while the number of references to Exit Festival on social networks is measured in the tens of millions

We assume that your strongest promotional tools are social networks. Do you have any statistics on the amount of content on social networks related to EXIT?

– We are very active on social networks and communication with fans of the festival throughout the year is today based primarily on online communication. Just as an example, on the Facebook network we have 18 profile pages and over 510,000 followers. When you add up all the networks on which we operate – Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Youtube, Soundcloud and many others – we come to a figure of more than 26 profiles (for example, as of a month ago we are also present on Snapchat).

Via these networks we are followed by over 700,000 people, the total number of views of our content is more than 30 million, while the number of references to Exit Festival on social networks is measured in the tens of millions.

How many professionals and volunteers are responsible for the success of this year’s festival?

– One characteristic is that our organisation grows between August and July from a few dozen permanent employees at a few thousand people in the organisation, and that’s an organisational expansion that doesn’t exist in any similar business. During the festival, EXIT engages over 4,000 people and around 400 volunteers.

What will mark EXIT 2016, in terms of participants, attractions, visitors etc.?

– This Exit will definitely be marked by the unprecedented excitement and interest that reigns prior to the festival, while we are expecting probably the largest number of visits in the history of the festival – the main reason for which is an excellent programme with over 500 artists on more than 20 stages.

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