Oyster Festival: revisiting the rules of engagement

Why a festival?  Why a sponsor? – these are important questions for an economy that relies heavily on an annual injection of fun and funds from its largest event.  And with the 33rd Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival just a few months away, businessman Charles van Tonder wondered if it wasn’t time to revisit the rules of engagement between the town and the Festival’s sponsors.

Charles van Tonder
Charles van Tonder

Martin Hatchuel* – This piece, therefore, is a distillation of discussions between Charles and me, and of research and resources we found along the way.


“Simple,” said Charles. “The late Dick Ginsberg – then the owner of Richard’s Men’s Outfitters – came up with the idea in the early 80s to attract visitors in what was then one of the quietest times of the year, and this remains the most important reason why we have the Festival.”

He said that his businesses (34 South, Tapas & Oysters, The Drydock Food Co., Sirocco, and The Project) rely heavily on the Festival.

“July is the only one of the five winter months (May – September) when we break even, and our figures for the two weekends of the Festival are on par with Christmas-time turnovers.”

Dick Ginsberg and Rose Smith, the manager of the then Knysna Publicity Association (now Knysna & Partners), put the first Winter Festival together in 1983. It included rugby, golf, squash and bowls tournaments, the marathon, and various social events. The South African Navy – now an integral part of the Festival – attended for the first time in 1984. (And, since the Festival was run by a committee of volunteers, I put my hand up in 1987 – and was promptly voted chairman and thus Festival Coordinator.)

“By the late 1980s, the event had grown to the point where it offered real value to corporate sponsors, and this gave it a permanence and, therefore, a future,” said Charles.

“It was a perfect fit when Pick n Pay became the naming sponsor in 2000 – because both Pick n Pay and the Festival have always focussed on the family and on healthy lifestyles.”


In his now legendary book, Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers,  Seth Godin wrote that, “The days of high demand and limited supply are over… it’s a new game now. A game where the limited supply is attention.”

“Getting attention is the whole point of sponsoring an event like the Oyster Festival,” said Charles.

In his presentation to the 2013 annual European conference of the International Festival and Events Association, William Fenton pointed out that “Partnership is the new paradigm.”

In ‘Selling Arts, City & Event sponsorship: Trends, Best Practice and Tips,’  Mr. Fenton, editor of The World Sponsorship Monitor and co-author of The Sponsorship Handbook, wrote that, while “Advertising generates awareness, public relations informs and influences, and sales promotion stimulates interest and trial,” the unique selling proposition of sponsorship is that it “Reaches the parts other media cannot reach.”

This is proven. Quoting a study of the Summer 2011 European Music Festival, Mr. Fenton said that, “36% [of festival-goers are] more likely to buy a sponsor’s product after experiencing their activation at the festival. 65 % say brands improve the festival experience.”

In order to achieve these results, he said, sponsors look for “Institutions which have a great collection/event; a strong brand; authenticity; can describe their audience; event integration and activation platforms; make an effort to understand a sponsors’ business; leverage the pedigree of existing sponsors to attract new partners.”


In these respects, said Charles, “Knysna definitely fits the bill.

“But just as festivals have to implement best practices, so do sponsors have certain rights and responsibilities – and these need to be clearly defined if you want the arrangement to have a long-term future.

“For any relationship to work over time, it’s necessary for it to be balanced so that both parties can achieve their goals – and this means that we need to spend time finding ways of dovetailing with our sponsors.” (Bearing in mind that Pick n Pay is just one of the Oyster Festival’s many sponsors – alongside Momentum, Tabasco, Windhoek Light, the Weekend Argus, and others.)

“The sponsors need to understand what’s happening in the town, and – since the Festival is designed to bring business into the town – they need to make sure that they aren’t playing on our side of the field, just as we need to make sure that we aren’t playing on theirs.

“So, for example, we need to have a transparent list of contractors – and, where out-of-town contractors are used, we need to understand the reasoning behind choosing them.” (See sidebar: ‘WHO WANTS WHAT’)

By the same token, he said, “The sponsors need to hold Knysna to account. For example, are we introducing new and exciting events to the Festival to ensure the long-term growth of the Festival, and are we ready to respond to changes in the marketplace?”

According to Charles’ business partner, Leslie Pieters – who also has a long association with the Festival – “The physical arrangement of the Festival has gone inwards instead of outwards over the years.

“To all intents and purposes, the events are now concentrated on the Festival field. But the Festival cannot afford to be a one-venue event: rather, it should take place throughout the town, and the whole town – and not just the field – needs to be involved and decorated to reflect this,” he said.

According to the African Festivals Network’s ‘Festivals Best Practice Toolkit‘  (published by the British Council), “Festivals are popping up everywhere. Both audiences and participants are more demanding, they expect a quality product. Standards get higher year by year. There is greater competition now – for audiences, for funding and other scarce resources.”

As Charles said: “The Knysna Oyster Festival has a long and successful history, and if we want to be sure that it continues to be (as it calls itself) ‘South Africa’s premium sport & lifestyle festival,’ we need to be asking these questions now – and recording our answers as our legacy.”

* Martin Hatchuel is a tourism communications consult and Chartered Public Relations Practitioner. He came to live in Knysna during the year of the first Winter Festival…


A quick checklist of priorities: the eight pertinent questions the authors of this article believe that sponsors and the town should ask about the Pick n Pay Knysna Oyster Festival.


  • Does the Festival get to the audiences that other media cannot reach?
  • Does it provide the benefits of increased brand awareness?
  • Does it offer a positive experience of the sponsors’ brands?
  • Does it deliver a winning partnership with a successful, well-managed town that’s recognised as a destination of choice among the sponsor’s audiences?


  • Does the Festival offer – first and foremost – a positive experience of the town of Knysna?
  • Does it deliver increased turnover and a positive experience for local businesses during the quiet winter months?
  • Is it an inclusive event – and does it display itself as an inclusive event – that embraces all sectors of the community, and as many businesses, sports clubs and local organisations as possible?
  • Is spending on infrastructure and services managed transparently so that the town knows how local contractors are benefitting from the event, and, in cases where contractors from out of town are appointed, why it’s necessary to use them?
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