The Coolest — And Hoppiest — Way to Print a Program?

Author: David McMillin       

paperless program

Riot Fest partnered with Goose Island Beer Co. to produce the Riot Fest Sucks Pale Ale, with can labels that showed the festival schedule. (Courtesy Riot Fest)

As more event organizers embrace sustainability efforts, printed programs are quickly disappearing from meetings and events in favor of mobile apps. While that technology can play a helpful role in managing last-minute schedule updates, it also gives attendees one more reason to bow their heads, bask in the glow of their smartphones, and avoid eye contact with others around them.

At Riot Fest, a three-day music festival in Chicago, organizers opted for a printed schedule that required no battery life and no allowance of push notifications. Instead, they arrived on a surprising surface: beer cans. The festival partnered with Goose Island Beer Co. to create “the world’s first schedule-wrapped alcoholic beverage.” Forget making people pull their phones from their pockets or carry around a piece of paper; concertgoers could peel away the label for the complete hourly schedule. The hop-and-citrus approach to planning out the day came with an extra ingredient: sarcasm. The beer, produced and sold only at the festival, was named Riot Fest Sucks Pale Ale.

Could this be replicated at more serious conferences and conventions? There would be some obvious obstacles. The 8 a.m. start time for most education sessions doesn’t line up with an ideal hour for selling beer (although I’m sure some attendees would have no problem with adopting the “it’s five o’clock somewhere” adage). And the names of musical acts — Wu-Tang Clan and Block Party, for example — are much easier to fit in the small real estate of a can wrapper than the names of conference education sessions. Try fitting “Connecting the Dots: Unprofessional Behaviors, Mistreatment, Impairment, and Their Impact on Burnout in Education and Practice” and other mile-long titles on a can.

Still, there are valuable lessons that event organizers might be able to apply from this kind of creative drinking-scheduling combination. It’s a winning sponsorship idea that puts the brand in the hands of the audience, and the unconventional approach to producing the schedule got plenty of notable media outlets talking. The partnership was covered in the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, and AmericanCraftBeer.com.

And while more people are exploring the sober curious movement, it seems that the Riot Fest crowd was still interested in toasting some cans of Riot Fest Sucks. The cans sold out.

David McMillin is an associate editor at Convene.

Interested in more insights from music festivals? Check out these live-streaming lessons from Coachella to help shape your digital engagement strategy.