AIF UK Appoints New CEO

John Rostron credit Jody Hartley
John Rostron will begin his tenure as AIF CEO Nov. 18. (Picture by Jody Hartley)

The UK’s Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) has found a new CEO. His name is John Rostron, and he’ll be taking over from Paul Reed, who’ll step down in November. The appointment was announced during AIF’s 2022 annual general meeting, Nov.1, with Rostron officially beginning his tenure Nov. 18, following a two-week handover period with Reed.

Rostron, a former member and vice chair of AIF, has wide ranging leadership experience in the creative industries. He co-founded AIF member Sŵn Festival in Cardiff in 2007 and completed an exit strategy sale in 2018.

Rostron is also the founder and current chair of the Association of Independent Promoters (AIP). He will step down from his role at AIP upon starting at AIF.

Rostron is a former CEO of the Welsh Music Foundation and co-founder of the Welsh Music Prize. He has also held consultant and advisory roles at Arts Council Wales and Sound Diplomacy, as well as having been a development manager at From The Fields, promoter of UK festivals like Kendal Calling or Bluedot.

Rostron joins recently appointed chair of AIF and Notting Hill Carnival CEO Matthew Phillip in leading the organization into its next phase, supported by vice chair Nick Morgan, who will stay in his role for several months to ensure continuity. Rostron said, it was “a great honour to take on this role at a time when AIF feels more important than ever. My thanks to outgoing CEO Paul Reed for all he has done for the organization in raising its profile, value and relevance.”

Reed has had a transformative impact on the AIF both as general manager and then CEO of the organization, which has seen its membership grow more than 137% (from 40 to 95) under his leadership. AIF now represents just under half of all UK festivals that are 5,000-plus capacity. Since joining in 2013, Reed has overseen a complete revision of AIF’s offering to members and established the trade body as an impactful and influential champion for the independent festival sector. He’s stepping down during a crucial time for the sector.

Q’s With AIF CEO Paul Reed: ‘Festivals Aren’t Just Fun – They Are Vital’

“Festivals are facing numerous challenges as they grapple with pricing alongside growing costs across the supply chain,” Rostron continued, “all while music fans themselves face a cost-of-living crisis. Add to that a vital renewed focus on climate action, audience welfare and diversity, equity and inclusion, and there are plenty of ways that AIF can and will make a meaningful difference for its members.”

AIF chair Phillip welcomed Rostron commenting, “It’s a pleasure to welcome John to AIF. He’s a tremendously experienced executive, having fulfilled a range of high-level positions at many respected organizations, and with a track record of advocacy and championing independent music businesses. Paul Reed has done an exceptional job in growing AIF both in membership and influence, and I’m confident that John will help continue that trajectory, as well as taking AIF in new directions.”

Four new members were also rotated onto the AIF board of directors at the Nov.1 AGM. They are Steven Campbell (CEO, Eskimo Dance), Suze Bayliss (festivals and marketing Director, Vision Nine – Boardmasters and NASS), Stefan Poelman (co-founder and director, Zenfest), and Joe Barnett (managing director, New Bohemia Music – We Out Here, Outlook and Dimensions Festival). AIF has also confirmed that its annual flagship Festival Congress event will return to Bristol for the second year in February 2023, with new venues for both the conference and festival party. Dates will be confirmed soon, with an exclusive members and Friends of AIF pre-sale opening before the end of November.

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At the time of writing, the AIF represented the interests of 94 UK music festivals, ranging from 500 to 75,999 capacity, collectively entertaining over one million fans every summer. By its own admission, the non-profit organization represents over 49% of all festivals in the UK that are 5,000-plus capacity. AIF member festivals include some of the most successful and innovative festivals in the UK including the likes of Boomtown Fair, Shambala, Boardmasters, End Of The Road, Bluedot and many more.

AIF data accumulated over ten years of annual audience surveys, and including figures from Carey & Chambers’ “Valuing Live Entertainment” (June 2020), indicates, that the festival sector generates an estimated £1.76 billion ($2.03 billion) GVA for the UK annually with at least 10% of this benefitting local businesses and economies. The festival sector also supports 85,000 jobs and according to UK Music’s ‘Music by Numbers’ 2020 report, over 5m people attended a festival in 2019 (in comparison to 2.7m in 2012).

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